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  • John Saintignon

How to Deal with Expectations


What do the best players and the best players have?


First you have to help your players learn how to separate what they do from who they are. They have this idea that if they perform well then they are loved and if they don't perform well, then they are unloved.


I was asked this question the other day, what are the best teams that I have been around and what are the characteristics of those teams?  They have Love, Care and Acceptance.


This takes you as the coach to show your vulnerability.  What do I mean by that?  How do we get our players to open up and talk and share their feelings with each other, to get to the truth?  Teams that have problems are going to have a lot of judgement going around.  I make it a point to learn the story of our players.  To try to know where they come from.  You will discover things you never knew, internal pain perhaps.  We ask our players as coaches in general to trust and invest in a team, but to many of them, this trust is the major issue.  They might not know how to become a good teammate, how to trust and open up.  I learned that I needed to have weekly meetings to help facilitate this. The most important thing I ever did was show them how vulnerable I was in the discussions as well.  I spoke about the challenges and things in my life that have held me back as well.


Having empathy is a huge component.  There are going to be many of your players who will be holding themselves to a high standard, being compared to others.  Empathy is huge, especially when your team begins to open up.  That love, care and acceptance will help those players feel accepted by their teammates even if they don't live up to the expectations others place on them.


There is going to be a daily battle with human nature.  You see human nature is being lazy, selfish and self centered.  That is the battle each day.  How do we fight that battle versus human nature.  You must lay out a plan that demonstrates to the players that human nature vs championship nature.  by that i mean playing Xbox v. studying for a test.  Eating fast food v. eating healthy.


Are you prepared to lose big and win big?  Sometimes as a coach you have this goal to maximize your teams ability.  So during a game you think all is going well, "we are OK, , don't change."  But you know that your team can be better if you just one player to do this or that, or if you can change something.  Then that thought enters your mind, "what if it doesn't work, are we going to take a step backwards?" Last night the Cubs manager, took that risk, it was hard to argue what he was doing with his pitchers, but he was believing that he had to leave it all on the line and stick to what he knew, by either losing big or winning big.  He had to take the risk to get his team there.  If you want to win at the highest level you have got to be prepared to make those decisions.  I believe that you have to be a risk taker to get your team to maximize it's fullest ability.


I am a huge believer in confronting the truth with my players.  Not in the scream, yell in your face type.  Mainly by addressing the elephant that is in the room.  Addressing it before it grows into something more.  For example, with my team this weekend in Phoenix at a showcase, I addressed their lack of effort in the first game, not whether the ball went into the basket, more to come on that later.  However, it was my way of adding to them that I valued the effort we would give more than the ball going through the basket, because I know this is what we can control.


All my teams, I provide immediate feedback from the goals that I have, wanting to know their player performance rating, to see how efficient they are during the course of the game, so that I can talk to them individually about it.  Example going to a stat line and seeing a player down and disappointed by going 2 for 11 from the field in 38 minutes played during a 40 minute game.  I would try to put this into perspective by asking questions," how many shots did you miss? " "How long does it take for you to shoot the ball?"  "How many seconds did you play?"  So taking the answers the player gave me, I try to put back to them in a way they can relate what is really at stake.  They missed 9 shots, taking 1 second to shoot, and that 9 seconds affects the rest of the 37 minutes, 51 seconds that they played?  This is truth I put in front of them.  They must understand that they will have the ball less than 5% of the time that they play in a game.  The game of basketball, 95% of the time is played without the ball in your hands.  Yet the newspaper will focus on who the leading scorer was, how many points, the 5%.


This weekend I asked one of our players who maybe played 25 minutes how long did he think he had the ball in his hands?  He responded 15 minutes.  I was loud by saying, no one has the ball for 15 minutes~!  All players get caught up in that 5%.  And that 5% takes them on emotional highs and lows based on whether the ball goes in the basket.  You see a player who makes a shot, will scream yes, but when they miss, you don't see that same reaction?


Making shots will come and go.  The things you actually have control over is the things you do, 95% of the time.  Focus on being great at that.  That is the purpose of me showing them how efficient they are during the game so that they realize that they can control the outcome of the game by focusing on things that are within their control.


I leave you with this final thought.  What's your legacy?  What do you become as a result of the chase?  When you are going through this chase, are you bitter, do you have resentment, frustration, are you not a good person?  You hear coaches say all the time, that they tunnel vision, that they are sacrificing their family for the team.


There are many things that get exposed as result of pressure.  I believe that through this chase you get a chance to become a better version of yourself.  It's a way of finding out about yourself.  I challenge coaches to answer what is their purpose in coaching?  It can't be about material things, or about winning, having money, or earning trophies, It has to be what do they do each day, the value that are they bringing each day.


So what is your calling?  What is your mission in coaching?  There is an enormous amount of freedom that comes with being who you want to be as a coach without worrying about the results.  We don't control the results.  We do have control over the process.  And we do control who we become as a result of the chase.  Our legacy won't be about how many championships we won or titles.  Our legacy is always going to be measured by how our players talk about us after we are gone.


When your players have their own children and their children ask them:  Who did you play for?  What was he like?  I watched recently on HBO a documentary about Dean Smith that illustrates this point.  Coach Dean Smith Legacy and I also read this morning about the legacy of Coach John Wooden:  Coach John Wooden Legacy.


When your former players talk about you, that's your legacy!

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