I’ve always been a basketball fan. I played a lot as a kid in various leagues, and began coaching kids at the age of 22. I coached both boys and girls in house league teams, select teams, and travel teams. I created my own playbooks, and ran full motion offenses. I always felt I knew the game better than any coach who ever coached against me, so you can imagine my frustration when, a few years ago, I found out I was “strongly encouraged” to attend a coaching workshop with all the other coaches. I can assure you, if it wasn’t for the “Great Falls Basketball Coach” shirt given to those who attended, I would not have shown up. But show up I did, and I found out there was plenty left for me to learn.
One of the things I didn’t know was that Kevin Grevey was conducting the workshop. As a lifetime Washingtonian, I was a fan of Kevin Grevey and the championship he helped to bring to the Washington Bullets in 1978. It was a great workshop, but it was one of the last questions that Kevin Grevey answered that I’ll never forget. The question someone asked was this: “Who was the best coach you ever played for?” Without any hesitation, Kevin answered, “Don Nelson.” The next question quickly followed: “Why?”
“Because in two years of playing for Coach Nelson, he never once told us to go out and ‘win.’ He’d use the word to appease a reporter from time to time in a press conference, but with us, he found other words. He would tell us: ‘Do the things we have been practicing, because that’s what we can truly control. If we do those things, and do them well, good things will happen for our team.”
I began to think about the many times I had told the kids I was coaching to go out and “win.” I even frequently broke huddles having everyone on the team shout the word “win!” From that day on, I never did it again as a basketball coach… or as a business coach. Isn’t the goal in business to do the things we have been practicing, because that what we can truly control?
But there was one other lesson from this story that needs to be remembered. If it wasn’t for a silly shirt giveaway, I would have never attended that workshop, and learned that invaluable lesson, and why? Because I made the mistake that those with a lot of experience often make. I thought I knew all I needed to know. In the words of John Wooden, perhaps the greatest basketball coach of all times, “It’s what you learn after you know it all, that counts.”