Monday, March 26, 2007 03/26/07-March Madness

In today's excerpt--Dean Smith, retired head basketball coach at the University of North Carolina, parlayed a profound understanding of human nature into one of the most successful coaching careers in American sports. The following are axioms he employed in leading his teams:

"The Honor Roll: Our coaching staff graded each game on tape, possession by possession. The entire process took about five hours, and we devoted so much time to it because we wanted to be absolutely sure we were accurate in our grading. Statistics can cause all kinds of problems if they aren't accurate. We thought the time was well worth it because we wanted the players to know that we appreciated the little things they did to help their team win. Based on our grading of the tape, we chose an honor roll for each game, and each category was for unselfish play. The Honor Roll [included several categories]: defense, assist/error ratio, offensive rebounding, drawing charges, screening, good plays, blocked shots, and deflections. We wanted our players to depend on the Honor Roll as an appraisal of who played well, rather than the traditional postgame statistics [such as scoring]. In fact, we didn't even let the game statistics in our locker room after the game. I think the Honor Roll was another part of our philosophy that helped bring about unselfish play.

"Shot selection: Sometime in the last ten to fifteen years of my career, I came up with the idea of scrimmaging without keeping score. The idea was to teach our players good shot selection. I would stand by the scorer's table and award points on how good the shot was, not whether it went in the basket. The scoring was done confidentially with me and a manager until the end of the ten-minute scrimmage, at which time we would announce the winning team. For instance, if someone hit a tough 3-point shot when he should not have taken it, with a defensive player guarding him and no rebounding coverage, I would tell the manager to put down '0 points,' whether it went in or not. If someone had a layup opportunity with no one guarding him and he took but missed the shot, I would tell the manager to mark down the points, because he had taken the best shot. ..."

"Pointing to the passer: It began when John Wooden and I attended a ... conference in Colorado in the mid- sixties. On that trip, Wooden told me he wanted the receiver of a pass that led to a basket to say a quick thank-you to the passer or wink at him. I agreed, but wanted an even more overt gesture, because I felt that while spectators always knew who scored, they were rarely aware of the passer. So the next season, we asked the player who scored to point to the passer in acknowledging the unselfish act of passing the ball to him. Everyone likes to be appreciated."

Dean Smith, The Carolina Way, Penguin, 2005, pp. 132-151.


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