Focusing on the development of leadership inside and outside of sports, Dan Helfrich led the discussion by asking Jesse about his role model and former coach, the late John Thompson. Thompson is the subject of Jesse and his autobiography I Came as a Shadow and has been inducted into both the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. Dan asked, “How much of coaching effectiveness has nothing to do with basketball at all?"
Jesse spoke on Thompson's character and his inner conflict between winning, and the well-being of the team. He felt that too many are consumed by the idea of a win, and it affects all of their decisions in and out of the game. Jesse shared one of his favorite quotes from Thompson, “I had to protect myself from my own worst instincts”. He felt that this type of mentality can be applied at all levels of the game.
I had to protect myself from my own worst instincts.
The discussion turned to the topic of servant leadership and how the most impactful leaders show up every day despite the hardships they might be facing. Kristine recalled her experience with two of her older teammates on the Olympic team, Julie Foudy, and Carla Overbeck. Julie and Carla were able to balance each other out with Julie’s eccentric personality and Carla’s calm behavior. Despite the polar personalities, they both showed relentless effort in every game and every practice. “I’d see Carla picking up the cones after practice and think, 'If my leader is doing this, why aren’t I?'", recalled Kristine from her memories of the team. She explained how this relentless dedication from the two was contagious to the rest of the team and built an amazing atmosphere for success. “None of us were bigger than the whole”, she added.
Developing a successful and healthy team-building environment was a main topic throughout the webinar. Dan directed a question at Sam, asking what the role of the team captain/coach relationship had in shaping the culture of a team or franchise? Sam has studied many franchises with a winning culture over decades and originally concluded that it appeared the coach made no difference in the success of the team, as coaches were often swapped out despite the franchise continuing to win. Sam realized then that it wasn’t specifically the coach that mattered, but rather the relationship between team captain and coach. The number one thing that he noticed between every successful dynasty is that they were built on strong partnerships between the team leader and the coach. Their relationship fostered an open place for discussion, built on a foundation of respect and compromise. Sam gave the example of Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich as one of his favorite duos to see in action. They always talk out any issues that came up. He also explained how most of the best team captains were not the star players, but rather the defensive, strategic players, those in the shadows who get the job done, the ‘servant leaders’ as previously mentioned.
Panelists discussed important topics such as what makes a great leader and how do you make a great team in the world of business, as well as, how you can translate those characteristics into the sports environment. Some concepts that repeatedly surfaced were staying humble, being open, hardworking, and respectful, not only as a leader but as a teammate as well. These characteristics foster an atmosphere where everybody works harder and finds greater success. Creating this atmosphere can help build a brighter future for kids playing sports, and a better world for all.