A coach can be compared to a chef. A chef has to use the right ingredients, and the right amount of each ingredient to create a meal they feel is a success. A coach is like a chef in that they have to have a variety of the right ingredients to have a successful season. There are so many different ingredients (characteristics) a team must possess to have a successful season. You could ask hundreds of coaches for the ingredients they feel are needed to create a successful team and you would get many different answers.
There are coaches who say time and time again, "I need more talent if we are going to be successful." Having talent can make things easier for coaches. But if anyone coaches long enough you know there are going to be years when the talent level isn't going to be as high. The challenge for coaches is to find a way to be successful during those years when the talent level might be a little lower. Whether your team is full of talent, or talent-less, there is an ingredient (characteristic) that will give your team the best chance to reach their full potential.
Leadership. Leadership from the coach and players. Leadership may not trump talent every single game, but it can some nights. And all things being equal between two teams, the team with the best leadership will often times come out on top.
1. Be organized and prepared. Always have a practice plan ready for each practice. Write it down and post it for the team to see. This shows the team that you are putting thought into and have a plan for each practice. Be organized for each game. Have a scouting report and know the tendencies of your opponents. The great John Wooden said it best when he said, "Failing to prepare is preparing to fail."
2. Expect the best from each player. Not every player possesses the same amount of talent, but the coach needs to expect each player's best.
3. Respect. Treat the players with respect. Treat your staff with respect. Treat officials with respect. Treat your opponents with respect. Respecting everyone doesn't mean each day is all "flowers and rainbows." A coach can demand a lot and still treat everyone with respect.
One of the beautiful things about the coaching profession is you get to work with people. It also makes it one of the challenging aspects of coaching because each person is wired differently. Each and every player on your roster can lead. It's important to remember this, but also remember that each player can lead in a different manner. Some of your players can be vocal with their leadership. Others can lead quietly through their actions.
Regardless if a player leads quietly or vocally, the key to this ingredient (characteristic) is that the player who is leading must "walk the walk". Talk is cheap. If a player is all talk then their words mean nothing to the rest of the team. One of the all-time best leaders on a college basketball court was Duke's Christian Laettner. Laettner was known to be very demanding on his teammates to try and get the best out of him. If you ever get a chance to read the book The Last Great Game by Gene Wojciechowski, do it. He goes into great detail throughout the book how Laettner was constantly demanding and expecting the best from his teammates. His teammates did follow his lead, and the result was Duke winning back to back national championships in 1991 and 1992. The thing that made Laettner's form of leadership effective was the fact he didn't just throw jabs at his teammates to pick on them. He was also "walking the walk" as he was a hard worker himself, and also expected the best from himself.
As coaches we have to keep an eye on how our players are attempting to lead. We need to make sure that players are doing it in a way that can help our team. If a player's attempt at leading is coming across in a way that is detrimental to the team the coach needs to step in and talk to this player. Encourage your leaders to continue to raise the bar in a way the rest of the team will want to follow. There may be years when your team can handle a Laettner-type of leadership. Other years may require a different style from a player or players.
LEADERSHIP INGREDIENT IS SPECIAL
The leadership ingredient is important because when times are tough each team needs to have that person or group of people that they can rely on. There is no fool proof way to measure leadership, but we know it has value. There isn't a coach reading this that wouldn't take that ingredient and add it to their own team's recipe for success.
Value leadership. Commend players who provide it. Encourage and teach others to do the same.