Coaching — 4 Factors For A Strong Legacy

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“Our legacies as coaches are not…how many games or championships we win.  Our legacy…is always going to be measured by how our players talk about us.”

–     Billy Donovan, (b. 1965) basketball coach, University of Florida and NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder

That sounds sorta like something that might be said by a coach that didn’t win many championships.  In that context, cynics might hear it as an excuse.

Let’s put that thought to rest, shall we?  Billy Donovan has won a lot of games, and plenty of championships — including back-to-back NCAA Championships at Florida.  This past weekend, the University of Florida named its basketball court after Coach Donovan.  More than a dozen former players, several of them head coaches in their own right, made the trip to be there with their mentor on the most special day of his career.  The presence of those players meant more to Donovan than his name painted on the floor of The O’Connell Center.

Why were so many of his protegees in attendance?

It’s about the process and the growth of the players during their time with the coach.

Simon Sinek covers it well in his 2019 book The Infinite Game.  If our first concern is for the scoreboard and the short-term outcome, we’re playing a finite game.  For Donovan and people in his line of work, that would mean success was measured 40 or 48-minutes at a time.  For corporate types, it’s a quarter at a time or a few cents per share on earnings.  When we play an infinite game, success is measured in lifetimes, careers, group accomplishments, and personal growth.  Not a basketball fan?  Consider Hayden Fry, Bill Walsh, Bob Knight (he mentored some guy named Coach K) and a college teammate of mine, Tony Perkins.  Not a sports fan?  Jack Welch, Fred Smith, Steve Jobs, and Abraham Lincoln.

One of my favorite coaches (who leads one of my least favorite teams), Matt Campbell says, “Fall in love with the process and the process will love you back.”

It’s about honoring the important at the expense of the urgent, not the other way around.

Great coaches’ legacies are steeped in the clarity they bring to chaos, the simplicity they bring to perceived complexity, and the freedom to decide they instill in their teams.  Dennis Kuester, one of my truly greatest mentors told us, “If you need me while I am on vacation, I have to ask if I need you when I get back.”  It was his way of reminding us that he paid us to make decisions, and that he trusted us to do so even when he was away for a break.

It’s about “open mic night” at our funeral.

Sorta morbid, right?  Yet great coaches know that it’s going to be standing room only at their funerals and that anyone who speaks will use words like “inspired,” “demanded,” “trusted” and “taught.”  Legacies aren’t what are leftover after we’re gone, they’re what is sprouting all around us while we’re still here, so that it can bear fruit that will feed a next generation of leaders.  It’s about kids of people we led being named after us, maybe even after we’re gone.

It’s about being a multiplier and a connector.

Legacies often have their roots in an introduction the leader makes on behalf of one of his team to someone who multiplies the gifts of their new connection.  It’s about taking the blame when the team loses and passing along the credit when the team wins.  It’s about Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer sitting with golfers 60 years their junior and simply answering their questions.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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