28 January 2012

Link of the day: Coaching like a creative writing instructor

While in the bookstore sitting out a fire alarm, I picked an issue of Sports Illustrated. I came across the annual Sportsman of the Year issue. This year, the award was bestowed on college basketball coaches Mike Krzyzewski and Pat Summitt. I was especially intrigued by descriptions of Krzyzewski's style of coaching. Writer Alexander Wolff claims that he thinks of coaching his players as writing a story.
For someone who doesn't read, Krzyzewski coaches an awful lot like a creative writing instructor. Two weeks ago, before Duke played Kansas in the final of the Maui Invitational, Krzyzewski gave his inexperienced team a kind of grammar to moot the burden of conscientiousness he feared they'd feel. The shots presenting themselves that night, he told them, wouldn't be their shots. "I told them they were my shots, and that I wanted them to take them," he says. "That they should shoot whenever they felt a shot, and I'd live with the result. Young players, if they thought of shots in a big game as theirs, they might hold back."
Krzyzewski tries to teach his players to see themselves honestly, to see themselves the way he sees them. That truthfulness helps them grow.
"I could recite a definition or quote some famous author on ownership, and they would never feel it," Krzyzewski says. "You tell stories, and you have a chance to feel the word."

Krzyzewski teaches his Blue Devils by arraying things around them that they can see. "If one of my guys can see himself honestly, that's the rite of passage to the place where he and I can have a trustful relationship," he says. "In a moment on the bench, he can see himself through my eyes. I'd say I've had that relationship with most of my players. Sometimes they never give you themselves. But sometimes they give you themselves that first day, and it just gets bigger."
The Sports Illustrated piece recounts a particularly poignant story about US Olympian Kevin Durant.
In August 2010 in Madrid, Krzyzewski gathered the U.S. national team before an exhibition game with Spain. As he addressed his players he noticed forward Kevin Durant staring at the floor. Afterward he took Durant aside to tell him the importance of eye contact.

"Coach," Durant replied, "I'm a shy person."

"Kevin, you can't be a shy person. I need you to be great. We need to be great together."

That night the U.S. beat Spain in the final seconds, and the next morning the team reconvened to view film. When he rolls tape, Krzyzewski often stops the action to make nontactical points—to flag a facial expression or a phrase of body language. And here was Durant in freeze-framed glory, looking like a basketball god come down in vengeance.

"Kevin! That's what I'm talking about!"

Krzyzewski wheeled on point guard Russell Westbrook. "Russell, when Kevin looks like that, how does it make you feel?"

"When Kevin looks like that, it makes me feel like we're gonna win," Westbrook replied.

"Kevin, if you look like that, before you make one shot or grab one rebound or stop one guy on defense, you've created a mood of winning."

Durant went on to dominate the worlds, averaging 33 points over the final three games. In his coach's judgment, no American has ever played better in an international competition. "Kevin had been lumped in with his peers and didn't know how to separate himself," Krzyzewski says. "Sometimes you have to show guys."

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