Keywords for success


You have to adapt what you do based on who you are. In teaching, you must remember that no group or individual is the same as who you taught the day before, the year before, or the decade before. Your plan has to suit who you and your team are right now.


Adversity can teach you more about yourself than any success, and overcoming an obstacle can sometimes feel even better than achieving an easy victory. Through adversity, you can discover things about your endurance, your ability to turn a negative into a positive, and your personal strength of heart.


Take care not to allow one aspect of your life to so consume you that you neglect the others. Balance can put things in perspective, can bring you joy even when you are down, and can allow you to be at your best in all aspects of your life.


Belief can mean the difference between a fear of failure and the courage to try. On a team or in a family, belief makes each individual stronger and also fortifies the group as a whole. The basis of belief is in individual relationships.


When you care about someone or something, you show genuine concern for that person or thing, in good times or bad. When you care about one another and about your purpose, you are compelled to put your feelings into action. Care creates an atmosphere that breeds success and gives you the confidence to try again.


No matter how successful you believe yourself to be, you can never feel as if you’ve reached the absolute pinnacle. There are always new and wonderful challenges out there, and part of maintaining success is knowing when you need to accept them.

Collective Responsibility

We win and we lose together. Handling the responsibility for wins and losses together removes the burden from one individual’s shoulders and distributes it among each member of the team. That atmosphere is conducive to high-level performance and places you and your team in the position to be bold and unafraid, and if you should lose, you are not alone.


When you are winning, your commitment is never challenged. But loyalty and dedication during difficult times can be tough. When commitment doesn’t waver, that’s when you have the greatest chance of winning. You can never give up.


Effective teamwork begins and ends with communication. Communication does not always occur naturally and must be taught and practiced in order to bring everyone together as one. The most crucial element of communicating is telling the truth.


You can possess countless good qualities as an individual, but if you don”t have the courage to proceed, you may never see those qualities come to fruition. It takes courage to put what you believe to be the best of you on the line, to test it, and to see how far it takes you. Courage means daring to do what you imagine.

Crisis Management

You prepare for the crisis well ahead of time by establishing trusting relationships among all members of your team. Every team meeting, every practice, every individual conversation establishes who we will collectively be when a crisis occurs. A crisis presents a situation in which it is the leader’s job to find a way to win. If you have a trusting team, business or family, a crisis becomes an opportunity to shine.


Developing a culture means having a tradition that maintains the standards you want to define your program. Culture is established by the people who compose your team and is carried on by those people. A successful development of culture means that you hear different voices echoing the same message throughout the organization — now, through the history of your program, and into its future.


Dependability is the ability to be relied upon. To always be there trying to do your best. Dependability is not only about being there physically but being there at your best. It is about loyalty and commitment, and being someone on whom your teammates can count.


Empathy is the ability to walk in another person’s shoes. As a coach, a parent, or a leader of any kind, one of the most important things that you can feel for one of your “teammates” is empathy. If someone believes that you can identify with their situation and understand their feelings, they are more apt to trust you, which leads to faster responses to situations and better conclusions.


Enthusiasm is a great interest or excitement. When you are enthusiastic, you are a catalyst to those around you. Your unabashed love and emotion for what you are doing are contagious.


The persistent pursuit of excellence determines winners, not the score of the game. To be excellent, you must be yourself. Do the very best that you can do. In giving your best every day, improvement will come naturally. Giving your all makes you better; it’s that simple.


No one can be perfect. When you break out of your comfort zone and try new things, you will probably experience some form of failure. Failure cannot be your final destination; rather, you can use it to shatter limits. It is merely a stepping-stone on your journey to greatness.


No matter how involved you are in what you do, you must always remember that your family is your primary team and strongest core. A person is never more comfortable than when they are with their family, which is why I try to create a family atmosphere with my team. When you are with your family, you are yourself, and when you are yourself, you are at your very best.


There is nothing more valuable than a true friend. They remind you of who you were, who you are now, and who you are going to be. They keep you both grounded and going in the right direction. They can be your conscience and your memory.


Fundamentals are the essential building blocks of a team. To help turn fundamentals into habits requires intensive, intelligent, and repetitive action. If you want to strive for excellence, you must embrace continual work on fundamentals. We can all do the basics, better.

Giving Back

When you use your success to have a positive impact on something or someone else, it adds depth to your life. Having a positive influence on people, helping others: that’s winning. For someone to be a total human being, they must realize that something happened before them, something is happening now, and something will happen after they leave.


Guidance is help. When someone you care about asks for guidance, point them to a path where they can discover their own solution. Then the solution is theirs and they are more apt to stick by it and be even be proud of it. In offering a path as opposed to an answer, you put people in the position to follow that path again and again when new and different problems arise throughout their lives.


The foundation to achievement is in dreams, in imagination. The greatest gift a coach can give a player, a teacher can give a student, and a parent can give to their child is the opportunity to imagine great things. These dreams pave the way for future successes.


Integrity means doing the right thing whether you are alone or with a group, doing the right thing no matter what the rewards or the consequences may be. It means putting your base of ethics into action. It takes strength of character to have integrity.


Living is learning. Once you stop learning, you are no longer living. The key to learning is listening. Make it a habit to listen to everyone. You do not merely learn from the traditional teaching sources.


Love does not always make sense, nor is it always convenient. You have to work hard to keep love strong and to nurture it. Above all else, love is about making someone else better.


Motivation is the extra push needed to reach a goal. One of the best ways to motivate is to be sure that you have surrounded yourself with great teammates. Once you come to know and understand the people on your team as individuals, you will come to realize that everyone needs to be motivated differently.

Next Play

Whatever you have done is not nearly as important as what you are doing right now. The “next play” philosophy emphasizes the fact that the most important play of the game or life moment on which you should always focus is the next one.


When someone feels ownership in a team, they feel empowered and proud. Most importantly, they feel inspired to take care of the program, uphold its standards, and defend its beliefs. The team belongs to all of us and it is the responsibility of all of us to sustain it and to defend its values, purely because they are ours. Whatever we have, let’s take care of it.


Passion is extreme emotion. When you are passionate, you always have your destination in sight and you are not distracted by obstacles. Because you love what you are pursuing, things like rejection and setbacks will not hinder you in your pursuit. You believe that nothing can stop you!


Poise is keeping your composure in spite of the circumstances. Poise requires maturity. It’s about remaining mentally and emotionally balanced all the time, no matter what is taking place around you. The element of poise can make you appear much stronger than can your talent alone.


Pressure is a compelling influence. I look at being put under pressure as an opportunity to show how strong and capable you and your team really are. Preparation, segmenting and a great support group helps cope with pressure.


Pride can be defined as self-respect and a feeling of satisfaction over an accomplishment. It can also be a feeling you get from being a part of something bigger than you. Pride means having an understanding that you put your signature on everything that you do and ensuring then that what you do is done in the best possible manner.


When I hear the word “respect,” I think of treating everyone the same. The simple act of showing respect can allow you to meet great people, to let them come into your life, and to make you a better person. Too often, people will miss out on meaningful relationships with amazing people because they quickly pass judgment.


Selflessness means that you will do what is best for the team. Being a part of something bigger than yourself requires selflessness and understanding that there will be personal sacrifice for the good of the team. And most people desire to be a part of something bigger and to feel as if their actions are for the greater good.


Standards form a level of excellence that we consider our norm. They define what is acceptable for an individual or a team. When you allow your standards to slip, your level of success will decrease alongside your team effort, work ethic, and pride.


Talent is natural ability. The people who reach their destinations are the ones who develop their talents fully and effectively. A talent is a blessing, and it is our responsibility to develop it.


Trust is the foundation upon which relationships must be based. It is developed through open and honest communication, and, once established, creates a shared vision for a common goal. Established trust among a group of individuals bolsters a feeling of confidence that only comes in knowing you are not alone.


Will begins with a foundation of character, values and standards. The definition of will, then, is a refusal to give up on those values. Will can only be displayed when it is tested by challenging circumstances.


Ambition alone is not enough. That ambition must be coupled with hard work for success to be achieved. Real winners put forth the time and effort to make it happen. By putting in the work, you make yourself worthy of winning. I truly believe that you will not win consistently unless you are worthy.

If you would like to learn more, check out Coach K’s book Beyond Basketball.

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