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Without Trust,
Life is Not Worth Living

-- Confucius

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Great Lessons from Great Sports Coaches & The Greatest Athlete of All Time

by Robert Porter Lynch   Copyright 2010

Every one of us in business wants to be successful. While few in business ever want to talk about it, unquestionably our biggest fear is failure. Often we work extraordinary hours to ensure success and ward off that dreaded fear. So what can sports tell us about success?

I’m a sports fan; I confess I often jump to the sports page first when I read the paper to see who’s been successful. But I’m not the normal fan. I look for the stories of how coaches got their teams and star players to do extraordinary things. I love the “worst to first” stories, the comebacks, the less-talented that excel out of sheer grit and determination, and the castaway players that experience resurrection. The best stories for me are often during the Olympics about those who overcome unbelievable adversity – cancer, broken bones, poverty, and physical disabilities – to go on to become the best in the world.

With that in mind, here are some things I’ve found about great coaches that most people often miss: Trust was an essential ingredient in the success formula. Sometimes trust was right out in the open, sometimes imbedded into the “quality of character,” yet most times its woven subtly into the fabric of the thinking of great coaches, but not ostensibly stated.

UCLA & John Wooden: This exemplary coach was probably the best example of how building character and winning went hand-in-hand. Members of his teams had to live to the standards of his 12 point character-building pyramid. “Ability may get you to the top, but character – mental, moral, and physical keeps you there.” Wooden’s teams were fantastic!

Boston Celtics & Red Auerbach: His dynasty of the 1960’s was based on choosing players for three overriding qualities – talent, character, and teamwork. The best singular example was the matchup between the Celtics’ Bill Russell and the giant Wilt Chamberlain. Statistically Chamberlain was overwhelming, but no match for the smaller Russell whose character beat his opponent every time. When Doc Rivers took over the Celtics in 2007, they were wallowing in the cellar. He brought together three players – Pierce, Garnett, and Allen – who’d never played together. Rivers focused on one powerful thing: TRUST. By the end of the season they’d devoured the league and won the championship.

Green Bay Packers & Vince Lombardi. Stories about Lombardi are legendary. He took the Packers from losers at the bottom to the championship in two years. What most people don’t realize is the focus he had on building trust. Here are a few examples: He quoted Lord Byron, “Adversity is the first path to the truth.” And Herbert Spencer: “Character, rather than education, is a man’s greatest safeguard, because character is higher than the intellect.” “Every player must first place the team ahead of his personal glory. The man who plays must make personal sacrifices – victory means team glory for everyone – personal glory means little if a team loses.” “To be a leader, you must be honest.” “Leadership is based on truth and character. It must have truth in its purpose and willpower in its character.” “Two main things on a new job are Personality Analysis (Character) and Talent Analysis (Competence).”

So… Who was the Greatest Athlete of the Twentieth Century? Every sports fan has an opinion. My choice is Wayne Gretzky. They didn’t call him the Great One for nothing. When Sports Illustrated named Mohammad Ali the greatest athlete of the 20th Century, I was stunned. Gretzky not only dominated the game, but he did something no one else in sports had ever done — the National Hockey League’s scoring leader with the most goals scored and the most assists. In fact, he had 2 times more assists than goals. No one else is even close. He was the ultimate team player. His teammates trusted him not to hog the puck; they trusted him to win with the team, not as a lone ranger superstar; they trusted him to do the right thing for the team, and put his own glory on the back burner. Who is your choice?

  • Robert Porter Lynch

All Rights Reserved -- Copyright 2010

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