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The 5 Main Components of Winning

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When Jerry Krause was General Manager of the Chicago Bulls, he once said to Michael Jordan the oft quoted expression, “There is no I in TEAM.” Jordan retorted by saying, “But there is an I in WIN.”

What does it take to win? I believe there are five components that must be present to win in athletics. I believe these five ingredients are present in winning in all areas of life. They are especially important to the success of leaders in any endeavor undertaken.

1. Talent

I coached basketball for 44 years – 10 at the high school level and 34 at the collegiate level. There is no question in my mind that you need talented players to win.

Coaches who think their teams win because they are geniuses are dead wrong. In fact, they are certifiably crazy! A coach can take mediocre players and make them competitive, and many coaches do just that, but winning championships takes a higher level of players.

There is one disclaimer about talented players. Talent alone will not win championships. It’s only talented players who are willing to play together that win at the highest level.

When I was coaching at the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Illinois, we had three outstanding players who came to us at approximately the same time – Billy Meyers, Paul Stachowicz, and Dave Wilhelmi. All three of them were terrific players and could have played at a level higher than ours. We also had talented players who complemented them.

In an instant, I became an okay coach! It’s funny how that works! I believe we won 19 of our last 21 games, beat a Division I team at their place, were runners-up at the National Catholic Basketball Tournament, beat two teams that won about 25 games each in the first two playoff games, and ended the season one game away from the NAIA National Tournament. 

Could we have won at that level without our three arrivals? NO!

2. Sacrifice

It takes special people to be on a championship team. Most, if not all of us, appreciate recognition and awards, but great teams must have people who are willing to sacrifice their individual glory for the team glory.

This sacrifice can be very difficult for some athletes. However, winning big will not happen if these athletes do not buy into unselfishness, into the team-first concept.

We had a stretch at St. Francis where we finished first or second in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference in fifteen years of an eighteen-year period. We vied for the championship in each of these fifteen years.

We were blessed with talented players who had the desire to win, and I cannot remember ever having to address unselfishness with any of those teams. From their high school athletic years, they already knew it was about “we,” not “I.” 

Recently, ten of our players got together to support a teammate who lost his wife. Their commitment to TEAM, which happens often in athletics, has lasted long past their playing days. 

3. Practice

Winning teams prepare. I have always believed in the 5 P’s – Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. In the athletic arena, you play as you practice; you win when you prepare to win. It is all about the preparation.

I made numerous errors in my coaching career, but one stands out above the rest. I was a young coach at the time and thankfully learned a valuable lesson, albeit the hard way.

I was coaching at Providence High School in New Lenox, Illinois and we got off to a great start, beating schools much bigger than we were. I believe we began the season 10-1, losing only to the previous year’s Iowa State Championship team by 2 points.

After this start, we had a weekend coming up where we were going to play two opponents whom we were better than. We simply had better players than they did. So, mistakenly, I told our players I had pushed them hard the previous 5-6 weeks and I was going to let up some in our practices. 

The first team came to our gym, totally outplayed us, and gave us a sound beating. We had to play the next night on the road, did not recover from the previous night’s loss, and lost again. 

What a lesson for Coach Sullivan!

Winning doesn’t always mean being first. Winning means you’re doing better than you’ve ever done before.” —Bonnie Blair

4. Gameplan

Coach Jack Ramsay, the outstanding college and pro coach, used to stress, “Defense is the great equalizer.” We believed that and spent considerable time studying opponent’s game videos. We were looking for the “little things” we could do to disrupt their offensive execution. It can be one small change that can make the difference between victory or defeat.

We had to beat a very good team to advance to the national tournament. They had an excellent offense and used their post play both effectively and extensively. After many hours of study, we found one “little thing” that could eliminate fifty percent of their entries into the post. I doubt that many people at the game noticed the change we made, but it was that adjustment that led us to the nationals.

Our game plans were based on numerous hours of video study. This work was done only by the coaches because of the exhaustive time it required. We then broke down only the key points where we could disrupt our opponent’s offensive rhythm. These key points were what we showed to our players because we did not want to inundate them with a lot of tape.

Our game plans were organized in five segments. We first gave the players a written game plan. We then talked them through the plan. This was followed by walking through the opponent’s offense and showing our players where we could stop their offensive flow. This was followed by a short segment of film work, again emphasizing our pressure points. Finally, usually the day before the game, we reduced the plan to one page.

Basketball was invented after the life of Benjamin Franklin, but he sure got to the essence of a game plan, or all planning, when he wrote, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

5. End of game strategy

You must be prepared in your end of game strategy to win. Football calls it their Two Minute Drill and some teams, especially teams with outstanding quarterbacks, can gain a lot of yards in that short time span.

I have seen two interesting concepts in basketball at the end of the game that can prevent a team from winning. One emanates when you are winning at the end of a game and the other when you are losing.

When winning with little time left, I have seen teams not be able to inbound the ball after an opponent’s score followed by their time-out. Great teams have set plays with different alignments to inbound the ball at these crucial times. They want to protect the lead and gain the win.

Conversely, when losing at the end of the game, you must have a strategy that can turn a potential loss into a win. After you score, your players must know how to create a 5 second call, how to steal the inbound pass, and when and how to foul. You must follow these points with an alignment and set plays after your opponent makes or misses a free throw. 

I have seen potential wins turn to losses and losses turn to wins based on how prepared teams are with their end of game strategy.

Conclusion

I believe these five strategies transcend athletics. They can be used by leaders in any organization.

  1. TALENT – Leaders must surround themselves with talented people.
  2. TOGETHER – Leaders must work with their talented people to buy into it’s all about “us,” not “me.”
  3. PRACTICE – Leaders must instill the 5 P’s in their group – Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.
  4. GAME PLAN – Leaders must organize strategic planning for their organization.
  5. END OF GAME STRATEGY – Leaders must develop back-up plans, especially when losing at the end of a quarter.

Pat Sullivan was a successful coach, teacher, and administrator in the Chicago area for 44 years – 10 years at the high school level and 34 at the collegiate level. His basketball teams won 602 games; he was named Coach-of-the-Year 11 times; and he has been inducted into 8 Halls of Fame. He has received Lifetime Achievement awards from Lewis University, the Joliet, Illinois, Chamber of Commerce, and the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association. Pat has offered basketball clinics and camps in Austria, Ireland, Belgium, and Greece and has spoken at clinics throughout America for the USA Coaches Clinics. He has also spoken to business executives from IBM, Accenture, and Sun Microsystems, as well as the University of Notre Dame’s Play Like A Champion conference. He is the author of Attitude-The Cornerstone of Leadership and Team-Building: From the Bench to the Boardroom.

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