About a year ago, a friend of mine, who is an up-and-coming High School Basketball Coach in the Northeast, had the opportunity to visit a UCONN Women’s Basketball practice. After watching for nearly two hours, he got to sit and talk with their Head Coach, Geno Auriemma. For those of you who have been hiding under a rock and don’t know who Geno is, he has been the Head Coach of not just 11 NCAA Championship Teams at UCONN, but has now coached USA Women’s Basketball team to two straight Olympic Gold medals [a streak that extended the USA Women’s Basketball Teams to six straight Olympic wins]. When my friend had the opportunity to ask Geno what it is that they do that separates the UCONN Women from everyone other team, he could not have given a better answer:

‘We don’t do anything different than anyone else does in the country. Anyone who comes and see’s our workouts knows that. The difference is not in what we do; it’s how we do it. We go 100% all the time. And that is the level of effort that we expect from everyone. It doesn’t matter to me what you did in High School. If the effort is not 100% all the time, then this is probably not the place for you.

After that meeting, ‘It’s not what we do, it’s how we do it’ became the theme for my friend’s team. Before that meeting, the were 0-3; they then went on to only lose 4 more games that year, having one of the most successful seasons in the school’s history.

This is why ‘how you do it’ is important:

Talent Matters, But Not as Much as Effort

In the words of another great coach, Pat Summit, ‘the one thing that a person can control is their effort.’ It’s hard to think of a better sentence that can best define how important it is that a coach and athlete focus on their effort, rather than rely on their talent. Effort has everything to do with how you do something, rather than what you are doing. You can have a team with talented players in every position, however a team that is talented will lose to a team that has less talent but puts in a better effort, nearly every time. This is because a team that has less talent understands that in order to be successful, they must execute their plays, their practices, and their film sessions, better than the teams that are more talented, because their effort is the only way that they can have success against teams with more talent.

And this does not mean that one has to be out-of-control, burning themselves out and potentially risking injury to defeat teams more talented. An important thing to note about effort in relation to ‘how you do it,’ is that effort needs to be intense, but controlled. When you instruct athletes to do something ‘with 100% effort’ or ‘all out,’ they may have the tendency to become try ‘too hard’ and tighten-up, focus so much on the intensity of the moment that the technique goes south, and lose awareness of their emotions and actions at any given moment. It needs to be communicated clearly with all involved what the goals and outcome are of the drill itself, but more so, what are you as a coach specifically looking for in their effort and execution that will make this drill better than if they just ‘went through the motions.’ Remember that ‘going through the motions’ does not win championships, it’s how you do them that matters.

It Creates Another Accountability System for Your Team

Great coaches establish strong accountability systems for their assistants, their athletes, and themselves. These systems are can be based on the gathering of raw data [shots missed, field goals made, total strikeouts, etc.] or by the visual, in person examination of the effectiveness of someone’s effort and execution of their work. In other words, you and I both know that there are some things that you cannot see in raw data. You cannot measure how good the technique of someone’s shooting execution is, someone’s hours spent in the batting cages after practice is over, or how hard someone tries in their sprints at the end of practice.

However, when you are examining how you do things rather than what you do, you then create a new way for your athletes and coaches to be measured. And these measurable elements are much more important than any other raw data that you are going to look at. Because if your team is performing well, but doing all the important things wrong, it’s only a matter of time before their bad habits catch up with them.  

 It Makes an Athlete Compete Against Themselves

One of the skills not taught enough by coaches in every sport is that the most important person to compete against is not your opponent during a game, or your teammates during practice – it is yourself. If you yourself are first, focused on achieving the goal that is right in front of you, and second, putting in your best effort in that moment, then the person who will be pushing you the most to be your best is not your teammates or opponents, but yourself. It is in this moment, where you are not focusing on what you do [when is competing against someone else], but how you do it [by asking yourself to play at the maximum of your ability].

It’s important to remember that when coaching a team or training yourself, that there is not a magical workout or play that will take your team to the next level. What is important however, is the quality of your work, and asking yourself and people you are working with to be focused and put in the best effort possible, then you will have a great opportunity to beat against any team that you compete against, no matter how talented they may be.

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