Sunday, May 30, 2010

Two Teams, One Championship Formula?

The Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics are both in the 2010 NBA finals...again. They are meeting in the finals for the 12th time in their long histories. They last met in 2008. The Lakers have been in three straight finals, while the Celtics have been in two of the last three years.

Perhaps they are there again for good reason. Perhaps it has something to do with their culture or their perspective on how to approach the game. Let's look at their championship mentalities.

Continuous Improvement Mentality

“We’re constantly thinking about what this team needs in order to win a championship.”

--Derek Fisher, Los Angeles Laker point guard, talking particularly about his long and close relationship with Laker teammate, Kobe Bryant.

A Championship Vision

“Listen, Kobe’s always been like, ‘Everybody’s in my way, I have goals, you’re either with me or not.’ From the start he had a visual of how he wanted his career to go, what he wanted to accomplish and how hard he was going to work to get it. I picked up on that early on, which is why I love the guy.”

“In reverse, as we’ve both aged, I think he respected the things I had to do to stay at a high level.”

The Celtics Stick to the Game Plan

“As players, we kind of fight a little bit,” Boston Celtics' guard Ray Allen said, discussing head coach Doc Rivers' leadership. “We need to do this, we need to do that. Doc would come into the locker room and say we’re not changing anything.”

Allen added, “He stuck to the script the whole time.”

“As a coach, I just believed that I saw what they did and what they had. We kept saying as a staff, it’s in us. We’ve got to try to get it back out of us.”

--Doc Rivers, Boston Celtics' head coach, on his trust in his team.

Reliance on Team Chemistry and Continuity

“The thing that we had more, if you look at the contenders, you look at Orlando, they changed their starting five. You look at Cleveland, they’ve got a different starting five. But the one constant Boston had as a contender, we have the same starting five that won a championship [in 2008].”

--Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics' star, who averaged 24.3 points per game in the conference finals against the Orlando Magic (including 31 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 assists in the clinching of Game Six).

Excerpts from The New York Times (May 29, 2010).

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Championship Playoff Mindset

Perhaps the Boston Celtics have something to teach businesses. Here are some interview statements from Paul Pierce, the Boston Celtic star who scored 28 points Tuesday night in a 95-92 win. The Celtics are trying to get back to the NBA Finals and win another championship as they did in 2008.

Understanding the Customer

The Boston Celtics know who their customer is.

"Our fans won't let us relax. We're going to try and close it out in four games."

--Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics, discussing the Celtic mindset after taking a 2-0 lead in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals.

Mindful of the Competition

The Celtics know that they can't relax even with a leg up on the competition.

"[I] just think our mindset was to be ready for the type of intensity they would bring after losing at home," Pierce said. "We know the Magic are a talented team and we won't take these two wins for granted."

Dealing with Complacency

The Celtics realize that there is a bigger prize to be sought.

"The feeling of the team right now is just focus," Pierce said. "[The] only thing we did was win two games."

Does your organization have the same championship mindset? Are you effectively dealing with focus, complacency, and your competition? Is your organization mentally ready?

For more on the Peak Performance System, click on The Handbook of Peak Performance.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Firing of Mike Woodson and the Definition of Success

I heard an interview on a sports talk radio station, 790theZone, with Rick Sund, General Manager of the Atlanta Hawks. He was nervously defending the firing of Mike Woodson and the future selection of a new head coach. After having fired Coach Woodson due to wanting to "hear another voice" in that role (careful what you say when a performance psychologist is listening to the radio), he said that, indeed, one year ago, he felt that Mike Woodson was the man for the job. What a difference a year makes.

Unbelievably, then, he went on to say that he was going to sit down with other people connected to the team to build a profile to use for selecting the next head coach. He was planning on putting together a long list and a short list of candidates. Why is that unbelievable to me?

Initially, my first question in the firing of the Mike Woodson was: why get rid of someone who had improved his team every season for six years, made life miserable for the future champion Boston Celtics in the 2008 NBA playoffs, and gotten past the first round of the playoff the last two years running?

Secondly, why would you fire someone and try to replace him with a hypothetical someone? Why remove Woodson, who had proven himself to be capable of keeping the team at that level or above, and replace him with someone for whom you had no discernable evidence that he could keep the team at that level or beyond?

My question now is why would you not have a profile in mind when you evaluated the current head coach and now have to come up with one as you start to select the new coach? It would seem to me that it would be just as important to have a profile for evaluation purposes as it is to have one for predicting the future. In fact, why would the profile be any different for Mike Woodson than for Coach X?

Lastly, why is he just beginning to put together a list? Shouldn't he have one already? Just how many candidates are out there that he doesn't know about? Shouldn't he keep his head coach until all of these things are done? What else hasn't he done yet or thought of?

Finally, what retread or old head coach (who is now probably an assistant) will fit a profile for the future that Mike Woodson alledgedly did not fit? For that matter, what up and coming coach would fit?

Based on GM Sund's performance in the firing and hiring of his head coach, should't his head be on the line? Perhaps that is why he sounded so anxious.

My suggestions to any team or organization that is letting go of someone:

1. Develop criteria for performance and success at the beginning of the process.
2. Let the individual and the team know what success looks like.
3. Make sure that you have looked closely at that criteria before you let them go. 4. Also, make sure that there are people interested in your position and they meet your criteria before you pull the plug.

I really want to see the new coach that can assure the Atlanta Hawks that he/she can top 53 regular season wins, make it to the playoffs and get beyond the second round (in other words, the conference finals) in the 2010-2011 season.

What kind of criteria are you using for your performance and the performance of others? What is your definition of success? Is it realistic? Is it attainable? Is it measurable?

For more on performance psychology, click on The Handbook of Peak Performance.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Steve Nash: Zen Playmaker, A Peak Performance Case Study

"All any team has at the end of the day is how hard they work and how bad they want it."

--Steve Nash, two-time NBA MVP of the Phoenix Suns, discussing the nature of teams in 2007.

The Phoenix Suns are in the NBA Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, in large part due to their leader and point guard, Steve Nash. Nash, 36, is in his 14th year in the NBA. He is still pursuing his first NBA championship.

"A lot of it with Steve is his conditioning and what he does in the offseason. He keeps himself in such great shape. He's able to control the game, dribble as much as he does and run as much as he does and still have the strength and the balance to make shots. First of all, I think he's the best pure shooter in the game. ... On top of that, he's such a cerebral player. He finds ways to get good shots better than anybody that I've seen who's not a superior athlete."

--Phoenix Suns' General Manager, Steve Kerr, discussing the individual brilliance of Steve Nash.

"I really believe in everyone here. I really like my teammates a lot. I'm excited to play for Alvin (Gentry). Only one team wins the championship. I don't know if we're that good or not but to be around a really great group of people that can grow, improve and win a lot of games is exciting."

--Steve Nash, discussing his enthusiasm for his team and his motivation.

"It started in training camp. He (Nash) was just determined. He said, 'We're going to get back to where we were and I'm going to see to that.' (It's) true to form with what he's been able to do our team. I've said all along I thought he had a better year this year than any of the two years he won the MVP."

--Alvin Gentry, head coach of the Phoenix Suns.

"Alvin has done a great job of building confidence in each player. Every player has helped us win. We can count on our second team."

--Ama're Stoudemire, All-Star center of the Phoenix Suns, discussing the role of their head coach.

"We defended well. We executed,'" said 37-year-old Grant Hill, who played outstanding defence against the San Antonio Spurs' Manu Ginobili in the conference semi-finals. "We trusted each other and we didn't get discouraged. Collectively everybody did their part."

"Mental toughness encapsulates physical toughness," says Nash, who sustained a gast over his eye that required six stitches in the clinching game against the Spurs.

"With Steve it's all about the flow."

--Bill Duffy, Steve Nash's agent.

Flow, of course, is a term for that state of mind that artists and athletes strive to enter into, and which in full flood entails an ecstatic expansion of consciousness that releases them from confines of the self and produces crowning moments of creativity.

"My first and second years in the N.B.A., I used to get really nervous in a tight game. But now I wait for that moment when things are really close - that's what I really love. Having the ball in my hands and the responsibility makes me feel calm and open. Not to have that, not to get to that point in a game, would feel really...really confining."

--Steve Nash, discussing his confidence.

An interviewer asked Nash, "Was there one shot or game when you first felt that way?"

"Probably it built over time - I don't want it to sound like there's anything too mystical about it," said Nash.

"I've always said when Steve retires, I'll retire. I don't want anyone to be able to figure out whether our success is because of my system or Steve's ability to make it work. There's a period in a player's life where the novelty wears off. You've got kids and money, and sometimes your basketball flame begins to flicker. And then a few years later, you realize you've got a limited amount of time and this is the best it's ever gonna be. I think Steve is one of those guys who has always lived for the game. You can have all the money in the world, but for the great players the only thing that matters is winning a title."

--Mike D'Antoni, former Phoenix Suns head coach and current New York Knicks head coach, said in 2007, prior to being fired.

"There are nights when I ask myself, 'Am I really playing basketball?' But that's mostly from the stuff around the game: talking to the media, taking the bus, getting warmed up. Once I'm out on the court, in the game, the game is great."

--Steve Nash.

"I don't know. I have a lot of energy and a lot of motivation. I have a hard time sitting still. I guess in a way I can't live with the alternative to being driven, which is sitting around being bored. If I'm going to go for something, I'm really going to go for it. I think I realized as a kid that I would keep going when other kids stopped. If my legs are there, if my quickness is there, I can have a good game. If not, I try to find other ways of making plays without being quick. Making smart plays. Making the game simple."

--Steve Nash, responding to a question about what drove him and motivated him beyond the obvious goal of a championship.

However, the Los Angeles Lakers pose a great threat in the NBA Conference Finals. As against the San Antonio Spurs, Nash may find a way to win.

Excerpts from (May 10, 2010), Canadian Press (May 11, 2010) and the New York Times Play magazine (November 2007).

For more on performance psychology, click on The Handbook of Peak Performance.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Atlanta Hawks Need to Ponder Their Future Without Panic or Shame

The Atlanta Hawks of the NBA have finished their 2009-2010 season and should spend a great deal of time reflecting upon and celebrating their accomplishments as well as focus on their current limitations, recent lessons learned, and developmental opportunities. They need not do anything rash.

They have concluded a season in which they improved their total wins by 6 over the 2008-2009 season. The Hawks have gone from a record of 37-45 in 2007 to 47-35 in 2008 and 53-29 in 2009, without changing a starter.

They had the sixth best season record in the league this year and were the 3rd seed this year in the NBA's Eastern Conference. They have made it to the second round of the NBA playoffs in the past two years, losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers last year, and the Orlando Magic this year.

Individually, the Hawks can claim the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award, given to guard Jamal Crawford. They have two solid NBA All-Stars in Joe Johnson and Al Horford. They were an exciting team that other teams did not want to play during the season or meet in the playoffs.

Developmental Opportunities

So, what does this mean for the future? First of all, this is no time to panic. The basic philosophy that has brought the Hawks to this point is sound. They must continue to build the team slowly and patiently. Though it may appear that the Hawks have reached a playoff performance plateau, they did show an overall improvement based on season wins. What this means is that they must continue to do things that serve to improve the team incrementally. This is no time to dismantle the team because of frustration in the way the season ended.

It is clear from the Orlando playoff series and the previous series with the undermanned but hungry Milwaukee Bucks that upgrades to the point guard position and the center position are required for further improvement. This move also serves the purpose of deepening the bench strength of the team and leaving Jamal Crawford as the first catalyst off the bench. This would allow Al Horford to grow as a strong forward, his best position. He is effective now, but too small to consistently handle the bigger centers in the league.

Review: Improvements and Leasons Learned

What is also certain is that the Hawks must learn from deficiencies this season and develop a stronger half-court game and a stronger defensive game. Both issues could be addresed through focusing on coaching and devising more effective schemes. The ability of the Phoenix Suns and Orlando Magic, two of the five teams left in the playoffs, to get to the Conference finals is directly related to their ability to run plays in a half-court game and rotate the ball for open shots, both short and long-range. Both teams are also able to run and convert fast-break points with their excellent defensive pressure. The Hawks, on the other hand, had few scoring streaks and were inconsistent in their ability to fast break. Their defense was unable to effectively create fast break opportunties.

Often, the Hawks, who typically led their opponents into the fourth quarter, turned to a one-on-one game and would lose the lead at the end of the game. Either through the fatigue of working hard for shots or due to their inability to stop the other team, this team would be left behind by a more disciplined opponent.

The Hawks have improved year by year by having taken advantage of their organization's patience and the team's ability to develop a chemistry through consistency and continuity in its coaching staff and players. The Hawks must continue to improve in this way, otherwise, through implosion, the organization will have to start over with more unknowns than they have now. It could be another 10-year wait for another winning team.

The other of the five teams left in the playoffs, the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, and Cleveland Cavaliers, are also strong half-court teams with stifling defenses that create opportunties to score that the Hawks are unable to do consistently.

Please, let's keep building the Hawks, don't implode the team and break down a very solid infrastructure. Let's follow the lead of the elite teams in the league rather the continual also-rans.

For more on performance psychology, click on The Handbook of Peak Performance.