By Dr. Tim Rice
Contributor, Sports+Fitness Network
On January 25th, Mike Krzyzewski, arguably the greatest basketball coach of his generation, won his 1,000th game as a collegiate coach. He has coached as a head coach for 40 years coaching many student-athletes, in addition to the USA Basketball team members. He is known as an outstanding coach but, more importantly, he is a builder of leaders. That focus on leadership goes all the way back to his days as a cadet at West Point, where he played for Bob Knight and attended one of the best schools in America. I can only imagine the stories he and his players could tell us about his drive as a coach, but also of his ability to use his stories to change lives. O’Neil (2015) offers some great information about his life and provides us with what made him what he is today.
Coach K has given a lot of credit to Coach Knight for giving him his start in the coaching business. It would seem that Coach K is someone who knows that mentoring makes a huge difference in a life. However, I wonder how the stories of his life and career have made a difference in mentoring his players and staff members?
I was fortunate enough to coach for 20 years. I coached basketball, cross country, golf, and even soccer at the college level and coached at the high school level for four years. I also worked in the business world for four years after stepping out of the full-time world of college coaching. I was mentored by many outstanding sport professionals during this time. I remember when I was given the chance to be a full-time online professor in 2010 and stepped away from the business world. As I closed my fundraising career, I actually had some worn-out shoes that I wore every day in my job that I felt told a story: a story of battling hard to reach goals on both a personal and professional level; a story of continuing to keep walking toward those goals, even when the odds were against me; and the incredible power of a vision and a dream. I have shared this story titled “Power of the Story” in a blog post of the same name here.
I have shared the story in the link above with many of my students and those who I mentor in the coaching world. I have also shared the many experiences I have had in my career in sport. How can stories make a difference in mentoring future sport professionals? Here is what I have found through the years.
The men who helped me get my start in coaching were my college mentors, Sid Elliott at Enterprise State Junior College, and Dr. Bill Elder at Mobile College (now known as University of Mobile). Coach Elliott gave the chance to be a basketball manager in 1988, a blessing that changed my life. He told me stories of playing at Tennessee for legendary coach Ray Mears, who was one of the first great marketing geniuses in college basketball. He also shared much about his own coaching career at Enterprise.
Coach Elder has become one of my good friends and, much like Don Haskins of UTEP and “Glory Road” fame, faced the challenge of racial discrimination by having the first African-American players in an Alabama Junior College in the early 1970’s during his time at Northeast Alabama Junior College. His book, “All Guts, No Glory,” documents the story. He has also been a great mentor to me during the last 25 years of my own career.
One of the greatest storytellers I have ever met was Harry Sheehy, the current athletic director at Dartmouth College. I was fortunate to work with him on his final basketball coaching staff at Williams College in Williamstown, MA. He was a legendary basketball coach at Williams and is probably one of the most engaging speakers and greatest motivators I have ever met. I was fortunate to also be part of a masterful final season of his coaching the 1999-2000 team. He had so many stories from his coaching career and from his days as a player for Athletes in Action.
What all these mentors did for me was offer stories that triggered “the ancient human muscle of the imagination” (Duncan, 2014). I saw in them what I could possibly be one day. This led me to reach my dream of becoming a head college basketball coach, as well as earn my graduate and terminal degrees in sport management.
As Duncan (2014) found out in his interview with Geoffrey Berwind, professional storytelling consultant and trainer, “stories powerfully connect” our team to us because sharing “our own real-life stories or the stories of others” help them “get to know us as authentic people…who have struggled with problems and who have figured out how to overcome them.” Tjan (2014) stated the following, which really shows how important sharing your stories is: “The leaders who stick in your mind are likely the ones who humanize their message and deliver it in ways that connect with everyone at some level, in turn inspiring others to relate to them while better appreciating the mission at hand.”
How are you sharing your story with those who follow you? How could your story change the future of a follower? How could it change your own life? Your followers are waiting. I challenge you to be authentic and energetic as you lead this week, as Coach K talked about after winning against St. John’s:
Decock, L. (2015, January 25). For Coach K, many smaller numbers are as big as 1,000. The News & Observer. Retrieved from http://www.newsobserver.com/2015/01/25/4504221_decock-1000-not-krzyzewskis-proudest.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy.
Duncan, R. D. (2014, January 4). Tap the power of storytelling. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/rodgerdeanduncan/2014/01/04/tap-the-power-of-storytelling/.
O’Neil, D. (2015, January 15). Do you know Mike Krzyzewski? ESPN.com. Retrieved from http://espn.go.com/espn/feature/story/_/id/12161880/duke-blue-devils-coach-mike-krzyzewski-think-is.
Rice, T. H. (2010, June 11). The power of the story [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://ricesradicalsabbatical.com/http:/ricesradicalsabbatical.com/the-power-of-the-story.
Tjan, A. K. (2014, April 15). The indispensable power of story. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2014/04/the-indispensable-power-of-story/.