Fundamentals matter when creating and sustaining success.
2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Division 1 Championship Game: North Carolina vs. Villanova
Villanova's Ryan Arcidiacono (15) takes the in-bounds pass with 4.7 seconds left in the game and makes two North Carolina defenders commit and because of poor communication between North Carolina's Joel Berry (2) and Isaiah Hicks (4), Villanova's Kris Jenkins (2) was able to step into and hit an in rhythm transition 3 to win the 2016 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball National Championship.
John Wooden is popularly known as the best coach in the history of college basketball. As the head coach of UCLA his teams accomplished feats that will remain incomparable to others. He made it to 16 Final Fours, won 10 national championships including 7 consecutive and had an 88 game winning streak from 1971-1973. Along the way he has coached some of the best players in the history of the game. How did he generate all this success? By paying attention to details and stressing the little things.
Not a single detail was missed with John Wooden. He would instruct his players on the fundamentals of basketball even down to how to properly put on their socks and shoes. At the beginning of each season a bare-foot Wooden would direct his players to remove their socks and shoes, then together they would slip their socks back on and lace up their shoes in the way that coach Wooden instructed them to do so. He explained that, "sweat socks put on correctly, reduced the chance of blisters, which, in turn, ensures that a player can rebound or shoot free throws or play defense free from pain or distraction (*1)." "These seemingly trivial matters, taken together and added to many, many so-called trivial matters build into something very big: namely, your success (*2)."
In author, leadership, life-skills and mental training consultant Josh Medcalf's 2015 book "Chop Wood Carry Water, How To Fall In Love With The Process Of Becoming Great," John is on a quest to become a samurai archer under the tutelage of a friendly old sensei named Akira. In the 3rd chapter titled, "How much is an inch worth?" when John begins to learn how to properly fire an arrow, he is disappointed to find out that they first must focus on the basics of their stance and drawing motion without nocking a single arrow. As Akira persistently adjusted John's every tiny motion, John couldn't help but ask if any of this matters "It's just an inch." (I know coaches have all heard that before.) Akira explained that it was so much than that and handed John an arrow and told him to shoot. He hit the target. Akira then hands John another arrow, instructs him and to hold his stance while he made adjustments that where never more than an inch for him. When John fired at the target after the adjustments, he missed badly. As Wooden proclaimed earlier, Akira also demonstrated in his own way, "Everything we do no matter how mundane, matters greatly when it is multiplied by the number of times we do it. Over time, even the smallest habit or choice can change our lives immensely (*3)."
Let's revisit the above video and analyze how the basic fundamentals affected the outcome. Imagine the amount of practice time Villanova's coach Jay Wright has spent with his team on special situations like, 2nd half, tie ball game, 4 seconds on the clock and you have to inbound full court. How many times would you guess Arcidiacono practiced handling the ball, while passing and catching against pressure? I bet Kris Jenkins has spent countless hours in the gym getting repetitions shooting transition 3's with his hands ready, catching the ball, getting into his one-two step with his feet, rising on balance with his eyes on the target, elbow lift and follow-through. On the flip side, I'm very confident that Roy Williams and North Carolina work on defensive special situations in practice. I am especially confident that at a high major division 1 college basketball program, the importance of communication at all times on the floor is a non negotiable part of their culture. In this instance Arcidiacono handles the ball to perfection, draws two defenders, and creates the mismanagement of communication between defensive rotations for North Carolina. Jenkins trails the play, receives a perfectly timed pass from Arcidiacono exploiting the defensive miscommunication and the inches of space that it created, to which his muscle memory from years of training and repetition doing the little things took over. He buried a 3 pointer and in doing so gave Villanova the title and solidified his "One Shining Moment" in the lore of college men's basketball.
Conclusion-How do we gain inches?
"Do you know what separates wildly successful people from everyone else, John?” "Luck?" Akira shook his head, no. "Hard work?" Again, no. "Coming from the right background?" Akira smiled, "Inches, John. That's all that separates them(*3)."
So how do you gain "inches" with your team both individually and collectively? Simple but not so simple....training! The US Navy SEALs are widely regarded as the most elite military special forces unit in the world.Their missions are extremely dangerous and attention to detail, the little things, are not only a determination of success or failure but in almost every case a matter of life and death. One of their many motto's is, "Under pressure, you don't rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training! Navy SEALs train for well over 2.5 years pushing themselves to the maximum mental and physical limits pre-deployment (*4). How do you prepare for the season and games. What do you emphasize with your team?
Do you emphasize communication on both ends of the floor? Do you work on passing and catching along with offensive and defensive rotations? Do you allow your players to take shortcuts during sprints or do you demand for them to touch every line? These are a sample of the inches to be gained or to be lost within individual, team and program development. As coaches, our every action matters. What we emphasize becomes law and the results are how our team performs. If we don't emphasize the little things, we don't gain inches and over time our teams may miss out on success. The only real question is to figure out for your team or program what little things are important to you so that you can accomplish the goals you set out to achieve.
1.) Wooden on Leadership by John Wooden and Steve Jamison, 2005, New York: McGraw- Hill, pp.144-145.
2.) Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court by John Wooden, 1997, New York: McGraw-Hill, p.63
3.) Chop Wood Carry Water: How To Fall In Love With The Process Of Becoming Great by Joshua Medcalf, 2015,California: CreateSpace, pp.7-10.
4.) https://www.navy.com/careers/navy-seal, retrieved 21 December 2018.