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The Playbook - A coach's rules for life - Part 1

I recently watched an excellent documentary on Netflix called 'The Playbook - A coach's rules for life.'  They interview some of the top coaches in the world and each shares 5-7 of their rules for success that apply not just to sports but also to life.  There is too much to share here so I am breaking it up into a few parts.  Here are the first two coaches that were interviewed and their rules for life: Doc Rivers - played professional basketball for the Atlanta Hawks and then became a head coach, most notably the Boston Celtics where he led them to an NBA title and is currently the head coach for the LA Clippers.  His rules for life are: 

1. Finish the race


When asked what he wanted to become when he grew up, Doc answered ‘Pro Basketball Player’ without hesitation. His teacher told him to be more realistic and write a new goal. His dad agreed with the teacher, but added “..look it’s a great goal. Whatever goal you have, and right now it’s too early, but when you finally settle on one, just finish the race.” And that’s exactly what Doc Rivers did. 


2. Don’t be a victim


While growing up, his parents taught him the essence of hard work, determination, and ‘not to be someone else’s victim’.


When Clippers owner Don Sterling made racist comments before the playoff game, the team had to make a choice on whether they would let it hinder their goal of winning, or rise above it. Doc and the players were expected to boycott the game, but instead protested in their own way by wearing their shirts inside out (so as not to show The Clippers logo) and went back to playing the game. They didn’t allow themselves to become the victim.


3. Ubuntu is a way of life


When someone mentioned the word ‘Ubuntu’ to Doc Rivers, and told him to look the word up and ‘become it’, he began researching what it meant. Ubuntu is an African ideal, a way of life, the essence of being human. The idea is that a person is a person through others. Mandela and Tutu preached and practiced it with their Apartheid masters to revive South Africa.


The team culture was about the whole team, not just the individual. With this in mind, the team started living Ubuntu, and went forward to win the NBA the year after.


4. Pressure is a privilege


Doc taught the team to run towards pressure, expectations and legacy. He needed the team to not just dream of the winning title, but actually win it, and breathe it everyday. He had management install a light that shone on a vacant title spot in the arena, subtly telling the team that they have to fill it with a championship banner. 


5. Champions keep moving forward


Champions fail and have to restart over and over. It’s up to them to decide how much they can take before moving forward. At the NBA finals in 2008 against the Lakers, the Clippers were at a 24 point loss. Doc suggested cutting the 24 point lead by 5-6 points less each time, shrinking it to 18, then to 12, to 8, to 4 to 2. The team kept moving forward in search of their goal and managed to win.

Jill Ellis - the U.S. women’s national soccer team coach. She coached the team to win the World Cup in 2015 and 2019. Ellis had the unique opportunity of adopting the team when they were sitting at #1, and embracing the challenge of keeping them at the top of their game year after year.  Her rules for life are:

1. Mountain tops are small and the air is thin


Ellis told the team that “the top of the mountain is rented space, not one to dwell on”. She firmly believes in sharing your success and owning your failure. It’s important to know that success is not resting on your laurels, someone is always gunning for your spot. Don’t take advantage of it, but continue to build upon it. 


2. Hold fast. Stay true.


When you’re not winning, people start questioning each decision you make. Jill relates this to a story from a Navy Seal. Navy Seals’ mantra in tough situations is ‘Hold Fast, Stay True’. The origins come from an old storm story, where sailors had to hold onto something connected, tied down to a deck. And the person at the wheel had to stay true to the direction, despite not being able to see the stars. 


Coaching the US team is no different. Suddenly, there’s a moment where everyone knows the tough decisions have paid off and it comes together – the faith at that point in one another and the belief in the coach takes the team to the next level.


3. Risk is opportunity


Jill recalls her risk-taking when she decided to become a soccer coach. She knew she was passionate about the sport, but couldn’t beat the stigma around it not being a viable career. Her passion led to taking that risk and it paid off tenfold.


4. Be true to yourself


Jill has always kept her professional and personal life separate. She didn’t want her being gay to affect the teams performance, or give her opponents something to hold against her. When Jill and her partner adopted a little girl – everything changed. She didn’t want her daughter to live in the shadows like she did. Jill decided to be true to herself and tell the team everything – and it brought them closer.


5. If you want to be heard, make a statement


Winning is a long journey, but it definitely makes a statement. While it may take time, it’s worth it in the end, and it’s often the only way to get heard and be noticed. Make that statement and it will allow you to demand respect and prestige. 




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