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Inside the Club: What Sports Teams can Teach us About Leadership


shutterstock_175806233In this article I want to examine leadership from an angle that is far too often performed. I’m going to use sports to showcase leadership, team building and teamwork — imagine that. Also, I’m not going to be unique with my example because I’m going to use my own alma mater, the University of Kentucky Wildcats men’s basketball team — which, if you follow the sport, you’ll have heard a lot of this already.

So why should you follow this article past the second paragraph? Well, because no one has yet translated it to how you work with your team in a fitness aspect, or you have no clue what I was talking about in paragraph one and you’re still, for some reason, intrigued.

So moving away from being so crass, why I want to touch on the UK basketball team is two-fold. The first: because for the vast majority of my career I’ve provided business-solution articles for the fitness industry, and I want to, for once, touch on sports. The second: because this team is comprised of the greatest talent outside of an NBA Allstar game and works as one unit to potentially be the first undefeated team since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers.

I want to thank you in this fourth paragraph for sticking with me. My passion for Kentucky basketball is one that cannot be rivaled. Growing up in Central Kentucky you are taught to perpetually have faith in two things, God and Kentucky basketball — everything else is just a minor focus. There are even doctors that will tell patients with heart conditions not to watch the Kentucky games, but to record them, discover the outcome and then decide whether they should actually watch the game for fear of heart attacks.

This year Coach John Calipari, the head ball coach — if you have snide remarks, please leave them in the comments and I’ll get back to you — has assembled one of the greatest showcases of basketball talent ever assembled. He possesses nine McDonald’s All-Americans and each barely plays 20 minutes a game — as a college basketball star, that’s unheard of.

The team has multiple potential first-round draft picks in the NBA, and on Saturday, while Kentucky demolished the University of Arkansas, Phil Jackson — multiple titles with the Chicago Bulls and LA Lakers — scouted from the sidelines. Why would such a huge name be on the sidelines scouting for his New York Knicks?

Like I said, not one player reaches close to 30 minutes a game. No one averages more than 20 points a game, and although there are big names, they leave their egos at the door without any issue.

Successful leaders, such as Phil Jackson, understand the importance of egoless teamwork. Imagine if in your hiring process you were able to assemble the most talented team from individuals around the country. Next, ask yourself, could you get them to all work in unison for the same outcome?

The power of teamwork transcends sports in the workplace. Where we struggle is we are all in a competitive battle to reach the top. In today’s society we see more people doing what they must

at any cost to become successful. To discuss ethics today is more like the old saying, “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.”

I’m sure there are still a few college basketball fans out there that would still jump at the moment to state that Kentucky cheats — in reference to Calipari’s recruiting methods — but no one ever said Rick Pitino cheated when he was at Kentucky and he was also assembling pretty remarkable talent for the time. If you want an example of what I’m referring to, just go back and look at the score differentials for the 1996 Kentucky national championship team.

When you can get a team to work together, to leave their egos at the door, the opportunities are limitless. However, how do you pull “a Calipari” and get your team to function in that manner?

In a September 23, 2012 posting on CoachCal.com, the coach told a “breakout session of global leaders that in order to evoke change, we must do it together,” the article paraphrased.

Coach Calipari said the following: “If you want to gather people you have to do it from your heart. Then they all flock. Then you have support because every one of us in this room knows nothing of significance in our lives will be done by one person.”

In the transcription of his speech, Calipari said the following:

“Let me start by telling you they (his players) call me Coach. That’s on the door to my office. That’s the public perception of who I am. But I don’t view myself that way.

“I see myself as a servant leader. What I do is try to lead and serve my staff, my team, our community. I don’t think I’m in the basketball business. I think I’m in the business of helping families break generational cycles whether that may be educational, it may be poverty, teaching them to fathers and men.”

So I leave you with these questions: Could you give the same type of speech to other leaders about how you personally lead your staff? Could you assemble a team that could go undefeated and win your championship? Think about all the reasons you’ve said you “can’t,” begin to consider how you “can” and take one step forward.


Tyler Montgomery is the Editor-in-Chief of Club Solutions Magazine. For thoughts on his blog, the print issue or the industry, reach out to him at tyler@peakemedia.com.

Tyler Montgomery

Tyler Montgomery is a former writer for Club Solutions Magazine.

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