A Method to the Madness

Like many of you, I really get into watching college basketball this time of year. Unlike most of you, I really get into understanding coaching principles and tactics. This year, I have read all I could find on Tony Bennett’s (head coach at the University of Virginia) coaching style and defensive philosophy. After reading all I could find on the internet yesterday, I watched them play and looked for examples of what I read in both his coaching style and scheme. Now I know that seems odd to most of you, but I really like finding different approaches, and if you have watched Virginia play basketball, you will see it’s different.

You see, Bennett isn’t your typical college basketball coach and his defensive philosophy isn’t typical in college basketball. They play at a very deliberate pace, generally have low scoring games, and really focus on defense first. He expects his players to do three things well on defense: 1) don’t allow a fast break 2) don’t allow dribble penetration 3) don’t allow an offensive rebound on a missed shot. They run something he calls a “Packline” defense to accomplish this goal. In summary, it’s a defense based on helping one another achieve a total team defensive approach to the above three key objectives. Thy put pressure on the ball, but off-ball defenders sag back and look to help. They force you to make outside, contested shots.

Now that’s enough of that for now. I could go in to much more detail, but that’s not the essence of this message. The more I read about Bennett’s communication effort in his coaching style and defensive philosophy, the more I saw the correlation to leadership in general. His expectations are made clear in the recruitment of his players, at each practice, and during each game. It is evident that his expectations are clear when you watch them play.

For any leader, keep in mind that you will generally not get more from your team than you expect. If you want an orderly, clean work environment, you have to set that expectation. If you want a safety first focus, you have to clearly communicate that expectation. If you want certain production results, you have to ensure everyone understands those expectations. Now, setting expectations doesn’t guarantee results, but not setting expectations will normally guarantee you won’t get them. That almost sounds profound!

Here’s some key thoughts on setting expectations:
1. You decide first what your team needs to do to be successful. If you don’t clearly know, you can’t communicate expectations to your team. (simple, narrow focused)
2. Clearly communicate those expectations to your team. Be sure they know why those expectations matter. Why should they care?
3. Be consistent. Don’t change expectations on your team. Don’t confuse things. Decide and stay the course!
4. Remember you generally won’t get more than you expect, so expect what you need to be successful.
5. Inspect what you expect. By this I mean make sure you are involved and getting what you value. Look, observe, audit, ask, and make sure you draw importance and attention to that which you expect.

I don’t know how far UVA will go in the tournament this year, but I do know that they will win or lose doing what their coach expects. Is your team aware of your expectations and doing their best to execute every day? Even more importantly, are you clear on your expectations?

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