Tuesday, August 23, 2011

It's About Getting Better

The Summer 2011 issue of California Management Review has one of the best "sports as lessons in leadership" articles that I have read - - from a sport that is unknown to most U.S. fans - - college rugby.  The article, It's Not About Winning, It's About Getting Better by Holly Schroth, profiles the Cal-Berkeley rugby team and Coach Jack Clark.  Clark has led Cal Rugby to win 21 out of 25 National Championships. 

Interesting points in the article include the following (and compare this to recent stories regarding the Miami Hurricanes football program):
  • The program is free of scandal and is known to build the character of the young men.  It lacks the benefits of scholarship, in-state tuition fees, assistance with financial aid, or preferred access to student loans that other collegiate programs have.
  • Clark was shot multiple times in 1980 while attending a formal affair in the affluent Pacific Heights area of San Francisco.
  • "Grateful for everything, entitled to nothing."
  • Players are expected to be grateful, tough, and resilient.
  • The coach and his staff rarely reach out first to recruit players.
  • The player's character and values can be observed by what be wears and how he interacts with his parents during the interview.
  • Team apparel is properly cleaned and pressed and the players are always be be well groomed.
  • "Expectations are reinforced constantly with examples."
  • "Leadership is the ability to make those around you better and more productive."
  • All team members are expected to act as leaders.  Leadership is a shared responsibility among the team.
  • "Leadership should not be reserved for the best and brightest or a select few."
  • "You have to fight the idea that the minority leads the majority."
  • Clark believes that everyone should have access to leadership.
  • Clark attempts to model each individual player's success by analyzing his strengths and weaknesses both as a player and a leader - - calls this "directional doctrine."
  • Constant performance improvement is an obsession.
  • During training, feedback is constant and always immediate.
  • To best develop each player, coaches engage in a process they refer to as "modeling" - - creating a detailed understanding of those skills and attributes that the player can execute in every game be competes in.
  • "Getting better is the best feeling in the world."
  • "We're not a family, membership is conditional."
  • The entire relationship between the coaches and players is geared toward the player's performance and the team - - boundaries are established through that lens.
  • Clark thinks that it is wrong to assume that everyone believes in "team."
  • Clark believes that high-performance teams are very fragile and conflict must be managed immediately before it blows up.
  • "The foundation of any high-performance sport is a high-performance culture -  that is an environment in which individuals are challenged to be the best they can be and supported to achieve this end."
  • The coaches have also borrowed on some of the Marine Corps communication systems, such as saying "check" or "roger" to acknowledge the receipt of an instruction.  "We want to make sure there is an exchange."
  • "I always need to work at remembering to praise."

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