Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Difference Makers

There's a misguided belief that says that your team will be successful as long as you have the best players in the world on your squad.

I've always believed this notion to be false and an article in a recent issue of the New Yorker further strengthened my resolve.

It's called David vs. Goliath - When Underdogs Break the Rules and was written by Malcolm Gladwell, author of many best selling books such as Blink, Tipping Point and Outliers.

It chronicled a story reminiscent of the biblical David and Goliath tale in which a father decides to coach his daughter's under skilled Little League basketball team.

Despite not having the talent and skill level of the other teams, Vivek Ranadivé guides his squad all the way to the national championships where they unfortunately, are beaten.

(This story may have Goilath as the victor but not without a serious scare.)

I suppose one could argue and say the lack of skill was the difference between them winning and losing. However, the reality is that this under skilled team made it to the finals when on paper, they weren't supposed to.

This proves that as important as skill is to being a successful team, it's not enough.

While there are several factors that come into play, I'll give four of the top difference makers:

Game Plan

Having a good coach with a sound philosophy is huge and I think this story illustrated quite nicely its importance.

Ranadivé knew that his team didn't stand a chance if they played the conventional way due to the disparity in skill level. So he adopted a defensive style of play that pressured the offensive team the entire length of the court. It produced turnovers and didn't allow the offence time to execute their diagrammed plays.


You'll sometimes see a time out called in the closing seconds of a big game. The coach gets the team together to design a play to score the game winning basket. They come out of the huddle, everyone gets into position and something unplanned happens. Maybe somebody drops a pass, misses their assignment or inadvertently steps out of bounds. A loss follows and the game is over.

The process where strategy becomes a reality is execution. A coach can design, draw and strategize all the plays but it ultimately falls on the shoulders of the team to make it happen.

A leader's job is to support and equip their followers with the necessary tools and resources to get the job done and put themselves in a position to be successful when the rubber hits the road.


Intelligence on the court is critical. As a youth basketball coach, I've seen too many examples where players are taught to run a specific play but don't fully understand the reasoning behind what they're doing. So if the plays says to set a screen, that's what I'll do regardless if my defender has left me unguarded for an open shot.

Leaders empower their people to make better decisions and help them understand the reasoning behind the action. Knowing the reasoning helps make better decisions, so if something breaks during the course of the game, the players can choose an alternate pathway that makes sense.

Micheal Jordan, six time NBA champ once said, "Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships."


Jordan's quote touches on the final point which is chemistry. This is the thing that brings it all together. For a sports team to exist, you need a group of talented athletes, who work together to achieve a common goal. What makes this so dynamic is that each member of the team has an opportunity to contribute their own unique skills.

Their ability to co-exist in unison is one of the main differences between winning and losing.

In closing...

While skill is an important thing to have, it's not the only thing. To be that conquering David, teams need to be smart, be able to work together and have a solid game plan going in.

Keeping these difference makers in mind will do a lot to strengthen your team, improve your leadership skills and influence your wins and losses.

Thanks for reading!

Hard Court Lessons - Where developing leaders is more than just a game.

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