Developing the Right Talent

By Jenny Levy, Head Coach, University of North Carolina, @uncwlax

Success in any arena begins with the people in it – the “Talent.”  The old saying goes, “great players make great coaches and ultimately successful teams.”  I would say, however, the RIGHT talent makes great teams.

Photo courtesy of UNC Athletic Communications.
Photo courtesy of UNC Athletic Communications.

I find the NFL to be a very interesting league. No league has a more thorough process to evaluate physical talent and game IQ than the NFL. Regardless, the NFL spits out players faster than any league as 50% of first-round picks are never offered a second contract.  It is not only the lack of physical talent and game IQ that leads to players phasing out of the league; but it is the intangibles that ultimately determine a player’s destiny. Are they a good teammate? Are they coachable? Do they have discipline, a good attitude and a growth mindset? Are they committed to the team vision, or are they are a distraction in the locker room and bring negative energy to the team?

This is no different in a collegiate program. Every team has this challenge regardless of your level of competition. If talent cannot get along or buy into a common vision or be unselfish, or be committed, or be disciplined, or be hardworking, then Talent is a distraction. Or, as I call it, a “boat weight.” At the end of the day, everyone in your boat needs to be pulling in the same direction and doing their job to help make the boat faster.  Our rowing coach once told me, “there are two types of rowers, ones that make the boat faster and ones that make it slower.”

Most teams do not realize their full potential because the players and coaches are not on the same page and pulling in the same direction. It sounds relatively easy, but I think it is the hardest thing to achieve in any sport. The Golden State Warriors attribute their success to the unselfish play of their talented players and locker room chemistry. When the Denver Broncos won Super Bowl 50, they spent the evening prior to the game talking about the great love, gratitude, and appreciation they had for each other and the game of football.

Our finished product, the 2016 National Championship game, did not happen easily or by luck. There were challenges of all sorts. There were bumps in the road and moments that we had to look each other in the eyes and make a stronger commitment to our team vision. A team’s drama and issues that arise are almost always centered around the individual. Whether it’s playing time, jealousy, lack of commitment and discipline, or negative external influences, all evolve from personal agendas and the individual choices of the athlete.

Photo courtesy of UNC Athletic Communications.
                 Photo courtesy of UNC Athletic Communications.

At the end of the day, regardless of the team, coaches all have similar challenges.  Beyond the field and X’s and O’s, coaching is really about your ability as a coach to inspire, motivate and manage people. As a new academic year is about to start, here are 10 things to keep in mind on the road to uncovering your team’s “Right Talent.”

  1. No team begins the year with the RIGHT Talent; it takes a lot of time and communication to get your team to understand, buy in and believe in one vision
  2. Establish your Core Values and Expectations for being a member of the team; communicate, teach, highlight and enforce daily
  3. Just because the team writes it, says it, and signs it, does not mean they “are it;” it takes daily vigilance to teach and reinforce the team vision
  4. Identify the different leaders on your team (field, social, locker room and community); as a coach, you need to know and work with the different influencers
  5. Being a good teammate needs to be highlighted and modeled every day; selfish actions and behaviors should never be tolerated and need to be addressed immediately, get rid of “boat weights”
  6. Create a trusting, respectful and demanding training environment; free up players to be themselves, take risks, push past the comfortable and find new levels of excellence
  7. There will be unforeseen challenges; best laid plans will always need to be adjusted… stay positive, flexible and find a way
  8. Communicate appreciation for players who earn it; every player is important and the team needs everyone to compete at their optimal level in practice, all players need to believe and feel that they bring value to the team
  9. Setbacks and struggle can be a good thing, use the opportunity to teach and build new levels of focus and execution
  10. Have FUN

Our 2016 Carolina team won a National Championship because we developed the RIGHT talent. We had players who worked hard to improve all year. We learned how to accept and battle through challenges with a positive and opportunistic mindset. And they put their personal agendas aside and bought into a unified team vision. Players not only accepted their roles but performed to the best of their ability and, in return, they were appreciated for their efforts. The RIGHT Talent created our 2016 magic and not one of them would trade their individual interests for the lifelong achievement of being a National Champion.

3 thoughts on “Developing the Right Talent

  1. Ahhh Jenny this is noteworthy. It deserves a larger audience than what it is receiving. When I saw your title Developing the Right Talent, my interest was peaked and I buckled in for the nice platitudes wondering perhaps which ones she would pull out.

    How remote she or exotic would she go to pull out a nice gem, or perhaps a twist on another, something along the lines of: hard work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard and then emphasize the need to identify those players who possess the intangibles to ultimately develop their talent.

    Or perhaps—-the enemy of greatness is talent…as in the right talent is the athletes talent of perspective, i.e.—talent is actually common, what is uncommon is the person with talent who is never satisfied with it.

    Essentially my mind immediately went into a massive brainstorm as to what is coming here. It could go so many directions. She has a pretty neat title here, rather unique. But it went nowhere where I thought and this is primarily because it wasn’t wrapped around some—reach for the stars kind of observation.

    As one who has drawn a paycheck as a professional educator, coach and writer, I think I have some measure of qualifications for evaluating quality and to what degree and my assessment was—this is of the highest quality. I mean you could hand this out at coaching convention, any coaching convention and ask: who do you think wrote this?

    After all, lacrosse is never mentioned and I am certain the people named would be impressive. Of course the rowing analogy would throw people off a bit, provide a bit of a tell but everyone would be impressed. The clarity is exceptional. And everything was essential, which is rare.

    After all, lists rarely have six or four observations—you have to have ten, so there are a few filler ones to round out the list, but not this list. They are all good and it was so darn succinct which really knocked it out of the park for me and I will tell you why.

    I have noticed Brad Stevens, arguably the best coach in America today, makes a point of giving his players things to read. For instance, when he took over the Celtics people really questioned whether this young college coach would be able to coach Rojan Rhondo, a player widely viewed as a difficult person to coach and an NBA CHAMPION.

    All the analysts and talking heads said…Rhondo is on the trading block. You can’t saddle this young coach with this primo donna. It will never work. But it did and the first thing Brad did when he met Rhondo was ask him if he would read a particular book.

    He did it to his credit and their relationship went very well. And the reason I love this piece is that it says it all for building a team and its short. Next season with one little sit down with my team at the beginning of the season we can read this together and it will do wonders….and this is what I need for my upcoming season.

    By the way—-don’t check out my blog yet…but it will be launched soon enough and perhaps you can do me a favor and provide your evaluation of my work because I really respect your opinion. me your evaluation of me, because I would really value your critique of my work, so thank you—from MARYLAND!


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