Coaching Notes from Doc Rivers: ‘The buy-in’

Doc Rivers giving his presentation at Coaching U Live 2011

Just wanted to share some of my notes that I took listening to Boston Celtics Head Coach Doc Rivers last summer at a coaching clinic. I got to meet him during the clinic and let me just say that it was a real pleasure. Doc Rivers is a very gracious man. He was very humbled by his success and I was fortunate to have the opportunity to pick his brain a little as he talked to all the clinic participants.

Needless to say, I learned a few good things from a former NBA champion Head Coach. I learned simple things such as why he likes his team to huddle so many times during the course of a game. He explained how he always marveled at how football teams were able to execute plays at a better percentage rate than basketball teams. The fact that a coach could get all 11 guys to be on the same page and execute a play to perfection always impressed Doc Rivers. It is a very difficult task to get just 5 guys to be in sync and execute a play in basketball, let alone 11. He credited the huddle as a reason why football players were able to stay in sync with each other for the entire game. So Rivers suggests that basketball teams (especially young ones) should adopt the huddle during games whenever they have an opportunity, such as a dead ball situation. He also suggested that teams should huddle more in practices as well. You see college teams do this a lot (most notably Coach K’s Duke teams) and it is something that I will demand my teams to start doing beginning next season. I believe this simple little thing can only enhance team unity and cohesiveness on the court.

The main lesson in Doc River’s awesome speech was what he believed was the absolute key to being successful as a coach. He shared to us what has been the key to his coaching success through the years. “It’s not what you know in X’s and O’s. It’s what you can get your players to believe in.” The ‘buy-in’ is what is important here. The players have to believe in you (the coach) first and foremost, then your system, and finally the cause (what the team is playing for/ team goals).

It does take a certain skill to do this. Players aren’t just going to believe in something just because it comes from the mouth of someone they call ‘coach’. You have to develop a relationship with the players. Then, you get them to buy into your system by getting players to buy in to their defined roles. During his Celtics team’s championship run in 2008, Doc had to get three NBA superstars to buy in to their roles on the team. Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett were all their team’s go-to-guy before coming together to play on the Celtics. Now they had to sacrifice for the betterment of the team. He also had to get the younger players to believe how important their role was to the team. Players need to hear how valuable they are to the team. He tells every player that they must “be a star in their role” and when that happens, only then will they be successful.

You must define a role for each player every year. Try to convince the player that their role is a sacrifice. This makes it an “investment” in the team for the player. When this happens (when you make an investment in something), your heart is in it more…your heart is more in the team.

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