Tino’s Corner: Communication Lessons from the Great Coach K

Tino MantellaBy Tino Mantella

TLG President & CEO

I am finishing the book “Coach K” written by Ian O’Connor. Befitting, I think, given the Duke Coach was one of the best ever and has now retired after yet another trip to the Final Four.

In any sport at any level, coaching is as good as any place to address communication. My journey in this arena was as an Assistant Wrestling Coach at Temple University while attending graduate school. My experience was both frustrating and rewarding. It was frustrating having to motivate a young man not much younger than I when the last thing on their mind was wrestling. When I felt I had generated a spark that helped the grappler make a move he had drilled repeatedly in practice and then executed perfectly in a winning match, that was rewarding. However, this article is not about my experiences, it’s about Coach K and Bobby Hurley.


The Rise of Bobby Hurley

Bobby Hurley played Point Guard at Duke from 1989 to 1993. He was a first-team All-American in ‘93, went to the Final Four three times and helped lead Duke to back-to-back NCAA Championships in ‘91 and ‘92. Hurley’s rise to the pinnacle of success in his sport was not without challenges along the way.

Early in Hurley’s tenure at Duke, Coach K saw that Hurley was not being a team player. For example, during practice, Hurley would find fault in the other players and make it known through various forms of communication ranging from shouting, cursing, and body language. Coach K saw that Hurley was not only hurting his performance, but was also negatively impacting the play of his teammates. These actions sometimes carried over to game day.


Tackling the Blind Spot

Coach K would challenge Bobby with what he saw as a blind spot. This is like what TLG coaches often face with our clients. A blind spot is a trait that is evident to everyone around you but is not so obvious to the perpetrator.

Once he pointed out the issue to Hurley, Coach K’s next step was to have the team’s cameraman film him at practices. Then, they spliced together all of Hurley’s antics into a highlight reel and showed him. The story goes that it did the trick! It turns out that Coach K utilized filming highlight reels for all his players to boost their confidence.


Mindful Communication

In my career, I have seen that non-verbal communication can be the most harmful to others and yet the hardest to address. It’s not just about my observations of others, but like most of us, there have been times where my look or my body language have inadvertently informed the receiver that I was angry, indifferent, inattentive, or had simply turned off the conversation. I am sure I would be embarrassed if the clips of my worst times were brought together into a movie-like format.

Most don’t have the luxury of hiring a personal cameraman for filming. However, I would encourage all of us to be more mindful of how our words or actions not only impact the recipient but those in our circle of influence. Just pretend that the world is watching because you are on camera. What would people say? What would your mom say?


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