Deal in Reality

I'm often asked what itʼs like to coach in the NBA, and one of the first things I talk about is that you must deal in reality at that level. There is no time and, quite frankly, no tolerance for "falsely" building up your team or any player, because at that level the players know when you're telling the truth and when you're telling them what they want to hear.

I will always use Kevin Garnett as a great example for all young players in that in his first conversation with Doc Rivers he asked Doc to coach him. He asked Doc to correct him. He asked Doc to “call him out” if necessary. He wanted the truth. Sitting next to him on the bench, he would often ask one of the coaches, “What do you see out there?” -- referring not only to what our opponent was doing to us but also how he could improve his play when he got back in there.

We dealt with reality in a number of ways:

  • We didn't mince words or names when we talked to our team. We might name that player who isnʼt sprinting back in defensive transition or who is over dribbling coming off of pick and rolls. We wanted the correction to be direct, honest, factual — but not demeaning.

  • We used stats to tell the truth. We might tell the player who is over dribbling that on 3 possessions he took more than 8 dribbles; in 3 others he took 7 dribbles, emphasizing the point that we need ball movement, not dribbling. In the NBA, the more you dribble, the more opportunity the defense has to load up their help.

  • We showed players film edits of them in the areas that need improvement. We found that showing players in this way was better than simply telling them. It's well worth the time spent on editing to ensure that the player sees and understands the area they need to improve or correct — and to make sure they understand how important this is to the player and to winning.

The other thing I've found over the years working with elite players -- in high school, college, and the NBA -- is that great players want to hear the truth because they want to continue to improve, but also because they understand that being the best never stops. The great ones know that they have never "arrived!"

We must continuously work to improve, and the best way to improve is to know exactly (the truth; the reality) what you need to work on. And if any of your players say they want to be the best but pout and show an attitude when corrected or yelled at, you can tell them that the greatest players in the game continue to work to improve. They demand that we make them better. They demand the truth!