An Update on Tim Duncan’s Effort to Save the Virgin Islands

An earlier post cited a column written by former basketball star Tim Duncan about the effort he was starting to rebuild his home islands in the Caribbean after they were hit by multiple hurricanes.

This week, Bleacher Report posted this great piece in which writer David Gardner accompanied Duncan on his third trip to the islands to distribute food and other supplies to the locals.

A random anecdote: in 1989, Hurricane Hugo struck St. Croix when Tim was 13 years old and aspiring to be an Olympic swimmer. Hugo demolished the one Olympic-sized swimming pool on the island, and Tim was afraid of swimming in the ocean due to sharks in the water. This was when he put all of his efforts behind basketball. Hard to believe one of the top 10 basketball players ever may never have played the sport at a college or pro level if not for a hurricane.

Some other takeaways:

— Duncan has no social media presence personally, but he recognizes the value of the platforms when you are trying to have your message heard.

— Duncan has a unique way of leading: “In situations like these, it’s easy to see why Duncan was such an effective teammate. He doesn’t beg anyone to help him, but his quiet and unassuming way of going about his work leaves you embarrassed if you’re not contributing. Scott Duncan says every one of their siblings learned that ethic from their father, Bill, a builder who lived by simple mottos like ‘Do your job’ and ‘Do your best.'”

— Duncan’s final thought on where the rebuilding effort in the Virgin Islands stands today: “It’s only been a month and already people are forgetting about Harvey and what happened to Houston. Six months from now, people will forget about what happened here, even if there’s still no power on the islands. People have lost their homes and they’ve lost their shops. They’ve lost everything. Buildings are damaged and roads are ruined. I don’t know how to fix those things, but I didn’t know how to raise money or do food distribution or charter jets, and we figured all that out. We’ll figure this out, too.

Memories of Joe Tiller

Joe Tiller is the most successful coach in Purdue football history by a landslide. The school reached a bowl game 10 times in his 12 seasons as the head coach. They had not reached a bowl game for 12 consecutive years before he arrived in West Lafayette.

Tiller passed away last week. Tom Kubat was the football beat writer for the local paper during Tiller’s tenure and shared some memories of his time covering the team.

Tiller knew where he wanted his players’ attention to be during games:

If a player messed up during a game, Tiller didn’t automatically punish him by pulling him off the field, and he didn’t believe in dressing him down when he got to the sideline. He wanted his players to always be thinking about the next play, not worrying about their mistake on the previous one. The coaches could deal with the mistake later during practice.

Like we’ve seen from other leaders, Tiller struck a good balance between being demanding of his players and staff while making it clear how much he cared about them.

World-class quarterback Drew Brees, who played at Purdue during this period, remembered one frequent quote of Tiller’s that has stuck with him to this day:

A saying that he always used was, ‘Do what you’re supposed to do, when you’re supposed to do it, the way it’s supposed to be done, and do it that way every time.’

Source: Tom Kubat at The Lafayette Journal & Courier

How the Cleveland Indians Won 22 Games in a Row

At this point, any deep dive piece by Wright Thompson at ESPN is a instant read for me. His latest is about a week he spent with the Cleveland Indians at the tail end of their league record 22-game winning streak. What struck me is how much of the consistency and discipline echoed by the players comes from their manager, Terry Francona. Here are the takeaways I got:

— A winning streak should not make you feel like you have it all figured out nor should a losing streak make you believe you will never get it right. Stick to the same disciplined approach and mindset every day. Be the same guy whether you have won 10 in a row or lost 8 in a row.

— A 162-game baseball season is fluid. Only today exists.

— Francona simplifies his life as much as possible, following the same routine every day. It is no longer a surprising to me to see how often this orientation toward “routine” is used by elite athletes. Since his rookie season, basketball star Steph Curry has had the exact same pregame routine from the moment he shows up to the arena until the game tips off. Baltimore Ravens guard Marshal Yanda, arguably the best offensive lineman in pro football, used to get teased by teammates and staff that they always knew where he was during the day because his daily schedule was so consistent down to the minute.

— The Indians lost a heartbreaking Game 7 in the World Series last year to the Cubs. The team started this season sluggish, perhaps still in a funk from how last year ended. In an unusual move, Francona held a meeting early in the summer to snap the team out of their rut, and the team has been focused ever since.

— Last year, the Indians went on a 14-game winning streak in the middle of the season, and the team got way more caught up in the streak than they did in this year’s 22-game run. While last year’s streak was nice, they got away from their normal approach to work each day. The most encouraging thing about this year’s streak is it has come within the confines of how the team has behaved all season long. Those three weeks were nothing special.

— Francona grew up as the son of a major league player and has spent almost his entire life hanging around baseball clubhouses. He likes to show up early and watch the ballpark wake up around him. Spending this much time around the “office” has given him a sixth sense for knowing when something is off in the team’s atmosphere. He can then squash it before it transforms into a bigger problem later.

Source: Wright Thompson at ESPN

Penn State Wrestling Coach Cael Sanderson on Gratitude

Cael Sanderson may have the most incredible combined athletic career, playing and coaching, of anyone I have seen. Cael had an undefeated college wrestling career, going 159-0 and winning four national championships. Then he won a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics. Finally, Cael began his coaching career. Since taking the head job at Penn State, they have won six team national championships in eight years! They currently are on a 31-match winning streak dating back to February 2015.

This was the final interview in the the terrific “The Word on Coaching” series that Mike Poorman did with seven university coaches and staff. Here is what stuck out to me:

Being grateful means you think about yourself less. Gratitude is also not dependent on outcome.

You count your blessings and then you make your blessings count.

If you are grateful, it is easier to be humble too.

You’re always seeking a better way. You’re willing to be coached…Our best kids are the ones who buy in the most.

Never forget confidence comes from being prepared.

They try to teach their kids that they have choices.

you’re responsible for everything you do, say, think and feel. You’re not a victim to your thoughts. It’s tough. Thoughts are tough. It’s a battle…But you can win those matches. Ultimately, we get to pick our attitude, we get to pick our perspective…When we go into a big match or go into a practice, they get to choose the attitude they bring.

That is a tough perspective to accept because it means you have no excuses to fall back on.

We have a lot more power and control over our lives than we think. It’s consistency and making good decisions. It’s the small steps, where maybe we don’t see the consequences or the benefits over a short amount of time.

The coaching staff sets the tone about consistency.

When we get to the national tournament, we’re the same. We’re going to be the same person we are today, the same person we are every day because we’re running on principles…If you’re not centered on principles, you’re going to be all over the place.

This consistency applies regardless of whether it was a good day or a bad day.

win or lose, we’re going to be the same. We don’t get after our kids when they lose. We also don’t get out of control when they win.

They empower their athletes to dictate their future.

It’s their career. They’re the ones. It’s up to them. We just try to help them and provide a culture and environment for them to be the best that they can. They’re the ones who have to go out there and score the points. They’re the ones who have to be consistent every day. That makes it a fun challenge.

Last quote: “Every day is a sprint…It’s July and we haven’t slowed down a bit since the nationals. And we’re not going to slow down.

Source: Mike Poorman at


Urban Meyer on How to Approach a New Leadership Position

From Dennis Dodd at CBS Sports:

Urban Meyer is one of the top three coaches in college football. He has taken two elite programs, Florida and Ohio State, to national titles in his coaching career. At each of those stops, he was entering the head job soon after a legendary coach had left the role.

One of Meyer’s proteges, Tom Herman, is starting his first year as the head coach at Texas, another heralded football program. Herman slipped up when he said publicly to not expect a quick turnaround given the team he inherited from the previous regime.

That led to this smart thought by Meyer:

That’s like, when I got here, everybody wanted me to say Jim Tressel left the cupboard bare…If I heard any assistant coach [say that], they’d be gone. You’re done. Those are your players. I hear TV guys [say], ‘Wait until they get their own players in there.’ They’re our players. What do you mean ‘their players?’ The minute you sign a contract, they’re your players.

You didn’t choose me, I chose you. You’re mine, absolutely. I love you, and I’m going to kick the shit out of you, and we’re going to do it right …[Blaming players] drives me insane…

I’ve advised my coaches when they take new positions [to] always be extremely complimentary. Never talk as if those players aren’t your players


Penn State Women’s Soccer Coach Erica Dambach on Standards

From Mike Poorman at

Erica Dambach has been the women’s soccer coach at Penn State for ten years. They have won the Big Ten conference title in nine of those years and won the national championship in 2015. This is a conversation she had about how she set the standards she wanted on and off the field for her program. A couple quotes stuck out to me:

It is illuminating to see how many elite programs kickstarted their success by identifying a few pillars that would point to true north for the players and coaching staff. Football coach Pete Carroll went through this process after being fired from his first pro football job, and Steve Kerr did the same when he started coaching the Golden State Warriors three years ago. Here are Dambach’s pillars:

We looked at each other in the eye and said, “Our championships will be won with these pillars: Attitude of a champion. Blue collar mentality. United family. And those are the three pillars we are going to live by. If we can win a national championship living by those pillars, then we have achieved our potential as coaches. If we have to sacrifice one or the other and the championship doesn’t come, then maybe we don’t belong at this level as coaches.”

And we have that conversation every year, and we have it about every recruit, in terms of staying true to ourselves. We may have to pass on players who may appear to live up those standards, but really don’t.

We’ve had a lot of tough conversations through the years, like with the star who may have missed a class and now has to sit. It comes up every day. But we were convinced we could do it the right way. And to have it validated was incredible.

Also, this anecdote about the 2015 national player of the year Raquel Rodriguez is an amazing attitude worth emulating.

One of things that made Raquel Rodriguez so special is that every day she walked off that training field she thanked us. Her gratitude was beyond anything I’ve ever experienced, and that was because of her background. She came from lesser means (in Costa Rica) than most of the other players.

Penn State Football Coach James Franklin on Relationships

From Mike Poorman at

James Franklin, head coach of the Penn State football team, sat down for a conversation about how building relationships is a key strength driving the improvement in his program. He had to learn midway through his career about the importance of relationships to his leadership role.

It really hit home with me that you can be the best coach in the world. You can be driven, you can be passionate, you can understand fundamentals and schemes and all of those things. But if guys don’t want to play hard for you, it’s not going to matter.

After this ‘a ha’ moment, he focused first on his relationships with his family.

If you think about it, it starts at home. If you have healthy, positive relationships at home with your wife, your kids — that’s where it starts. If you feel good about that and are grounded there, then you have an opportunity to go to work and focus on your job. If you’re not healthy at home, you’re going to be distracted at work. From home, it goes to the people you work with every single day.

Like other legendary coaches, Franklin learned that he can be more demanding of his players and staff when they know he has their best interest at heart.

If the players and people who you work with know how passionate you are and how much you care about them, and care about their journey — and now, care about Penn State — then you have the chance to do something special. You can be really challenging, you can be demanding, if they know how much you care and it is coming from the right place for the right reasons.

One example of how this focus on relationships comes up in their day-to-day decision making:

I tell the coaches all the time: Every time we have a discussion and a decision to make in the program, it should start with, “Is this something that is going to form healthy, positive relationships in our building?” If not, we shouldn’t be doing it.

This does not mean there are no conflicts within the team.

I tell the players all the time: “A true friend and a true teammate tells you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.” A healthy and positive relationship doesn’t mean that it’s always rainbows and puppies. It’s about making decisions and having conversations that are in the individual’s — and, more importantly, the overall organization’s — best interest.

It’s being able to bring a player into your office and having a conversation with him — and it not being the best conversation in the world to have — but the player knowing the only reason you are having this conversation is because you care. Because if you didn’t care, you wouldn’t have that conversation in the first place.

On the field, this taps into the strongest driver of performance: wanting to deliver for your teammates.

if you’re the center, you know you can depend on the guard and the tackle next to you to do their job. Not only because it is their job, but because he doesn’t want to let the guy next to him down.

Being this connected to his players and staff also helps Franklin correct mistakes he has made.

There are times I may say something in a staff meeting or a team meeting, and it comes off the wrong way. I didn’t intend for it to come off the wrong way. But then you have one of your captains come in and say, “Coach, you said this and I don’t think it is what you meant. But this is how the team interpreted it.” Now, the next day I can go back and explain in better detail about what I meant. Without that relationship, they’re not going to come in.

We know the team we are supposed to build around us when we begin a leadership role, but recognize it will be tougher to do in practice.

Everybody says that when you get in a leadership position, you want to surround yourself with as many smart people as possible who will challenge you and allow you to grow. But then people get in those positions, and they’re intimidated by that.

Never feel like you’ve arrived. And remember who you are serving.

People talk about servant leadership and throw that term around. I believe that this is not my football program; this is the players’ football program, and we are here to help them reach their dreams. And it’s whatever those dreams may be, to become a doctor, a lawyer, a CEO, play in the NFL — or a combination of all of those things.

One way to assist a person and indirectly, the team, is to know who they rely on for help.

Now, if there is a problem or an issue, I can pick up the phone and call the mom or dad or a sister or the high school coach who is very involved, and say, “We’re struggling with this. We need your help, let’s work together.”