From Sideline Outbursts to Championship Glory: What Dan Hurley's "Example" Can Teach You

By Jeff Huber

Dan Hurley has had a heck of a couple months.

He won back to back National Championships with the UConn Huskies.

He was wooed by the Lakers before turning down a $70 million dollar offer to stay at Connecticut. I think it's safe to assume a nice pay raise is on the way at UConn.

He's been lauded for his beautiful offense.

He's reached the pinnacle of his profession.

And yet, there was a time when no one would have seen this coming.

While he was always respected for his coaching acumen, he was once best known for his sideline outbursts.

So what happened?

The Most Powerful Tool You Have As A Coach

I recently listened to a podcast with Michigan State women's assistant coach Dean Lockwood. He said, "the most powerful tool a coach has is their example."

Powerful stuff.

Here's what Hurley said a few years ago when asked about his transformation:

"I think in the past, it's had a negative effect on our team, especially down the stretch of important games when there's enough pressure on players to make big free throws, make big shots, make good decisions," Hurley said. "To have a madman running around when that's happening probably doesn't offer them the support they needed."

This reminds me of the scene from Old School where Will Ferrell is melting down in the locker room as he tells his team to "keep their composure."

The irony was not lost on viewers. Nor is it lost on YOUR players if you say one thing but do another.

It doesn't matter if you're coaching elementary age players or college players. What Ralph Waldo Emerson said is true, "What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say."

6 Essentials For Setting The Right Example

Do as I say and not as I do is not a strategy. As you progress through the offseason, think about your example in these areas:

  • Composure Do you scream at the refs for large portions of the game? Do you blame official's calls for poor performance? If so, your example is lacking.
  • First, you can't expect players to be composed if you aren't. Second, if you're focusing on things outside of your control (like calls), what do you think your players will do?

    You can't tell your players not to make excuses and then use bad calls as a reason why you lost.

  • Respect We played two summer league games this week. In both games, the teams who played prior to us left the bench a mess. Even though our players didn't make the mess, we cleaned it up. We strive to leave a place better than we found it.
  • Do you leave trash laying around? Do you treat bus drivers and managers and custodians with respect? Do you talk badly about players in your program? Players or coaches in other programs? Your players are watching and listening.

  • Work Ethic Do you put in extra time? Do your players see you working to get better just as you ask them to? Is your practice plan prepared ahead of time or do you wing it? Do you have a scouting report (if appropriate for your age level) for your team?
  • Lifestyle Do you ask your players to eat healthy? Do you stress the importance of sleep? Probably. . . but are you following your own advice? If not, how can you say you're giving the best of yourself to your team?
  • Integrity Do you tell your players the truth or what they want to hear? Are you willing to have tough conversation? Do you put up a wall the prevent players from talking to you? When is the last time one of your players came to you with an issue?
  • Vulnerability This is a huge one! Do you want your players to own their mistakes? Of course you do. But do you own your mistakes? Publicly?
  • You don't have to acknowledge your mistakes to your team every time, but you should do it some of the time. If you never admit an error, why would your players?

    Your credibility with your team will go through the roof if you show accountability. Author Daniel Coyle says the four most important words that a coach can say to their team are, "I screwed that up."

    Too many coaches fear that doing that will make their players doubt them. Conversely, it gets them to buy in even more!

You Don't Have To Be Fake: How to Be Yourself While Leading Effectively

You might read this and think I'm asking you to be someone other than who you are.

I'm not! Think about Dan Hurley. Would anyone say he's lost his intensity? Of course not! He's just learned how to manage it in a way that's not destructive.

So as you think about your example, it's not about a complete makeover. Rather, it's about incremental change that allows you to be authentic AND a great example to the kids you coach.

Are You Ready To Hear The Truth? 3 Courageous Steps to Set a Better Example

Reading and reflecting on the questions above is a great start. I would suggest taking some time to journal on them. Really think about your recent coaching experiences and the examples you've set.

But if you want to go even deeper in this analysis, here's a couple ideas:

  • Have your assistant coaches give you feedback - if you have assistants, ask them for feedback. Tell them to be honest and see what are your strengths and weaknesses in each category.
  • Ask players for feedback - if your players are old enough (middle school and above), give them a Google form to complete. This can be done anonymously. That should give them comfort to answer honestly.
  • Ask them to rank you on some of the categories above.

  • Ask parents for feedback - if you coach a youth team, you might ask the parents for feedback. (Even with a high school team, this could be a good idea).

Doing any of those takes courage. It also shows you want to learn and grow as a coach. Your coaches, players and parents should appreciate that.

Is there a chance that personal grudges will show up in the data? Sure, but don't let that dissuade you. That comes with the territory.

When you look at the data as a whole, you'll see patterns emerge that can help you be a better coach.

You Are Planting Seeds - What Type Will They Be?

Coaching is such a huge responsibility. It extends far beyond the score of any game.

One thing to keep in mind is that you are coaching the next generation of coaches.

When most people start coaching, they coach like they were coached.

That's important to remember. If and when your players become coaches, their coaching will be a reflection of your coaching!

Take that seriously and set an example that will benefit not just your current players but players in generations to come!

What do you think? Let us know by leaving your comments, suggestions, and questions...


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