"Most" Valuable?

It’s the end of most high school basketball seasons and March Madness is winding down the college basketball season. We are closing in on "One Shining Moment" while watching the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Only one team in each division gets to cut down the nets, but many more get to go home as winners.

If you're a regular reader here, you know we spend a lot of time redefining what it means to be a winner. It's not just the ones who get to cut down the nets, but all those who made the effort to do the best that they were capable of doing. It's also all of those players and coaches who gave great physical and mental effort, made the attempt to execute what they have learned to the best of their ability, and continued to try to do so - even after they faced mistakes, setbacks and failures.

The season ends and everyone tries to evaluate the year’s performance. Statistics are analyzed, honors are given, teams go to their banquets and trophies are handed out. This is where I sometimes struggle. After a year of preaching that every player must play their role, a team is only as good as its weakest link, and every player is valuable…we then hold ceremonies to announce who is “most” valuable.

Roles in any group, team, or organization are crucial and when they are played or adhered to potential begins to be realized. When coaches coach, players play, spectators cheer and support the teams – sports is a beautiful place. When the roles start to overlap is when trouble begins to brew. Teams are similar.

Coach John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success illustrates fifteen qualities necessary for the pursuit of success. I’ve mentioned these also could be guidelines for roles players may have on a particular team. Each of those qualities is important and any player can contribute, just as there are many ways to contribute on the floor.  What is more important: the player who set the screen, made the pass, score the basket…or simply the player who created space for all of that to occur just by being in the right spot?

So is someone really, the “most” valuable? Or are they just playing the role the coach has defined for them based on what has been determined as the best way they can contribute to the team? And who is to say what aspect of the game, or even your team culture, is the “most” valuable? Positive Coaching Alliance presents three different ways a player can impact their sport and calls players that do so  "Triple-Impact Competitors".

The most obvious way players can impact their sport is to work hard to Make Themselves Better. Many athletes get this part of competition. What gets lost on many players is the need to also Make Their Teammates Better. Most importantly, players need to compete in such a way that Makes The Game better. Each of these may be equally important and it would be hard to decide which is “most” important.

Players who work hard to Make Themselves Better understand that it is not just a part time thing. Players do their best in and out of season and they don’t only worry about getting better as an athlete. They work hard in the classroom and try to be the best person they can be, and they do so without drawing attention to themselves. I once heard Jim Sochor, College Football Hall of Fame coach, talk about a Japanese philosophy called Shibumi that can be explained as “effortless perfection” or “understated elegance”.  This made sense to me as a way to describe the kind of program I wanted to have, and the kind of players I wanted to have in it. Players who put in so much effort, that it now seemed effortless.

Not only is personal excellence important, but also individual leadership. Leaders who work hard to Make Their Teammates Better. Every Player can be a leader whether they are the most talented or the hard working kid on the end of the bench. Some of my better teams have had a senior leader who rarely got much playing time, but really inspired the guys and provided some maturity on the bench. Teams need players who have the ability to see how things affect the entire team and not just themselves. I love the way Dena Evans, of Point Guard College, describes floor leadership. Good leaders help everyone get better and understand the Ubuntu philosophy by realizing they can’t be all they can be until others are all they ought to be.

Finally, we’ve all seen those players who you just love to watch play. They compete in such a way that Makes The Game Better. They respect the Rules, Opponents, Officials, Teammates, and their Self.  Those are the kind of players people remember. We want players to be Altruistic and have the kind of character that they do the right thing, not because there is a consequence if they don’t or an award if they do, but simply because it is the right thing to do. Players who are altruistic make decisions for the greater good and want to leave something better than how they found it. A player’s career starts as a clean, sandy beach at dawn and players have a choice. They can leave the beach littered and worse or they can simply leave footprints that show the way for others.

Many people say "you get what you emphasize". I think it's more likely you get what you measure, recognize, and reward. If what our post season awards to be productive, maybe we should give awards that could help build the type of culture we are looking for.  While results and statistical achievements are impossible to ignore and nice to acknowledge, it may be these kinds of things that should be awarded.

Instead of the typical Most Outstanding, Best This-or-That, or Most Valuable, how about a “Shibumi Award for Personal Excellence” given to the player who worked hardest to achieve Mastery of their sport. Or the “Ubuntu Award for Leadership” for the player who is the best teammate. Maybe even the “Altruistic Award for Character” to recognize the player who best represents the kind of player you want to represent your program.

I’m seriously considering these, or something like them, for my program so I no longer have to tell someone they are “Most Valuable” when I’ve been spending 364 days trying to build a culture where everyone is valuable. I would love to hear your thoughts and am looking forward to any input you have.

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