By David Sloan
Upon completion of reading Sacred Hoops by Phil Jackson, there was one resonating theme. Jackson preached, along with many of his lessons of Zen, that he felt that players deserved the power to help lead themselves. Jackson gives examples of allowing players to speak up and address other players and times when he, as coach, consulted the star player, Michael Jordan, about the team needs, the state of the team, and what should be done next. Some may say that of course it could work at the NBA level, but I believe that it is important at any level: high school, college, etc. Each team has a player that puts in the time to not only perform at a high level but also understand the game at a high level. Tom Izzo has utilized the same thinking at the college level, and has provided those players that put in the time and effort the power to help him lead the team. Izzo has developed extreme trust in players that have put in the time, such as Draymond Green. These types of players can help become the true “coach on the floor”.
Why is it that coaches may be hesitant to allow a player to have this type of power? Having a player that has been earned this type of power can become a great insight into the team. No matter how hard coaches try, there are situations in which the players out on the court see something that the bench does not. By enabling a player that has earned this power to step up and voice his or her observations, a coach can broaden the scope of understanding for a game or situation. The player also becomes a much more instrumental leader for the team. He or she is charged with understanding the team to a whole new level now that he or she has the power to address certain situations. This type of power, when a player has truly put in the time and effort to earn it, helps the player to accept a larger role in the team. Izzo currently has this player in Denzel Valentine. Valentine has been given the ability to approach Izzo with observations, opinions, and even recommendations.
These benefits are great, but they must be earned. If a player is awarded this power before earning it, there can be detrimental consequences. Whether it is a heightened sense of ego or pressure to understand the game in a way that the player does not yet, the extra power could end up hurting the team and the player. However, if a player works to better himself or herself in the physical and mental aspects of the game as well as increasing their leadership skills, providing the player with the privilege of power can help the coach and the team to push towards their goals of success.