Oswald Letter

A Playbook for Success from Coach Mike Krzyzewski

Last Thursday night, the Duke men’s basketball team lost its game in the NCAA tournament to the Arizona Wildcats, ending the Blue Devils’ season. Had Duke been able to win the game, its coach, Mike Krzyzewski, would have equaled Bobby Knight’s record for the most victories in college basketball history. Instead, Krzyzewski went home one win short, looking forward to next season when he will undoubtedly surpass his mentor’s record 902 wins.

The record that Krzyzewski will own is amazing in its own right. A 30-win season in college basketball is a great season. Krzyzewski already has won enough games to equal 30 of these great seasons. In addition, his teams have won their conference title 13 times, Krzyzewski has been named the national coach of the year 12 times, and his teams have won four national championships. Quite an impressive resume.

But what’s even more impressive to me is the way Krzyzewski has gone about his work. Unlike his mentor Bobby Knight, who is know for his temper and court-side antics that led to his dismissal from his long-time coaching position at Indiana University, Krzyzewski is respected for his demeanor and professionalism.

So what has made Krzyzewski such a successful leader? Well, if you listen to his former players and the coaches who have worked for and competed against him, there are many attributes that Krzyzewski has that all of us can learn from.

First among Krzyzewski’s principles is, “It’s all about the team.” As former Duke player Bobby Hurley said, “We never thought about the numbers.”  Individual statistics don’t matter on a Blue Devil team. It’s all about the team’s accomplishments. Krzyzewski, in a era of selfish athletes, has maintained a program that focuses on teamwork, and the results speak for themselves.

Krzyzewski is also known for his attention to detail. Opposing coaches talk about his incredible preparation. He considers everything, focusing on even the smallest of details. Krzyzewski’s success can be attributed, in part, to his preparation. The coach is seen as a bit of a Boy Scout. Maybe he really was one, following the scouting motto of, “Be prepared.”

One coach who worked under Krzyzewski on the USA men’s Olympic basketball team says that the coach is “absolutely the best at getting in an organization that pulls in the same direction.”  That ability to rally everyone around a common goal has been a key element of Krzyzewski’s success.

Finally, Chauncey Billups, an NBA veteran who played on the USA Olympic team, called Krzyzewski  “probably the most passionate coach I’ve every played for.” That passion is what brings the other three elements together. The teamwork, the attention to detail, and the ability to focus on a common goal for the organization are all brought together by Krzyzewski’s passion.

If you want to be recognized as being the best of the best, if you want to achieve a level of success that distinguishes yourself from others in your field, then you might want to take a page from Coach Krzyzewski’s playbook. Make sure you’re focusing your team on the group’s accomplishments and not individual recognition. Remember to prepare completely, not overlooking even the smallest of details. Work to get everyone in the organization to rally around a common goal. And, finally, lead with passion. If you can bring all of these elements together, you’ll be at the top of your game — just like Coach K!