written by alastair barlow [blog]
I recently watched the movie Coach Carter for the first time – if you haven’t seen it before it’s a biographical sports film drama based on the true story of a basketball coach (Coach Ken Carter) played in the movie by Samuel L Jackson.
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I recently watched the movie Coach Carter for the first time – if you haven’t seen it before it’s a biographical sports film drama based on the true story of a basketball coach (Coach Ken Carter) played in the movie by Samuel L Jackson. It’s a pretty epic movie in itself but there are some underlying lessons on leadership and team work embedded within the movie.
The story itself is about a basketball team that has lots of infighting, lack of belief and a blame culture. Ultimately they lack discipline and are more focused on their own scoring records than working as a team. The school is based in Richmond, California where statistics showed 1 in 3 people end up being arrested and high school kids are 80% more likely to go to jail than to college. There are a lot of lessons to take from this story, below are a few of my favourite…
1. Have a vision and share it 🔭
While this movie is based around basketball, a visionary statement from Coach Carter reveals what his real motivations for coaching them are…”I will do everything in my power to get you to college and to a better life.” While high-school basketball is a means to this, winning basketball games is not the ultimate vision.
While Carter has this vision, the team are still focused on the here and now and only want to “win that state championship.” When asked “who won the state championship last season?” none of them could answer this. It goes to show it’s the process around winning that’s more important than the winning itself.
The team soon start to realise and buy-in to this bigger vision. At a goose-bumps moment in the movie, one of the team stands up and announces to Carter “Sir, I just want to say thank you…you saved my life.” And boom – the team has buy-in to their leader’s vision and it becomes their vision too.
Vision is the North Star for any team and any business. Make sure you share it to get buy-in and alignment across your teams!
2. Set clear expectations 🗺
In a strange statement, Carter hands each of the team a contract. In exchange for playing and turning them into winners, he wants each of them to maintain academic focus and achieve a 2.3 GPA (meaningless to me but I’m assuming it’s a decent set of grades in the US) and attend all classes. He also makes it very clear practice starts at 15:00 and if they are not there at 14:55 then they’re late. He also implements a strict dress code on game days.
Here Carter is setting out clear expectations of what he is looking for from the team. As you can guess, the team fails to live up to these expectations but what is important is that Carter doesn’t waiver; he isn’t afraid to take action and ultimately suspends the team from playing entirely (at that point they are on a 16 game win streak!). There is uproar in the town but Carter puts his job on the line which earns respect from his team.
Carter’s clear expectations are all about alignment to objectives and his bigger vision. How clear are your expectations across your team and people?
3. Encourage a team ethic 👊
At the start, we see the team fighting with one another and only playing for themselves. At a pivotal point in the movie, one of the team that walked out on Carter wants back in. In order to be allowed back on the team he must complete 2,500 push ups and 1,000 shuttle runs (basically the number he had missed while being absent). He has 500 push up and 80 shuttle runs to go but he’s exhausted and can no longer run. The rest of the team step up “One person struggles, we all struggle. One person triumphs, we all triumph.”
Carter pushes the team concept further through including himself. In a bold move, finding out that his players have failed their contracts, he cites “we have failed each other…some upheld the contracts, but we are a team. And until all meet the terms, the gym is locked and practice is suspended.”
Amazing – at these points Carter knows he has a real team working for each other! How far would your team go for each other and how are you instilling a strong team ethic among your people?
4. Focus on one major thing at a time 🔍
Change is hard. Change management is hard. Early on in the movie, Carter identifies one area of major weakness – their fitness. While the team don’t initially understand why all they’re doing is focusing on shuttle runs, come the end of their first game they are much, much fitter than their opposition and, come crunch time, win their first game through this major improvement. This win breeds confidence, which breeds success.
Go for the gains that will have the greatest impact first and focus on them! That is not always weaknesses, it’s often focusing on strengths that you can achieve the greatest gains. But change management is important so apply it wisely.
The movie doesn’t have the fairy-tale ending you would expect or hope for from a Hollywood movie – it’s based on a real life story after all, but there is a much bigger picture here about real life and Coach Carter’s overall vision.
They didn’t win the state championship but if you want to know what the real wins were – it was that 5 of them won college scholarships and 6 of them went on to college. Coach Carter’s son (also one of the team), Damien Carter, went on to break the Richmond High School scoring and assist records previously held by his father and, upon graduation, he received a scholarship to the US Military Academy at West Point.
“You men played like champions, you never gave up…and champions hold their heads high. What you achieved goes way beyond the win/loss column…you’ve achieved something people try to spend their whole lives. That ever elusive victory within. And gentlemen, I am so proud of you.”
Carter turned a bunch of kids, statistically heading for an arrest, into something else. Now that’s a transformation through leadership and vision!
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Alastair – Chief Dreamer 💭