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The Carolina Way

The Carolina Way

Dean Smith’s book, “The Carolina Way” is not a typical “How to coach” book. Rather the book is divided into three parts for each topic.

  1. First is Smith explaining a key concept or theme that made his team successful.
  2. His former players then add their views as to why that concept or theme was so important to them as players and as people.
  3. The last part of each chapter has a business guru explain how to apply that concept to the business setting.

My sense is that the last section, business, was the part that made this book so different and valuable. Many other coaching books make reference to a business setting with a few quick sentences. “The Carolina Way” focuses specific sections to concrete examples of how to apply these themes.

The setup of the book also allows for pleasant change of pacing while you read. Too many coaching books just keep coming at you and telling you more and more strategies until you get overwhelmed. Or they keep repeating the same concept and stories over and over. Smith’s book has a few pages of Smith explaining the theme, several pages of his players discussing that theme and then several pages of the business application of that theme. It’s very enjoyable.

Many of the coaches emphasis Unselfish play. That seems to be a common theme in most successful programs. Here Smith gives lots of concrete examples of how to coach an unselfish team.

A few themes jumped out at me. There’s a chapter on Routines and how routines help build team chemistry. Smith shares several examples of Carolina routines that are part of their tradition and how the players value those routines. One of them is that Carolina players always point to the passer after they score. This helps to reinforce the unselfish style of play. It’s a Carolina tradition to have all bench players stand and cheer for players coming off the court. Another routine that Carolina players had was the “Tired” signal. Coach Smith understood that playing his fast paced, (except for that Four Corners thing) high pressured defensive style of basketball was exhausting and he didn’t want tired players out there hurting his team. He devised a signal for tired players to come out and then be able to go back in when they were ready. This gave the players the right to re-enter when they were ready, rather than waiting for the coach to decide. The last area was on senior leadership. I liked that the seniors reinforced the standards of the team that Smith put into place. I did have mixed feelings about the treatment of the Freshmen which I’m sure is the case in most teams. Seems like there may have been too much senior privilege; first in line to get water, on the bus, on the plane etc. Why do teams dump everything on the freshmen, making them do all of the grunt work? It’s the senior’s team!! Take charge and set the example!

Another theme that I appreciated as a coach hearing from one of the greats is the respect Smith showed every person connected with the team. He treated starters, bench and role players and managers with the same amount of dignity and respect. Too often, coaches focus on the just the starters or the high profiled players. With Smith, that wasn’t the case.

The last them was how during the recruiting of players, Smith never promised playing time. Many other coaches would guarantee and promise the world to recruits. Smith would only promise them that they would be on the team if they worked hard and kept their grades up. My sense is that Smith truly cared about the individual rather than just the basketball player.

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