Words of wisdom from a hall-of-fame coach

Executive coaches generally don't like to compare themselves to sports coaches, but I'm not sure why. I think we can learn a lot from sports coaches, whether the legends or our own kids' little league coaches.

This weekend at a tennis tournament I got to hear legendary coach Nick Bolletieri speak. There are two reasons you should read what he has to say:

First, the way he became a famous sports coach is instructive to every kind of coach out there. Before Nick worked with Andre Agassi, the Williams sisters, Maria Sharapova, and many of the world's great tennis players, he had no name and no world-class tennis facility. In other words, he was like many of us.

So how did he change that?

He drove around from tournament to tournament looking to sign one great player. He drove in a beat up car, from state to state, usually striking out.

Then Jimmy Arias, the top 12-year old player in the world, signed him on to be his coach.

From there, Nick attracted other great players more easily, and basically let the kids slug it out amongst themselves on the tennis court while getting better in the process.

Next, he developed a few simple systems to help players get better — involving their mental game, footwork, and strokes. For instance, he created the 3-zone framework that many coaches now use to teach tennis. (Coaches must have their own proprietary
intellectual capital!).

All of this eventually led him to get investors to build his famous Florida facility, which was bought out by sports production and agency behemoth IMG.

You can do the same. It all starts with one marquee client, and the referrals that follow from that. You just have to work your butt off and be sure that you can bring value, and eventually that marquee client will come. From there, everything gets much easier.

Second, Nick's words of wisdom are simple but powerful. In his speech he said things like:

– If you think you know everything, it's time to go back to school.
– There can only be one number one in the world at anything. You can always get better.
– Second place is the same as last place. Do what you do to be number one.
– There is no such thing as "I can't do it."
– My character is not for sale. Select your friends and associates carefully.
– It is never over. Never use that word "over." You can always come back.
– Go for every ball even if you think it will be out.

He gives examples of players who embody each message.

Notice though how simple his messages are. I think that we executive coaches sometimes get caught up in jargon
instead of going back to the basics of what it takes to really excel. I also think that executives need some back-to-basics reminders about excellence; we live in a cynical world, and there are lots of opportunities to shake leaders out of complacency and into vision and opportunity.

I hope you find this case study to be valuable.

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