Occasionally I’m asked to describe my management style. In thinking about
how to best answer that question, I’ve turned to the things I learned on the basketball court.
I was not a competitive swimmer. Basketball was my game, and I was a regular in the pickup games at the YMCA until the age of 56. As I got older, to remain competitive with the younger players I learned to play smarter. And in playing smarter, I realized that many of the principles I was adopting on the basketball court paralleled my personality and my management style at work.
Here are five things I learned on the basketball game that have translated into my management style.
See the whole court. In basketball I developed a knack for knowing where every player was on the court, and I became able to anticipate their moves based on the location of the ball and the flow of the game. At work, I am always trying to see the big picture … call it the “vision thing.” Among my most important responsibilities is to look into the future and to identify goals that will lead us to ongoing success. To see the whole court, you need to keep your head up and see everything that is going on.
Put the ball in the right person’s hands. I loved to pass the ball. For me, making a pass that led to a basket was more satisfying than scoring the basket myself. I embraced the notion that pickup basketball was a combination of jazz and poetry, and so making a sweet pass always gave me an exhilarating feeling. At the office, I’m a delegator. I don’t delegate because I’m lazy or because I’m incapable of doing something; I delegate to get a lot more done, and to get a lot more people involved. The key is to always delegate the right assignments to the people who are best qualified to deliver success.
Don’t be afraid to shoot. Every basketball player needs a “go to” move. I might love to pass, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like to take my share of shots. When I played ball, I had great confidence in putting up a little half-hook shot from the side of the basket; it was my “go to” move and most defenders couldn’t stop it even when they knew it was coming. At USA Swimming, my “go to” moves have been starting new programs and events such as the Mutual of Omaha Duel in the Pool, the Golden Goggle Awards and our Make a Splash initiative. Once a new program is up and running, I usually step aside to let others take over the day-to-day management of the program, while I start looking for the next “shot”.
Keep score. Playing pickup basketball provides a brutally honest life lesson … winners keep the court. I grew up in New York playing on crowded playground courts, where if you lost you had a long wait before you got another chance to play. Keeping score at USA Swimming is a lot more than celebrating our athlete’s medal-winning performances; it means making steady progress in our continual efforts to Build the Base, Promote the Sport and Achieve Competitive Success. Measuring our membership statistics, tracking participation in our programs, evaluating the usage of our website, analyzing our television ratings, managing our revenues and expenses are just a few examples of how we regularly keep score.
Old school still works. Some of my most enjoyable moments playing pickup basketball were being on a team of older, experienced players and beating a team of young studs. Employing archaic team skills of setting screens, making cuts and delivering well-placed passes could flummox a group of younger players unfamiliar with the game’s finer points. Today’s sports business industry is over-stocked with highly-educated, ambitious young people. Some of these “young studs” will rise rapidly to senior level positions, some will muddle along, and some will fail for a variety of reasons. It’s my strong belief, however, that the smartest among these will recognize the old school values of what it means to be a good team player. The basics are pretty simple: be dependable; carry your weight; help others; get along with people; have fun, but don’t be silly. And above all, remember that the winners keep the court.
Chuck Wielgus can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. All of his blogs are archived at www.usaswimming.org: click on “News” and then click on “Org News & Blogs”. The picture above is of the cover from the basketball book that Chuck Wielgus co-authored with Sports Illustrated Senior Writer, Alexander Wolff.