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How to Coach Like Phil Jackson

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I've always been fascinated by coaches who are considered to be "the best of the best" and what they have done to win multiple championships. Even more impressive and intriguing to me are those coaches who have seen great success at more than one place; coaches such as Rick Pitino, Bill Self, Roy Williams, and Larry Brown immediately come to mind and I am sure there are many others.

Of course, the first one to come to mind is Phil Jackson who won 6 NBA Championships with the Chicago Bulls and 5 more with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Over the years I've read nearly everything I could get my hands about Phil Jackson, including his latest book "Eleven Rings," and have come up with 5 points of emphasis for anyone who would like to use him as a role model.

1. Surround Yourself with Talent

This has actually been the most prevailing criticism of Coach Jackson - that he only coached teams with great talent. First of all, good for him! Name me one coach that you who know who wouldn't coach great talent year after year if he had the choice.

Every NBA coach is trying to draft and then sign the best players available, college colleges are always recruiting the best players they can get, and high school coaches are always trying to get the school's best players and athletes to try out for the team. As Adolph Rupp used to say, "You can't win the Kentucky Derby riding a donkey!"

However, one area has been consistently overlooked when it comes to Coach Jackson - his assistant coaches. Tex Winter, Jim Cleamons, Johnny Bach, Frank Hamblin, Brian Shaw, and Kurt Rambis were extremely talented coaches who never got enough credit for the work they did behind the scenes.

Jackson surrounded himself with outstanding coaches who could make huge contributions even though they were often out of the limelight. I can almost guarantee that if Coach Jackson ever returns to coaching you'll see at least one of those coaches sitting right next to him again.

2. Establish an Offensive System

Phil Jackson decided in his very first year as a head coach that for him the Triangle Offense was the one that would give him the best chance to succeed and he never strayed from it. Instead of flip flopping between offenses year after year or abandoning it when things got tough, Jackson mastered all the nuances of the Triangle and how to effectively teach it.

As a result, he and his core group of players did not have to spend all their time learning the system but could concentrate on refining and perfecting it.

Instead of changing your offense every year find a system that fits your personality and philosophy, stick with it and master it!

3. Be Willing & Able to Adjust the System to Fit Your Personnel

The Triangle Offense was originally designed to play inside-out with an effective passer in the low post and that's exactly what the Bulls did with Bill Cartwright as their center. However, realizing that the offense also presented some great scoring opportunities in the low post, the Bulls didn't hesitate to occasionally run Michael Jordan or Scottie Pippen in there to take advantage of a mismatch.

Later, when Coach Jackson was leading the Lakers, Shaquille O'Neil played the same position as Bill Cartwright once did and lead the NBA in scoring - same offense but entirely different emphasis.

I can't think of a single offense that can't be tweaked in some way so that it can become a better fit for your current personnel.

4. Don't Panic - Don't Overreact

Over his career it was hard to find too many faults with Phil Jackson's coaching style. However, there were those who would point out that when things got tough he would just sit back and watch instead of calling an immediate timeout. Of course we all know now that was completely by design.

Instead of panicking at the first sign of adversity, Jackson preferred to first let his team try to work things out themselves. He knew he could always step in a few moments later if he absolutely needed to but wanted every action and adjustment to be more logical than emotional.

Off the court Jackson adhered to that same philosophy as well. Even though the media made a huge deal about various disagreements he had with Kobe, Shaq, Dennis Rodman, and Scottie Pippen, Jackson never did overreact. Rather he would step back both physically and emotionally and give the situation a day to work itself out before addressing it.

As a result, what many thought to be a confrontation, completely blew over and never snowballed into something much bigger.

5. Coach the Person Not Just the Player

If there is one thing that Phil Jackson is known for (besides winning championships) it is his insistence on coaching people and not just players. At least once a year he would give each individual player a book that he felt the player could relate to and that would help him off the court in some way.

Some of the books were read and many were not. Either way, the players knew that their coach cared enough about them individually to go through the process of selecting and buying something that would help them.

Nutritionists, meditation experts, sports psychologists, undercover detectives, yoga instructors and even prison wardens would be routinely brought into practice to teach the players and coaching staff. Everyone benefitted from being part of a Jackson coached team and even years later stars and subs alike are extremely loyal to him.

Most of us will never be fortunate to coach a couple of the best players in the history of the game - but we can still follow Coach Jackson's example. These five points of emphasis can be applied to every team at every level with great results.

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