The NBA Playoffs are in full swing, and much of the focus has been on the defending champion Golden State Warriors, who some place among the all-time great teams. Many attribute to the greatness of the Warriors to their star power: the team boasts four All Stars and two of the top three or four players in the game. But as anyone who has led a talented team knows, talent doesn’t guarantee success. That said, a good coach can do much with elite talent, as Steve Kerr and the Warriors demonstrate.
Kerr does many things well as a leader and coach, but one element I’ve noticed recently through sideline video footage is the way he encourages his players to help them perform at a high level. Sometimes, it is during their highs: for example, when (as frequently happens) Stephen Curry scores over forty points in a game on twenty or so shots, he says, “I would love to feel whatever the heck you feel right now just once in my life. For me, if I ever went five for six with four three (pointers) that was the best the best I ever did.” A video from this year’s playoffs shows Kerr encouraging Curry, who had recently returned from injured reserve: “Stay patient…you’re taking care of the ball and managing the game well. It will come. At some point in the series, we will break free and so will you!” In these and other cases, the encouragement is authentic and attentive.
Kerr’s encouragement is meant to influence Curry. In the first case, he recognizes that his star player is in the flow and encourages him to continue. When things are going well, it just helps our team members to know that we see it. Often, recognizing one good performance becomes a steppingstone to later outstanding performance.
What Steve Kerr says to Curry after his injury is worth noting as well. The road back to peak performance after a layoff can be challenging; doing so during the playoffs, on the NBA’s biggest stage, adds difficulty. In this case, Kerr’s encouragement helps Stephen Curry remain patient and play the right way as he finds his footing. Such is especially important since players returning from injury often risk re-aggravating it, and, at the same time, may attempt to do too much and so adversely impact the success of the team.
Lastly, note that Kerr isn’t talking to just any player; this is two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry. It’s tempting to think that our most talented team members don’t need encouragement, but what we hear Steve Kerr saying to Curry reminds us that even top performers benefit from affirmation–both to stay in the flow on the job and continue to play the right way when things get tough.
Most of us perform on a much smaller stage than the NBA, but the truth remains that well-used words make a huge impact on our teams. Let’s harness the power of words to encourage our people.
Dr. Drake Levasheff is Senior Director of Azusa Pacific University’s Murrieta Regional Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.