Takeaways from Calipari’s “Players First”

Players First John CalipariThe University of Kentucky’s John Calipari is one of the most polarizing figures in basketball today as fans across the country either love him or hate him.

The most important and interesting thing to me, however, is that Coach Cal’s players all seem to love him and that tells me he must be doing something right.

Not too long ago Calipari wrote a book called “Players First: Success from the Inside Out.”

Here are 35 quotes from that book that were originally posted at BrianDoddOnLeadership.com.

What do you think of the very first quote? It’s definitely a different twist on the traditional “play for the name on the front of the jersey” quote.

Notice Coach Cal isn’t telling his players to play for the names on the back (their own) but that he is going to coach the team as a whole and individually.

  1. I coach for the names on the backs of the jerseys – not just the front.  My players.”

  3. “In almost all cases, their (the players) dream is to play in the NBA as soon as possible.  The more who achieve that goal, the more who want to come here.  That’s the way it works.  Success breeds more success.”

  5. “None of my players are as ready as they think they are for how we play at Kentucky – let alone ready for the pros – because they have rarely if ever been really pushed.”

  7. “As I became more secure, I liked that I could make my life about everyone but me.”

  9. “Institutions serve people, not the other way around.  So as a servant-leader, I measure my success by the success of those whom I’m serving.”

  11. “The art of coaching at this level is about convincing great athletes to change.  First we have to get them to accept what they’re not good at…Surrender to our instruction.  Surrender to physical conditioning.”

  13. “You want to know what delusional is?  I’ve had to say to kids, ‘You’re listening to your barber instead of listening to us.’”

  15. “Practice is where we work on our players’ weaknesses; games are where we show their strengths.”

  17. “A player who is looking for excuses doesn’t want you to put the responsibility on him.  It robs him of his best self-justification.”

  19. “When you bring in great players to play with other great players, there’s a multiplier effect, and they up better than they would have been individually.  They drive one another in practice.”

  21. “When players combine elite athleticism and great determination, you don’t worry too much about position.”

  23. “If you need someone to be Superman at the end to win games, you’re going to lost games.”

  25.  “Thinking about how you would try to beat your own team goes with the job of being a coach.”

  27. “If I’m forced to choose between talent and experience, I’m taking talent every time.  You can gain experience and you can add skills, but what’s sometimes called God-given talent is just that.”

  29. “The best players I’ve coached have a demeanor about them that never moves.  They have a calmness…Physiology-wise, rage and anger are related to fear.”

  31. “Part of coaching is acting.  It’s true of any kind of leadership, whether you’re a CEO, an army general, or a father.  Part of the job is that you don’t reveal your own apprehensions.”

  33. “You’re going to make mistakes, just play through them.”

  35. “I had truly gone from the business of basketball to the business of helping families.”

  37. “During the season it’s about team.  From the moment our last game ends until the draft, it switches over to being about individual kids.”

  39. “You don’t know if you will win or lose until you do.  I don’t give up on kids.  I don’t give up on teams.  I don’t give up on seasons.”

  41. “Even when we won, I wasn’t fully satisfied, which is how you’re supposed to coach.  You’re happy, but you ask for more.  You try to get up to the next level.”

  43. “Competition gets you out of bed in the morning.  It makes you alive and it makes you better.  It reveals the best and the worst in us.  You learn whether you can stand up and respond to being challenged, or whether you back down.  When you start getting beaten, you either change or you fail.”

  45. “Nothing in my Players First philosophy says that I should protect kids from competition.  It’s just the opposite.  I serve them by giving them competition.”

  47. “Recruiting is sales.  It’s persuasion.  But a salesman who’s a fake isn’t a very good salesman – or at least he’s not good at selling to intelligent people.”

  49. “My players have to have the intellect to absorb coaching and the emotional intelligence to be good teammates.”

  51. “The quality I’m looking for in a kid is respect.”

  53. “Classroom smarts and academic achievement relate to what we often call basketball IQ. I always want a kid who’s a good student.”

  55. “The one thing no one on my staff can do is add stuff to my plate…If you’re piling more things on, I may have to let you go.”

  57. “I need people who look at adversity as a challenge and failure as a learning opportunity.”

  59. “If you’re a coach who truly respect the profession, you have to allow yourself to be coached.”

  61. “I’m a collector of coaches, teachers, and mentors.  The ones from my younger days I keep in contact with and never let go.  And as I get older, I keep finding new ones.”

  63. “You must love the thought of pushing through your comfort level.”

  65. “Do you want to read about history or make history?”

  67. “Honesty and its related quality, trust, are at the very core of my coaching philosophy.”

  69. “Just because you’re a year older doesn’t automatically make you a year better.”

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