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How Coach K Wins with Unbeatable Habits

With over 1,100 career wins, Mike Krzyzewski – or Coach K, for short – is the winningest coach in college basketball history. In fact, no other men’s coach has even cracked 1,000.

Most of those wins came with Duke, where Coach K has been the head coach since 1980. In that time, he’s also led the Blue Devils to five NCAA Championships.

Then there’s the gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics and the FIBA world championships in 2010 and 2014. Krzyzewski is also a member of the College Basketball Hall of Fame, Olympics Hall of Fame, and has been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame not once, but twice.

In short, Coach K isn’t just one of the great college basketball coaches in history. He’s one of the best coaches in basketball, and in any sport, period.

Who wouldn’t want to harness even a fraction of that success in their own careers or ventures? By looking at what makes Coach K tick, the habits that have made him who he is, and applying them to your own life, maybe you can.

How Coach K Created a Career of Excellence

Krzyzewski doesn’t just strive for success. He strives for excellence.

My hunger is not for success, it is for excellence. When you attain excellence, success naturally follows.

But as he’s quick to point out, excellence doesn’t come easy. You don’t just stumble into a thousand wins. So, how does he achieve it?

In large part through his preparedness, his dedication to making sure that he and his team go into every practice, every game, every season, every NCAA tournament with a plan, with a firm understanding of their roles, their strengths and weaknesses, and their goals.

Everybody wants to win, not everybody wants to prepare to win. You have to love the process of preparing to achieve that goal of winning.

But how exactly is Coach K able not only to keep himself prepared, but to prepare the dozen college-aged men that make up his teams, his assistant coaches, his staff, and even his family?

It’s in large part due to the habits that he developed in pick-up games as a kid in Chicago, during a tenure at West Point and enlistment in the Army, playing point guard under the legendary Bob Knight, and transforming the Duke Blue Devils into one of the most successful sports teams in any league.

Let’s take a closer look at these habits – and how you can apply them to your own life and team.

If you couple preparedness with the passion to win, there’s a good chance that you’re going to be successful.

How to Create Winning Habits Like Mike Krzyzewski

We’re going to highlight three main habits that help make Coach K successful, including daily written planning, visualizing the task ahead, and creating trust and accountability within his team and organization.

Then, we’ll give you tips on integrating these habits into your own schedule.

Create a Daily Gameplan

Every good coach has a gameplan. Heck, that’s where the word comes from, after all.

Because you don’t walk into an Olympic gold medal game or a NCAA championship game and just wing it. You need to know the strengths and weaknesses of your team and your opponent, how you’re going to shore up one and exploit the other, and what kinds of schemes you’re going to run, whether it’s Coach K’s trademark man-to-man defense or a 2-3 zone.

And coaches spend hundred of hours watching tape, reading scouting reports, and strategizing to create these gameplans.

They also have plans for practice. What kind of drills to run, how much time to spend on conditioning or scrimmaging, which areas to focus on.

Now, you might think that after 40 years at the same program, with an established coaching reputation and style, Coach K already has a basic practice template that he follows throughout the season. But you’d be wrong.

As he reveals in his book, Beyond Basketball: Coach K’s Keywords for Success, I have written a different practice plan for every practice of my career”.

Take a page out of Krzyzewski by spending time each night or morning writing down what you want to accomplish in the coming day, whether it’s a “practice” or “game” day.

What tasks do you want to complete? What errands do you have to run? What areas do you want to focus on? Plan it out – and write it down.

Visualize Your Goals

At 71 years old, Krzyzewski wrote a letter to his childhood self. He highlighted some of the obvious things, like his passion for sports as a kid, his family, and his accomplishments.

But he also stressed another important aspect of his growing up which reveals a key to his preparedness: visualization.

And the games you play when they have all gone home and you are alone with the ball and the hoop, those are equal in their fundamental value. When you envision yourself in championship moments, counting down the seconds in your head, driving past invisible defenders – you are giving yourself a destination.

Coach K goes on to explain that when he actually found himself in championship moments as a coach, he “felt as if [I’d] been there before” – precisely because he had already spent so much time visualizing those moments.

Many other highly successful people, from athletes to entertainers, swear by visualization and its ability to build confidence and propel them to their goals. Which is why it’s such a valuable habit to add to your daily life.

Spend at least 10 minutes per day visualizing your future, whether it’s a task you have to accomplish the next day or where you’d like to be 5, 10, or even 20 years down the road.

Never underestimate the immense power of your imagination. You will use it all your life.

Build a Strong Team

Coach K has two teams in his life: his literal team, which includes the current and former players that he coaches; and his family.

And he considers both critical to success. Obviously you can’t win as a coach without a good team. Meanwhile, his family, which includes his wife and three daughters – and now 9 grandchildren – is his support system. And they’re heavily involved in the team as well.

Needless to say, Krzyzewski spends a lot of time each day communicating with his two teams, his two families. This helps him in three ways. It builds trust, it helps him understand how to better relate to and lead them, and it gives him the firm foundation that makes him the man he is.

Who are they, what are they going through, and do you get their input for ideas? At the end of the day, we lead people, not bottom lines.

Do you have a strong team? To make it stronger, spend at least 30 minutes each day sharing with your “team”, whether it’s a coworker, client, or your family. Grab lunch together, watch a movie, go to the gym, or just have a good talk.

Add these daily habits to your list:

  1. Write down a “gameplan” of what you want to do and accomplish today – plan out the tasks and errands you want to handle and commit them to paper
  2. Spend 10 minutes visualizing future tasks and goals – rewire your brain for confidence and success through the power of your imagination
  3. Spend at least 30 minutes with your “team” – build better relationships, a stronger foundation, and create a unit that’s more ready for success

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