Dogs, Memory, Coaching, and Teaching Teamwork


The first dog my wife and I got from the shelter was a big, happy blonde Labrador mix. 

We took the time and effort to train him, and went through about fifty bags of dog biscuits in teaching him to sit, stay, lie down, and fetch. 

It took time, but he was a great dog for almost a dozen years.

The dog we have now is much smaller, but he is also a “good” dog, who has benefitted from the same training regimen and is playful, but always well behaved around guests and quick to respond to commands from us and our children.

But I am also familiar with other dogs in the neighborhood that are not as well mannered, and have visited homes (like you have, I’m sure) where the dog is at best a bit wild and at worst a dangerous maelstrom of energy that jumps on guests and ruins the furniture.

But I never leave being disappointed with the dog.  I believe that there are no bad dogs– only well trained or poorly / untrained ones!

My wife is responsible for this next epiphany.  In the past, I used to try and excuse my lack of attention to her shopping or honey-do lists by claiming that I just “had a bad memory.”  Then one day I was given a copy of Harry Lorraine’s book on improving your memory – to remember names, numbers, or any information that was important to you.

It was then that I made the connection and realized that nobody really suffers from a bad memory there are only well trained or poorly /untrained ones.

Well, as a high school basketball coach for 18 years, those lessons soon caused me to consider the athletes on my team and their behaviors.  Whether it was running our offense with precision, or making a defensive rotation, or even communicating well enough to establish a quality rapport and accept roles, they seldom performed as well or as consistently as I would have liked.

Interestingly, in one of his coaching videos, I heard Bob Huggins talk about training his players like dogs. 

He says that in training his dogs at home, he wants them to either run or to sit.  So, in his basketball practices, if the player is not giving proper effort or performing with the expected level of focus – that player will run.  In games, for those same behaviors, Huggins uses the bench as a teacher – and makes them sit.

And it occurred to me after hearing Coach Huggins’ comments that there are no bad teams – only well trained or poorly / untrained ones!

So it is with the people in your organization.

Whether it is running a motion offense in basketball, working together on a new project in a business, or collaborating to build an interactive cross-curricular teaching unit in a school, teamwork and interpersonal skills are something that must be taught!

When I caught myself yelling at my players during a timeout the first year I coached, it was more of a commentary on my coaching than their playing.

And it took years before I improved to the point that I took full responsibility for the product I sent onto the court.

But ultimately, our success in reaching whatever goal we have set for our people depends upon our willingness to acknowledge that there are no bad teams or players – only those who have been trained well or not.  And, although technique, work ethic, and  are obvious areas that most coaches focus on improving,teaching teamwork is one of the most important things you can do for your people to help them be successful.

Teamwork is about relationships, commitment, and accountability – and whether an athletic team or an office staff, those values will remain with your people long after their equipment is turned in. While giving yourself a more successful project or year, you will also be giving your people the tools for a more successful and significant life by introducing them to tools that inspire trust, better self talk, and team accountability.

Anything worth doing takes teamwork – even if some on the team don’t get the spotlight of recognition, they are there making team success possible. The greatest thing you can teach your people is the importance of becoming a small contributing part of SOMETHING GREATER than themselves.

I assure you that the new strategy or system you have been studying will NEVER have half the results or impact of a team building event where your people improve team leadership, self talk, and mental toughness.

So once you decide that teambuilding and mental toughness is a priority, how do you go about instilling it? I think it begins with defining the team growth process as one of your goals for the season. It must be clear to your players that YOU believe – in order to accomplish every other goal on the list – that teambuilding and relationship development should be an emphasis for your program.

Start by defining for your athletes that TEAMBUILDING is the process of focusing a group to work better together with an appreciation of diversity and talents and commit to their role in reaching the team’s chosen destination.

You likely publish your team goals – and put together a plan to get them better equipped to perform. But it should be a significant part of your season to also commit to planning for their growth as a unit that cares for each other, that recognizes individual strengths, and that holds peers accountable for performing the roles they claim.

You wouldn’t expect you’re a basketball team to play great defense without spending tremendous time and effort on building their skills and working on it every week. Teaching teamwork and trust are built the same way- from the fundamentals of how to talk to each other and remain focused amid adversity to how they interact and establish roles as leaders in group problem solving activities.

Team building activities illustrate the importance of communication, create an awareness of the importance of trust, and provide challenges that serve as lessons that your team can apply to their own specific situation.

When I work with teams, the general progression of successful teambuilding remains the same- whether it is a volleyball team, a school faulty, or a team of businessmen.

All GREAT teams, whether overtly identified or not, have the following in common:

1. Goals and Gear

2. Rapport and Relationships

3. Expectations and Encouragement

4. Accountability and Adjustments

5. Toasts and Transfer

These steps are all part of a process that can be facilitated through teambuilding activities- from something as simple as a group personality inventory and discussion, to a trust building activity, to a physical challenge like “tennis ball transport.”

The growth of your organization will come because of what you do to bring your people together far more than because of what you do with strategy.  What your organization does, and how well they do it, will be been tremendously influenced by the relationships and accountability that develop through planned activities designed to create that shared vision and camaraderie.

So if you are experiencing any difficulties or issues on your group, consider taking the time to not only demand productivity, but to back up a step and invest time in teaching them HOW to work harder, smarter, and more cohesively.

You will be glad you did!