The Keys to a Winning Team

basketball-1263000_640Last week the Golden State Warriors made history. They set a new NBA record for most games won in a season by finishing 73-9. Their accomplishment, which tops the Chicago Bulls 72 wins during the ’95-’96 season (something many said could never be done), is even more impressive when you consider they didn’t lose back-to-back games. After each defeat, they found a way to rebound and retool in order to secure another win.

The Warriors were already a strong team coming into this season. They finished with the league’s best regular season record last year (67-15) and the NBA title. But the best are never content. The players and staff knew they could be better this year and they set out to prove it.

Some will say the key to their success lies in Stephen Curry, their marquee player. And indeed, he is a force to be reckoned with. Last year’s MVP is by far the NBA’s best scorer, averaging 29.9 points per game. He set a new record for 3-point shots this season with 402. No one else even reached 300. But a single great player doesn’t make for a championship caliber team. Oh, they may carry the day here and there, but it takes more to achieve greatness with any kind of consistency. [Tweet “The best are never content.”]

Others may say coach Steve Kerr is the catalyst. He’s definitely brought something different to the franchise. He was a player for the Bulls the year they set the 72-win bar and won the title. He certainly knows what it takes to be a champion. But Kerr missed the half of the season, recovering from complications with an earlier back surgery. He wasn’t part of the Warriors’ 24-0 start, the league’s best since ’93-’94 when the Houston Rockets kicked off their season with 15 straight wins.

There’s no doubt that talent and strategy are critical components of a championship team. What sets the Warriors apart, though, is the high level of dedication each member displays to the team. When the season gets long, and individual games devolve into a grind, it’s the quality of the team that gets you through. Here are three qualities of top teams that win championships. [Tweet “When the season gets long it’s the quality of the team that gets you through.”]

  • A shared mission. It became apparent early in the season that the Warriors wanted to go for the record. At one point, Curry had this to say about the team’ mindset: “Obviously, going to win a championship, that’s the main goal. But there’s a reason we’re still talking about that…Bulls team…. They were on a mission that year and ended up winning the championship as well. So that’s kind of where we want to be.”

The team created the mission. The idea may have started with one person voicing an idea, but everyone bought into it. Once the regular season record became the focus, winning became the only thing that mattered. Conserving energy for a tougher game was no longer a consideration. Coasting once a playoff berth was secured didn’t enter the conversation. The shared goal became a belief and that belief became a reality.

  • A personal responsibility. Games often come down to a single play, a single shot. Any given player can find themselves in a position to secure the win, spur a run, or create an opportunity. Members of the team knew they had to be at their best every single night or risk letting the team down. Everyone felt the pressure, and welcomed it. That’s what winners do.

Take Curry for instance. He was already the top scorer. He already took more shots and made more three pointers than anyone else. It would have been very easy for him to look for the others to improve, secure in the knowledge that he was contributing more than his fair share. But he didn’t. Curry has one of the most intricate warm-up routines in the NBA. He pushed himself to better his game. The guy just doesn’t let up. And his teammates have responded in the same way. They know what Curry brings to the table, but rather than using that as an excuse to be less than the best, they use it as fuel to improve their own contribution to the team.

  • An accountability mindset. Accountability is all about communication. Teams that communicate regularly, and openly, create bonds centered on expectations of each member’s behavior. When expectations are met, trust builds. When members slack off, trust crumbles. Championship teams know that depending on your teammates to do their part is critical to winning. So accountability is not only desired, it becomes everyone’s job.

The Warriors are a team that talks to each other. They communicate on the court, in the locker-room, and during practice. Players even use an online group chat room to connect between games and during the off-season. According to player Draymond Green, communication often focuses on where to go for the post-game meal, but it’s also used to share opinions, listen to each other’s advice, and reinforce expectations. Being accountable to each other builds trust.

Championship teams are a lot of fun to watch. Heck, everyone loves a winner. But few seem to know what it takes to achieve this level. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver does. He said this after Golden State’s record-breaking night: “The team held itself to a high standard throughout the season, playing with purpose every night and captivating fans around the world.”

How does your team stack up? Do you have a shared mission? Does each individual feel a personal responsibility to do their best? Is every member held accountable by the leader and the rest of the team? Are you on track to a record season?


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