Thanks for the life lessons, Coach CullopWritten by Clinton Longenecker | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Congratulations to The Lady Rockets for their WNIT championship win against USC, 76-68. What a team, to take defeat in the MAC Tournament and turn it into a history-making championship run! Now, Coach Tricia Cullop is being described as one of the “hottest coaching talents in the country” — but what are the keys to her success?
We have followed the Lady Rockets for more than 25 years, have had close relationships with many players and had the chance to address the 2011 team. Back in January we had the unique privilege of being the “6th Man” (as a couple) on the Lady Rockets bench, a wonderful opportunity to see, feel and hear the inner workings of a team that had something very special going on. Here are several observations about what makes Cullop a great coach.
O She is a tireless and effective recruiter. While it is obvious that she has recruited outstanding basketball talent, she has surrounded herself with an exceptionally talented and motivated coaching and support staff that operates with great passion and professionalism. And if you hadn’t noticed, she recruited all of Toledo for each tournament game and has already recruited us for next season.
O She has staked out a strong, positive identity for her team. Coach constantly says, “This is who we are … ” and then fills in key virtues and qualities that are her team’s identity: “Blue-collar,” “family,” “serious in the classroom,” “a buzzer-to-buzzer team,” “don’t finish ugly,” “demonstrate character” are but a few of the encouraging and elevating comments that are repeated and reinforced. This identity has created a lifestyle and mindset that leads to high performance. And when performance falls below expectation, she reminds her team, “This is not who we are.”
O She has a real talent at connecting with people. Coach has the uncanny ability to make people feel like the center of her attention. She demonstrates great emotional intelligence and a genuine talent for communicating with everyone regardless of the stressfulness or loudness of the situation. She also has great listening skills that are frequently found wanting in strong leaders. Catch her eye one minute before tip off and she focuses her attention on you as if she has all the time in the world.
O She understands the power of synergy and family. When you look at the talent and athleticism of UT’s WNIT opponents, it is apparent that we won because of team play. Coach creates synergy, making as the whole of the team’s performance was far greater than the sum of its parts. Everyone in the stands knew that they were witnessing a group of individuals that were playing and winning synergistically. This team is a family “by design” as team-building on and off the court has created a family with intangible qualities that few teams ever achieve.
O Coach is always coaching. Players will tell you that Cullop sets very high, clear expectations for everything: academic performance, practice, travel, game preparations and the games themselves. She and her staff then do everything in their power to equip players to meet those expectations. This is where she truly shines by providing continuous situational feedback. When each player returns to the bench they receive immediate feedback. A player is not left guessing as to her quality of play on or off the court. Watching Cullop on the floor after winning the championship was a delight as she fought her way through the crowd to personally congratulate each player and to hug them and to whisper some personal and private comments. One can only imagine her feedback … but the smiles on the players’ faces revealed they knew they were valued.
O Coach demonstrates humility and that it is not about her. Finally, our coach has been quick to give credit for our national championship performance to the fans, her players, her staff, the UT Athletic Department, the administration and Toledo. Somehow all 7,301 of us felt like we were the “6th man.” When she told us that the team could not have won these games without us, the fans, we truly believed her and felt like we had done our part for the team. Humility pays dividends!
Thanks for the life lessons, Coach, and for the championship!
Clinton Longenecker, Ph.D., is the Stranahan Professor of Leadership and Organizational Excellence at The University of Toledo. Cindy Breese Longenecker is a homemaker, teacher and community servant.