Monday night, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr did not coach the game against the Phoenix Suns. Not because he was sick or injured. But because he decided to run an experiment: He let the players coach instead. The Warriors have been struggling over the last few weeks–they’ve lost games they shouldn’t have lost to teams they shouldn’t lose to. Fatigue may be part of it, but they’re professional athletes who train for the NBA’s pace. Carelessness may be another part of it, as we hit the season’s midpoint. Monday’s game was the second to last before a mid-season break, against the Suns, who are currently second to last in the Western Conference (the Warriors are first). In letting the players coach the game, Coach Kerr added an exciting twist to a game that would have otherwise been tough for the players to get up for.
The experiment was a success. Not just because the Warriors won by 46 points, but because the added responsibility made them function better as a team. Here are four ways self-coaching made the Warriors better, and could help your team too.
1. It promoted higher levels of focus.
Knowing that they were not only playing, but also coaching, the players were more “locked in” and engaged in the game than they otherwise might have been against the Suns. Getting substituted out of the game wasn’t just a time to get water and wait on the sidelines, but an opportunity to focus on the other players on the court to understand how they were playing individually and as a team.
When team members are expected not only to perform but to also help others perform, they will be more likely to focus on the entire team system.
2. It inspired better communication.
Though some of the Warriors’ veteran players are occasionally seen giving tips to newer players while on the sidelines, most of the time it’s Coach Kerr and his assistants communicating the plan and strategy. In coaching the game, the players were now communicating in more diverse ways and more frequently. On the court, it was about more in-the-moment communication, and off-the-court they were sharing what they noticed and how they could improve.
Removing the reliance on a coach or manager to communicate what he or she is observing enables individuals to come together and share their perspectives directly with one another.
3. It made individuals accountable for team outcomes.
During Monday’s game, power forward Draymond Green did not play because of an injured index finger. Still, he played a significant role in coaching the game. He called plays from the sidelines and stood up to applaud his teammates when they made shots. He also had discussions with his “assistants,” two teammates, David West and Javale McGee. Ordinarily, an injured player may have had mini discussions with the bench players sitting next to him, if he attended the game at all. With the opportunity to coach, Green was still accountable (and arguably made more accountable) for the outcome of the game.
Making individual team members feel responsible for their teammates’ performance inspires a sense of accountability for the entire team, not just themselves as individuals.
4. It provided individuals with new perspectives.
During a timeout in the second half, Steph Curry, one of the best players in the league, almost drew a “delay-of-game” warning. According to NBA.com, Curry told a reporter that he was horrible. He apparently thought about a play, forgot about a second option, and had two guys in the wrong place. Curry is a phenomenal player and teammate. He makes effective plays on the court and enables his teammates to be successful as well. Coaching off the court, however, he was forced to think about the game–and what success looks like–in a new way.
When individuals’ roles and responsibilities are temporarily changed, it enables them to think about their day-to-day in a fresh way, while also building empathy for the role of the coach.
Coach Kerr is a highly effective coach. In fact, he just became the fastest coach in American history to get to 250 wins. But being a good coach isn’t just about calling plays–it’s about enabling your team to feel engaged, responsible for, and committed to its overall success. And the best leaders know that sometimes, you can achieve that by stepping back and doing nothing at all.