Career Lessons from USA Basketball Men's Olympic Team

Stars Accept Lesser Roles

Sacrifice and teamwork are key to USA Basketball Men's Basketball team in Rio.

The USA Basketball Men's Olympic team won gold at the Rio Olympics. The roster was stacked with big name stars and accomplished young players and was coached by Mike Krzyzewski. There are also career lessons to be learned from their Olympic experience and applied in your own career. Here are some to consider:

You Can't Worry About Who Is Not Available 

The roster includes plenty of stars: Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, DeMarcus Cousins, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, to name a few.

  At the same time, Two of the biggest stars in the game are noticeable by their absence: LeBron James, Stephen Curry.  These two have won six of the last eight NBA Most Valuable Player awards, so they are the best of the best.

Yet the Olympic team will be just fine.  And you can be sure that neither the players nor Coach K are thinking about Curry or James and what they could add to the team - instead, they are focused on succeeding with the team they do have.  Similarly, in your career focus on the people that you do have as resources, rather than those you do not.  In many offices, there is a longing for former co-workers or bosses.  That is wasted energy.  Instead, focus on who is on your team and produce the best results possible.

Know Your Role and Keep Your Ego in Check 

As Coach K defines the role each player will be playing on the team, remember that most of these players are leading scorers on their teams.

  and in many cases have been the focal point of every basketball team they have been on since an early age.  And yet here they are on arguably the biggest global platform they will play on in their entire lives and they are willing to accept lesser roles to win an Olympic gold medal.

How would you react in your professional career if you were asked to play a smaller role on the biggest project you had ever worked on?

  If the boss indicated that your assistance was important to the success of a presentation, but that you would only be used as part of the team that crafted the presentation but would not be one of the presenters in the boardroom on the day the presentation was delivered? Would you be able to swallow your pride, play the role requested and not complain about it?

As you tune into the Olympic basketball games, watch for how the players that do not receive much playing time - and remember every one of them has been on the floor for every key moment on every team they have ever played on up to this point - and see how they carry themselves on the bench and during timeouts.  You will likely find that they are tremendously supportive and enthusiastic even though they are not on the floor as much as they would like.  Can you adopt that attitude in your work even when you feel you have been slighted in some way?

Are You Willing to Work Overtime? 

Many of the players on the 2016 team were coming off grueling seasons.  For example, Kyrie Irving's Cleveland Cavaliers battled the Golden State Warrior duo of Klay Thompson and Draymond Green in the NBA Finals that reached into June.  Training camps open in September, so the off-season is very short for some of these athletes.

  Yet here they are giving up thier summer to put their bodies through more games and more travel in the pursuit of a gold medal.

Similarly, are you willing to take advantage of opportunities to work more than is required for no immediate monetary reward?  Just as these players are willing to sacrifice their time off are you willing to do it?  They see it as an opportunity to hone their skills and potentially cash in in the future on the status that comes from being an Olympian and even a gold medal winner.  But there are no guarantees - yet they still choose to work "overtime".

If You Build a Culture, They Will Come 

It is easy for many basketball fans to remember the Original Dream Team from 1992 that represented the United States in the Olympics in Barcelona. Some of the biggest names in the last 40 years of basketball were on that team: Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, Clyde Drexler, Patrick Ewing, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Christian Laettner, Karl Malone, Chris Mullin, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson and John Stockton.

  At the conclusion of those Olympics, the United States team seemed invincible into the foreseeable future.

But by 2004 Team USA had dipped to a 5-3 record in the Olympics.  It was time for a change.  In stepped Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski.  They rebuilt the United States basketball program by choosing complementary parts to form a team - rather than just choosing stars.  They also focused on the other USA Basketball teams that competed in international competitions - U18, World University Games and others - and watched how players performed in international ball and as teammates.  The unspoken message was that to be chosen for Olympic Teams in the future, young players needed to buy in and play in these competitions early in their careers.  The culture of USA Basketball had changed.

The Colangelo/Kryzewski partnership drew to a close after the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.  Greg Popovich will take over the coaching reins in 2017.  The culture built during the Colangelo/Coach K years will be tested as Pop takes over. 

In your own career, you may end up in a leadership position that requires you to think carefully about building a culture.  While realizing that nothing in life or business lasts forever, Popvich's hiring will undoubtedly mark an evolution from the Coach K years, but it likely will not look to tear down the existing culture, instead, looking to have it evolve.

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