Sustained Excellence

Last week I had lunch with Jim Steen the Coach of the Kenyon College Men’s and Women’s Swim teams, whose men’s swim teams have won 27 straight NCAA Division III men’s championships and another 25 with the women. The conversation with Jim got me thinking again about sustained excellence. The phenomenon of sustained excellence has been something that has interested me for years. I have been fascinated with teams and individuals who can consistently produce at a high level. A lot of this thought was crystallized for my by the book by Tom Peters In Search of Excellence. The books by Collins Built to Last and the classic Good to Great certainly identify the characteristics of sustained excellence in business. I have found that the principles they identified transcend business. The longer I coach and the longer I study this phenomenon it is clear to me that many are called and few are chosen. Many coaches and athletes just cannot be bothered to do what it takes to achieve at the highest level. It is much easier to talk about being great, than it is to be great.

I have chosen some examples from my observation and research. A couple of these teams I have been able to observe first hand, others from afar. I am sure there are other examples but these are the teams that fit my conception of sustained excellence. All are athlete centered, coach driven and administratively supported. The coaches involved live it, they are not about talk and bluster, and they are results oriented. They set a high level of expectation and exceed it through a strong year around commitment. They think big picture, one play or one game does not a season make. Work ethic is given. Perspective, frankly this varies, some have done better jobs balancing their lives than others. Talent identification and development is essential, without talent excellence is tough to achieve, but some of it is recognizing unique talent and nurturing that. The need for innovation and change are recognized while still maintaining a strong sense of tradition. There is a definite system, if you walked into a UCLA basketball practice when John Wooden was the coach you saw the system from the first step until the last step. Perhaps the most unifying constant is consistent leadership and continuity of leadership. Each of these programs has a strong underlying philosophy that serves as the guiding light.

These are the teams and coaches that I have studied. If is a book or books about the program I have included an image of the cover. I believe to be excellent you must study excellence and emulate those aspects of excellence that fit your personality or situation.

North Carolina Women’s Soccer – Coach Anson Dorrance
I have spoken about the
Carolina program before in the blog. Hard work, dedication and a consistent philosophy are characteristic of this program.

Australian Women’s Filed Hockey from the 1990’s – Coach Ric Charlesworth
Gold medals in the 96 & 2000 Olympics plus some world championships thrown in. I was privileged to hear Ric speak in 96 and then meet him. He is dynamic and sets an example that the athletes must be inspired by.

De La Sale High School Football – Coach Bob Ladoucer
They hold the record for most consecutive wins. They
seek out and take on the best, often beating teams that outweigh them by twenty pounds per player. He has a real system that just keeps producing.

Kenyon College Swimming – Coach Jim Steen
I got to work with Kenyon last year so I got to see this program first hand. Until this year when they moved in a new aquatic complex they trained in a six lane 25 yard pool! Jim is a real motivator and communicator who sets a high level of expectation.

New England Patriots – Coach Bill Belichek
A system that works in pro sports, he demands practice effort, almost unheard in this world of high paid prima donnas’.

Adams State College Cross Country - Coach Joe Vigil
Joe is one of my mentors. When he coached at
Adams State they were unbeatable. He took local Colorado kids that no one else wanted and turned them into champions.

UCLA Basketball - Coach John Wooden
In my book this man and his program set the example for all to follow.


At 1/10/07, 1:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of sustained excellence I would also include in there Dan Gable and the University of Iowa wrestling program

At 1/10/07, 7:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would also add Teri Clemens, former Washington University St. Louis volleyball coach. A true teacher and coach. She instilled in her players discipline, desire, and a love of competition.

At 1/10/07, 8:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about a shout out to Vern Gambetta! LOL! Seriously, you've been at it for a long time....

At 1/10/07, 10:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I kind of smirked when I read the cover of Tim Crother's book on Anson Dorrance when he calls NC Soccer as the "Greatest College Sports Dynasty Ever". Forget the D3 tag, what Jim Steen has done at Kenyon is amazing. Having shared the locker room with those guys for 4 years as a hoopster I can appreciate what he demanded and they gave of themselves.And to do it with the academic requirements at Kenyon may have been a bigger hurdle than the facilities. I will never forget the Winter Sports Banquet one year in which they had won again fairly easily. Coach Steen stood up and announced they had won but said the season was a failure because they did not accomplish things the way he wanted. It was quite a shock hearing National Champions called failures and I can assure you the problems were fixed and that was that.

Kenyon Grad

At 1/11/07, 8:31 AM, Blogger NotABanker said...

Pat Summitt at UT defined women's basketball like Dorrance did for women's soccer.

At 1/11/07, 12:54 PM, Blogger Joe P. said...

At least in N.J., parochial schools do not have to abide by NJSIAA public school guidelines. They difinately have an unfair advantage in my opinion.

At 1/11/07, 4:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also would like to second the vote for a GREAT person, teacher & coach Teri Clemens her book "GET WITH IT, GIRLS! Life Is Competition" is a must read for any sport coach, teacher, parent,and athlete!


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