Leadership Lessons from an NBA Champion Coach: Podcast #57

Today, I’m excited to share with you a conversation with Brendan Suhr. Brendan is a former NBA basketball coach with several teams—including the Detroit Pistons—where he won two NBA Championships. He was also a coach at the University of Central Florida, Louisiana State University and more. Currently, he is the founder of Coaching U —a coaching, mentoring and leadership company. Here are some highlights from our conversation.

Tim Elmore: Brendan, you and I have talked about the newest generation of athletes before. What are some of the most tangible differences you see in athletes today— compared to maybe 25 years ago?

Brendan Suhr: Number one to me is the parents today. Back in the day, no matter what, I believed in my coach and my parents believed in my coach. If my coach told my parents that I was being disrespectful, I would get in trouble. Nowadays in the eyes of parents, failures are immediately blamed on the coach, instead of encouraging the athlete to have grit or perseverance. Today, the reason is always “the coach is why my player isn’t doing well,” or “my son or daughter failed because you, as their coach, didn’t prepare them well enough.” In addition, because of all of the technology present in our lives, we have eliminated the relationship aspect between parents, coaches and athletes. I think it’s a huge problem now that leaders need to figure out how to connect with these young people.

Tim: No doubt about it. What we’re continuing to hear and learn as we interact with student athletes is that they need relationship-based coaching.


Brendan: For instance, communication is the ultimate way to gain trust with student-athletes.

Tim: Absolutely. John Maxwell always taught me that leadership operates on the basis of trust.

Brendan: One of my favorite things that I’ve learned is that trust is the ultimate currency. All relationships that break down in the world are due to a lack of trust. I think communication becomes the key. Everyone thinks that communication means “me talking,” but communication means two people speaking, listening and respecting what’s being said.

Tim: I agree, Brendan. Being a leader means being a good communicator.

Brendan: Leadership is all about the people you serve. It is all about your athletes, your students or your children. It doesn’t matter if it is business, coaching, or parenting, you use the same skills and mindset to lead.

Tim: That’s right.

Brendan: My friend Jon Gordon says he doesn’t believe in tough love, he believes in love tough. That’s important to me—unconditional love whether you win or lose. If you don’t love your players, it shows and they will be able to tell.

Tim: No doubt. These are fundamentals of just good coaching and it does begin with relationship, communication, trust and everything you’re outlining. If you were sitting down with a new coach, what would be your advice?

Brendan: I always say, “You’ve got to believe in to get buy in.” If players don’t believe in what you’re teaching them, they don’t buy in to what you’re saying. I often tell coaches that the greatest gift that you can give is belief in them. You’ve got to believe in a player when they do well and when they make mistakes.

I hope you take the time to listen to the whole conversation. Click below to listen to the full discussion.

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Leadership Lessons from an NBA Champion Coach: Podcast #57