Courtside coaching HR lessons from Canada’s top basketball coach
By Courtney Symons
Like most people, Carleton Ravens basketball coach Dave Smart finds losing annoying. Less common is the fear Mr. Smart once said he feels when winning.
Several years ago, Mr. Smart – who became the winningest coach in Canadian Interuniversity Sports basketball history this spring – told an interviewer that success makes it more difficult to change direction as helpful innovation can easily turn into destructive tinkering.
It’s a fine line Mr. Smart has successfully walked in recent years, leading his team to nine championships in 11 years and racking up an 88-game winning streak between 2002-05.
Along the way, Mr. Smart developed some of the same skills common to many successful human resources professionals, such as integrating new players onto an established team, providing feedback and managing turnover.
With the Ravens preparing to play host next spring for the 2013-14 CIS Final 8, Mr. Smart reflected on some of the HR lessons he’s learned over the years. TACTICS FOR INTEGRATING NEW TEAM MEMBERS: “A lot of it is based on the veteran guys making them comfortable and having them feel like there is someone looking out for them beyond the coach. A lot of it is integrating them with folks that have been through it. We have a mentorship program with our alumni who help the younger kids.” IDENTIFYING TALENT: “Seeing talent isn’t that difficult. Seeing character within that talent and a drive within that talent is a little more difficult. The advantage we have is that we can take as long as we want recruiting them, so we get to know them, we get to know their background and get a good idea about whether that talent is going to get to where its potential allows it to.” PROVIDING CRITICAL FEEDBACK: “It depends on the personality, on the situation, on the talks you’ve had with the individual beforehand and what their expectations for themselves are. I think everybody has to be treated differently.” DEALING WITH TURNOVER: “I don’t know if we really try to minimize turnover. I think some turnover is good. We don’t want turnover, but if you try so hard to avoid turnover you tend not to be pushing people to the limits they need to be pushed to. I think the key is to make them set their standards higher than you’ve got for them, and then turnover doesn’t happen. But if you limit your standards in order to avoid turnover, well, you keep people in the program that really aren’t helping.” MOVING ON: “I don’t really look at anything outside. I’ve got a young family, we like the city, and the university treats me well. I like where I’m at. I’ve had offers, but I never let them go anywhere. The bottom line is I’d have to leave my players. You’ve recruited those players, you’ve gone through a lot with them, you’ve asked them to go through a lot with you ... It gets to a point where you can talk all you want, but is it really just an ego thing where you want to hear how good people think you are? For me, I know it’s not going anywhere (job offers), I don’t need to hear how good other people think I might be when I know I’m going to say no at the end of the day.”