Talent Management Lessons from the Road to the Final Four

Posted 03.29.2010

Eliteeight2 This was a bit of a rough weekend for my brother, Steve. His beloved, number one seeded Kentucky Wildcats lost their bid for the Final Four. Since Steve was a student manager for the UK basketball team during one of their Final Four runs in the 1980’s, he maybe took this weekend’s loss a little harder than most. As the Cats game against WVU wound down on Saturday night, I sent Steve a text message saying I was sorry they were losing. He wrote this back in response, “Hate it. Maybe some of the freshmen will decide to stay now.”

That got me thinking about how the tournament has gone this year and a broader lesson about talent management. For the most part, the teams that have made it to the Final Four or who exceeded expectations earlier in the tournament have top scorers who are more experienced players. Take a look at the Final Four. The top three scorers for both Duke and Michigan State are two juniors and a senior. For WVU, it’s a senior and two sophomores. For Butler, it’s a junior and two sophomores. When you look at the stats for the two big Cinderellas of the tournament, Cornell and Northern Iowa, there are five seniors and one junior making up the top trios of those teams. In contrast, Kentucky’s top three was made up of two freshmen and a junior. 

The point I’m trying to make is that great teams need time and experience to gel. So, with that in mind, here’s a quick list of talent management lessons that can help keep your team from being “one and done.”

Recruit for the long run:
Do your best to keep your recruiting pipeline active and full of players who bring talent and the capacity for longer term growth.

Build teams, not just stars: It’s great to have some superstars on your team, but they’re going to be even more effective when integrated into a system focused on smooth handoffs and high production.

Keep teaching: Raw talent is just that. Raw. The best teams are those that get consistent coaching and teaching over a longer run period so that skills are refined and taken to the next level.

Coach for resilience: The best teams exhibit grace under pressure and have the resilience to bounce back from deficits. Good coaches nurture that quality by running drills on high pressure situations (think of the need for a game winning inbound pass with 1.8 seconds left) and by reminding experienced teams that they’ve been there before.

What other lessons do you think are important in building a team to win championships year in and year out?

And, by the way, how’s your bracket doing? According to ESPN.com, there are only 400 people out of almost 5 million who correctly picked the Final Four. I’m not one of them. The only team I have left is Duke. (And, I have to confess, I had them losing to Kentucky in the semis.)