BTU #293 - Coach K

My mom never went to high school. Before I went to West Point she told me to make sure I was on the right bus. What she meant was that now I was driving my own bus. It was up to me to only let good people on my bus.
— Mike Krzyzewski

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Why Listen:

Seriously? This is Coach K. I know nothing about sports, and even I know about Coach K. Hailing back to my days trying to escape from the Naval Academy, my friend Scott and I would go down to Duke to hang out with a friend of mine from High School. Hearing her and her friends talk about Coach K with reverence, started my esteem for this man. Despite his insanely busy schedule, Coach K took time to speak with me and the Beyond the Uniform audience about how his military experience shaped his coaching philosophy, how he crosses the generational gap to motivate his players, how to overcome failure, how to achieve work life balance and more.

About Coach K:

A graduate of West Point, Mike Krzyzewski is a living legend. In 39 seasons at Duke, Coach K is a Naismith Hall of Fame coach, a five-time national champion and 12-time Final Four participant; a 6 time Gold Medalist as head coach of US Men's National Team, and is the winningest Basketball Coach in Division 1 Men's Basketball history.

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Selected Resources: 

Transcript & Time Stamps:


How did your military experience shape your coaching style?

We’re both very fortunate to have attended military academies. West Point is the foundation for everything I’ve done in my career. I learned how to be a leader there. Also how to overcome setbacks and failures. It really set the stage for everything else I’ve done in my career. 


Do you have any advice for veterans that want to get into the sports industry?

There are many people out there that understand the value veterans can bring to an organization. Veterans want to be part of something bigger than themselves and will make the sacrifices necessary to achieve success. Veterans are often also humble and don’t always understand what they can bring to a company. 

My advice is to just reach out to organizations that you’re interested in working at and see if you can start the conversation there. 


How do you bridge the generational gap with your players?

Last month, I spoke to the Corps of Cadets. I told them that it’s really the responsibility of the leader to connect with people he or she leads. I’m 72 but the group that I lead has stayed between 18-22. During my time as a coach, I’ve had to adapt in how I connect to players many times. When I coached the US National Team, I had to adapt my style to the environment as well. 

What you don’t have to adapt is your core values. Those things never change. It’s how you connect to the people you lead that you will need to adapt over time. 


What advice do you have about overcoming failures or losses?

In order to get better, you will fail. What I’ve learned is that failure is not a destination. It’s part of the journey to success. You also need to reflect on your failures so that you can learn from your mistakes and grow as a person.

My military experience also taught me the importance of teamwork. Teams can often accomplish what an individual cannot. 


How do you maintain work/life balance?

I try to teach the importance of balance to my players. I believe it’s important to develop them not just as players but also as people. 

My wife and I just celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary. We have 3 daughters and 10 grandchildren. I’ve always tried to put family first. 

I think faith is important too. You should feel that you have a higher being you can go to in moments when you need strength. 

I also like to stay involved in the community. That helps me feel like I’m contributing positively to the world around me. 


What advice do you have for veterans as they transition out of the military?

I keep it simple. I never thought I’d be where I am now. Along the way, I was just doing what I loved. I also try not to have a rearview mirror - always looking forward and not living in the past. Try to stay present in the moment that you’re in. 

Be yourself, be confident, and be honest with yourself. My mom never went to high school. Before I went to West Point she told me to make sure I was on the right bus. What she meant was that at that point I was driving my own bus. It was up to me to only let good people on my bus. By surrounding yourself with good people, you’ll find yourself succeeding.