It goes nearly without saying that Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau is a rather unique character. The 2011 Coach of the Year has done brilliant work with teams both heralded (the 2010-11 crew that ran to the best record in the NBA) and unheralded (the snakebitten teams, decimated by injury, in three seasons since). It’s partially as a result of his brilliance that Thibodeau’s Bulls dominated the Atlanta Hawks in their first game back from a wearying road trip on Tuesday night, riding Joakim Noah’s triple-double to a 100-85 win. The team is now stuck at 26-25, even with Derrick Rose’s season-ending injury, a deal that sent Luol Deng away midseason for no compensation, and Noah’s early season struggles with a groin injury providing obstacle after obstacle.
Thibodeau doesn’t care for obstacles, but he also doesn’t allow them to make excuses for giving less than your absolute all on the court. This is evident in his bedside manner – he’s constantly riding referees, his players, and sometimes his own coaching staff in huddles, all while playing rotation participants ungodly minutes at times. This would seem to wear on a team, four seasons in, but it’s pretty obvious these Bulls would run through a wall for Tom Thibodeau, even clearly at their own peril.
To hear Charlotte Bobcats coach and former Thibodeau assistant coaching co-worker Steve Clifford tell it, this is all due to Thibodeau’s preparation techniques. Clifford, who is riding the Bobcats to an impressive 23-29 record (hey, it’s the Bobcats) this season, pointed out that Thibodeau will literally practice out his please to players prior to performing them.
“The big thing he taught me was about being what he called an effective assistant. A lot of guys can play coach. But he spent a lot of time talking to me about learning the NBA animal and trying to learn how to deal with players in a way that they will actually listen to what you’re saying so you can actually coach them instead of passing them the ball and giving them tips on their shot,” Clifford said. “One of the biggest things he always told me was don’t get into a conversation with an NBA player about a performance of their individual game unless you’ve rehearsed what you want to get accomplished in the conversation.
“And it’s really true, particularly with older guys who are proven and have played for a lot of different coaches. You have to be careful, for instance, the first time you work out a player. Look at our guys, the guys they’ve played for. A guy like [Bobcats veteran forward] Anthony Tolliver has played for five or six really good NBA coaches, plus a really good college coach. So if you think you’re going to walk on the floor and start throwing out things to them if you haven’t studied their game and have a clear plan of what you want to get accomplished in your time with them, then you’re not going to be effective.”
Visualization, for players or just about any professional, is a sound preparation technique. If you can visualize your working process prior to what could be a stressful situation, the actual execution of that tough task may come off easier, as if almost by muscle memory. There’s something to be said for improvisational techniques – and, in Thibodeau’s case, speaking on the fly – but if you chart out stated goals prior to a talk, you’re more likely to be able to follow through on articulating your point.
It’s not as if Thibodeau is running exact lines to a mirror or with cribbed notes, but mental bullet points are always good to have on hand. When you’re dealing with characters as disparate as Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Nate Robinson, Kirk Hinrich, Carlos Boozer and Mike James, it’s always good to fall back on something you’ve practiced before.
Now, run the floor.
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