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If you’re a basketball fan, you already know that the Miami Heat recently lost 4-2 against the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2020 NBA Finals. Despite falling short, Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra was regularly recognized for his journey from obscurity to becoming one of the youngest and most respected coaches in the league.
Entrepreneurs can learn a lot from Coach Spoelstra and his story of grit and selfless determination. Did you know that he is the first Asian-American Coach in NBA history, or that his Dad, an NBA marketing executive, helped Spoelstra land his first job with the Miami Heat as a video coordinator even though Erik had zero editing experience? Let’s analyze the four strategies that got him where he is today.
1. Respect the opportunity
Erik played basketball his whole life. He played with future Hall of Famers in high school and in the NCAA. He even had a short stint overseas in Germany as a pro player and coach. Upon his return to the States, he couldn’t find a job. What did his dad do? What any father would do. He used his connections to get his son a job with the Miami Heat in 1995.
Now before you start crying “foul” or making excuses that it was “daddy’s connections,” you should remember that he remained the video coordinator for seven years before being promoted. Spoelstra wasn’t that kind of entitled kid. He respected the opportunity. Every day on that job was a chance to prove his value to the organization that hired him as an afterthought.
2. Mr. “No Problem”
Long before he was known as Coach Spo, he was known as Mr. “No Problem,” because it didn’t matter what was being requested of him — his response would always be, “No problem.” You have no idea how invaluable that is until you have someone like that in your organization.
Anyone can tell you that something can’t be done. Anyone can bring problems to your attention. Captain Obvious can tell you that a building is on fire, but it’s Captain Marvel that will put out the fire or rescue the people inside. Which captain are you?
Spoelstra’s official title was video coordinator, but he did whatever was asked and whatever was needed of him. Latte? No problem. Dry cleaning? No problem. Car wash? No problem. NBA Championship? No problem. You have to become the Mr. (or Ms.) “No Problem” of your organization.
3. End the prime-now mentality
These days, the average employee lasts four years or less at their job and that duration continues to decline. Your parents were wooed by the 40-40 plan. Work for one company for 40 hours a week, for 40 years, and retire on a company pension. These days, that sounds ridiculous, and why shouldn’t it? You live in a microwave society where everything is available at your fingertips. Everything is on demand. Food? GrubHub. Music? Apple Music. Sex? Tinder.
Whatever you desire is available at your fingertips — except for one thing: success. You can’t buy success, let alone speed it up. It doesn’t matter what the endeavor it is. Becoming proficient at anything takes time and effort. Malcolm Gladwell estimates that 10,000 hours is the magic number required to become an expert at something. If you were to work 40 hours a week, that would equate to about 2,000 hours per year for about five years to reach 10,000 hours, and that’s not taking into account any vacation time.
Spoelstra spent two years as a video coordinator watching thousands of hours of basketball video in what the Miami Heat called “The Dungeon.” He was then promoted to assistant coach, but remained the video coordinator for another two years. Two years later, he maintained his assistant coaching position and became an advanced scout. At that point he had invested six years of his life into the Heat organization. He remained an assistant coach until legend and Hall of Fame Coach Pat Riley handed the reins to him seven years later in 2008. It took Spoelstra 13 years of honing his craft and being “Mr. No Problem” before he landed his dream job.
How many years have you invested in your business, your profession or your career? What new skills are you developing or improving to make yourself a more attractive candidate to your employers? Don’t be discouraged if you aren’t seeing results after two years of hard work. You can’t rush greatness anymore than you can slow down time.
4. It’s never the right time
When Riley decided that Spoelstra would replace him, he held a meeting his protege likened to a scene out of The Godfather. As Spoelstra recounted an interview with TNT, Riley told him, “I’m done. You’re ready for it. This will be like you’re in a bird’s nest, and I’m going to push you off the branch, and you are going to have to figure out how to fly. You have enough experience, you’ve worked for great people. This is happening. Take a couple days to get your S-H-I-T together, and Monday is the press conference.”
Talk about ripping off the Band-Aid. Eleven years. That’s how long Spoelstra worked as an assistant coach to the great Pat Riley, and even then he wondered if he was ready for the job.
There will never be the perfect time to do something great. Your finances won’t be 100 percent ready. You will question your ability. There will be doubt. You might even panic. Do it anyway. Whatever it is that you want to start should be worked on today. Don’t put it off.
When you learn to live your life just outside your comfort zone, you will discover that you are stronger than you thought. You will also realize that most fear and stress is self-imposed. How many times have you lost sleep over something that you thought would blow up in your face, only to realize that it was an easy fix that you had been avoiding?
The Miami Heat didn’t win the 2020 NBA Championship, but it was one heck of a run led by a special coach who knew how to extract every ounce of talent out of his players. Spoelstra’s journey is a tale of dedication to his craft and commitment to self-improvement that any entrepreneur — veteran or rookie — can benefit from studying.
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