The Coach's Notebook is proud to review

Leading with the Heart

by Mike Krzyzewski

with Donald T. Phillips
forward by Grant Hill



I felt honored when I had a chance to review Coach Krzyzewski's new book, Leading with the Heart. The Duke basketball program has a special place in the hearts of Alaskans like me. I had a chance to watch Trajan Langdon grow up in the local youth leagues. He and Carlos Boozer thrilled high school basketball fans for many years. So, when our home town boys became part of such a respected basketball program, a sense of pride grew within all of us who have been involved with local sports. When Duke appeared at the Great Alaskan Shootout in November, 1998 the roar of the crowd made it perfectly clear that the Blue Devils had a home away from home.

Admittedly, I was curious about a few things. How does a coach deal with the pressure of taking a team to the NCAA Championship finals? What is Coach K's personality like away from the cameras? What does his team hear behind the closed doors of the locker room? Happily, these questions are answered with frankness and honesty. In fact, honesty is a core value of the Duke program. After reading the book, you may view the word a little differently.

There isn't much time for pleasure reading in my schedule. Leading with the Heart seems to empathize with the time demands upon a busy coach. The chapters are short. Prefaced with a few pertinent leading quotations from Coach Krzyzewski (and occasionally from a player or influential acquaintance), the chapters follow a concise business-like format. At the end of the chapter, Coach's points are summarized. Krzyzewski says that one must be a great teacher in order to be a great coach, and he has designed Leading with the Heart like a textbook.

OK, let's cut to the chase. Let me tell you why I really liked this book. In my entire basketball experience, I have seen coaches pursue talent at any cost. I have seen players blessed with physique and ability recruited, pampered, spoiled and overused. Ironically, talent alone doesn't win. Without strength of character, or heart, talent isn't enough when the team is truly tested. In the book, Coach plainly states that you can't win championships without talent. But the book isn't about building a winning tradition on talent, its about establishing a winning tradition by building character, both in the players and in the team.

In Coach K's eyes, the team is analogous to a fist. Each of the five players is like a finger. Alone, they have their individual ability to contribute, but once they unite into a fist, they have power. Any fist can break any finger. The stronger the fingers, the stronger the fist can be, but the fingers must be committed to the common goal to attain their ultimate potential.

So, let's say you're a high school coach. How can Leading with the Heart help you build that fist? Coach Krzyzewski offers many examples of how he dealt with players, assistant coaches and game situations. It takes many examples to explain because people are so unique. If, as a high school coach, you understand your core values and you have the courage to stand behind them, you can trust your heart as Coach Krzyzewski has done to meet the variety of situations basketball will throw at you. If you are still discovering the inner qualities that mean the most to you, consider using the examples that the Duke basketball program is based upon. The book makes no secret of the values that have led to success for the Blue Devils.

For example, Krzyzewski insists that his players have respect for authority. In game situations, the leadership must be trusted without hesitation. One of my favorite lines from the book is on page 38. "If a young man rolls his eyes when his mom asks me a question, I'm not sure I am going to offer him a scholarship." How refreshing!

Another point I liked is the concept that the team is bigger than the players. The coach is on the team. The assistant coaches are on the team. They are all part of that symbolic fist. Coach K even includes the Cameron Crazies. It makes such perfect sense. The bigger the fist, the greater the power. Imagine a gym full of people wanting exactly the same thing!

Lastly, I want to commend Mike Krzyzewski for allowing a glimpse into his personal life. I don't think this was easy to do. If you decide to read the book, you'll understand how critical values were instilled in Coach by his family, West Point, and even Bobby Knight, his college coach. As I read, I began to see him as a zealot - a man totally committed to his program. Yes, zeal leads to excellence, but the problem with total commitment to anything is that the other sides of life are compromised. And, Krzyzewski shares his realization that he was straying from his core values to the detriment of his health, his family and his team. In the book's opening paragraph is the one rule placed on the Duke team, "Don't do anything detrimental to yourself".  Coach K was working himself into exhaustion.

The final section of the book is about Krzyzewski's relationship with Jim Valvano, head coach at North Carolina State University, during the last six month's of Valvano's life. This section is touching, funny at times and makes one stop and consider what is really important in life.

Leading with the Heart retails for $24.95. The Coach's Notebook doesn't receive anything if you buy the book. But, I think you will enjoy it. And, if it helps you build a team that achieves the unity that Coach K describes, then imagine how many people will benefit - you, your staff, your players, their parents and anyone else you've enjoined as your "fist". I wish you the best.  

Steve Jordan