Updated: Jun 30, 2019
“In the most difficult situations, I control my attitude.” - Jay Wright, head coach, Villanova men’s basketball team
I’ve long been fascinated by how much we can learn from great athletes. With due credit to my three brothers, my favorite sport is basketball. Growing up with them, it was impossible not to love the sport—they played it, watched it, and analyzed players and statistics. Their enthusiasm was infectious; it still is.
This month, I had the opportunity to meet Jay Wright, the head coach of the Villanova men’s basketball team (the “Wildcats”). Wright was interviewed at a fireside chat in New York City by ESPN’s sports business reporter, Darren Rovell.
In April 2018, the Wildcats won their second National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) title in three years, but as you will observe from Wright’s insights, the process of developing a winning mindset is less about high points or winning specific events than about well-rounded leadership and ongoing learning. Coach Wright shared wisdom supported by experience, and much about the principles resonated with me, so I am sharing them here.
Jay Wright is the author of Attitude: Develop a Winning Mindset on and off the Court. After meeting Coach Wright, I immediately purchased my copy of his book and look forward to digging in.
Wright’s insights during the chat provided phenomenal illustrations of the principles outlined in what I believe is one of the most important books on success, Mindset by Carol Dweck.
In the book, Dweck highlights the contrast between fixed and growth mindsets. The growth mindset is essential to success. People with growth mindsets “believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”
By contrast, in a fixed mindset, “people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort.”
I highly recommend reading Mindset to see the rich examples Dweck provides, backed by extensive research, of fixed and growth mindset traits. Among areas such as parenting, business, education, and relationships, Dweck notes its application in the context of sports, and Coach Wright shared beautiful and powerful illustrations of the growth mindset in sports, management, and much more.
Six Wright Lessons
Below are my six key takeaways from the conversation with Coach Jay Wright on developing a winning mindset.
Do What You Love: Doing what you love makes you great. Wright acknowledged that not everyone gets to do what they love, but he’s grateful that he does work that challenges, excites, and inspires him.
Culture Is Key: The Wildcats have a distinct and compelling culture. You get the sense that continually building the team culture and building up young men keeps Wright inspired. He shared a number of important lessons for managers building teams. For example, the team uses mantras to drive and support aspects of their culture. These include: “Be here now,” “Everything counts,” “You are either 100 percent in or you are against us,” “You become us, we don’t become you,” and “Once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat.”
You Control Your Attitude: You can control two things: your attitude and your effort. You don’t control whether you win or lose; that’s destiny. Wright shared the radical idea that he doesn’t care whether the team wins or loses; he cares about their attitude. This is growth mindset at its finest!
In Dweck’s book, she shares this hallmark perspective of the growth mindset: “I don’t mind winning or losing as long as I see improvement or I feel I’ve done as well as I possibly could.” Wright also stated in the interview: “In the most difficult situations, I control my attitude.”
Clearing your mind after a setback is critical in order to move forward and excel. As an example, the Wildcats have a practice of applauding when teammates make mistakes—a radical practice that immediately shifts one’s perspective in the midst of a fast-paced, high-stakes competition.
Be Authentic: Leaders need to find their own version of excellence. Wright shared an example from earlier in his career when he tried unsuccessfully to be exactly like one of his mentors. He has since learned to take lessons from others but develop his own version of leadership.
Stay Hungry; Stay Humble: View everything as a journey, and enjoy the journey. You continue to get better. Success shouldn’t change you. Wright embraces servant leadership, and this was evident throughout our conversation.
Believe In Yourself: Wright noted that one trait of successful leaders is that they often have a belief in themselves that is almost unrealistic. The key is—you need to know how to channel it.
The growth mindset is a winning mindset. Are you committed to developing a winning mindset? Which of Wright’s lessons resonates with you the most? Share your thoughts with me on:
I love all six, but I choose attitude. I look forward to reading Wright’s book and discovering new tools to continually forge and fine-tune the right attitude.