Shaka Smart Leadership

VCU Coach Shaka Smart on the Importance of Commitment

 “We talk to our guys all the time about the difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in something, you do it when it’s convenient. When you’re committed to something, you do it all the time, even when you lost that feeling that you originally had when you you made the original commitment.”


– Shaka Smart


I read a recent interview with VCU’s coach Shaka Smart where he pulls back the veil on what makes his program so successful. It is great stuff and his wisdom extends beyond the court and into the life of a team. 

Below are a few of his main points, if you want to read the whole interview click here.  


Players show Commitment to the Team when they Choose to do the Right thing

Players must embrace a commitment to excellence by choosing to do the right thing every single day. The ability to which they are able to make disciplined choices in their everyday lives shows the amount of care and concern they have for their teammates. Many times players think that the decisions they make are merely personal choices: this couldn’t be further from the truth. 

The essence of being a great teammate is the ability to develop your own personal habits in a way that benefits the group. One of the incredible yet challenging realities of playing basketball at the collegiate or high school level is that athletics is not your only responsibility. Academics, campus functions, social engagements, and college life are all part of the fabric of an athletes life. You have to learn to balance your responsibilities so that you become a part of the greater mission of your team. Pulling your own weight does not just mean playing hard in practice or giving your best effort in workouts: it extends much further than that and goes to the core of your character. 

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Coaches are Conductors First and Tacticians Second

The number one job of the coach is to get every single player playing in harmony together. Just like the conductor of an orchestra, a coach’s primary concern is to get everyone playing the same notes in unison. How the notes (i.e. basketball plays) are arranged or even the quality of the music is secondary to the reality that if everyone can’t play their individual instruments together, then the music will sound horrible.

VCU vs VUU exhibition

In basketball terms, getting everyone in your program on the same page is more important than any strategy or X and O’s. Each player brings a unique set of talents and abilities to the team, and the coaches job is to leverage that for the good of the group. You could have the world’s most clever plays and intricate systems, but if everyone on the team isn’t playing together then you have no chance to be successful. Author Jon Gordon recently said that,

“Team beats talent when talent isn’t a team.”

This is so true.


Help your Players Play with Freedom

One of Shaka’s biggest mottos is “play with a clear mind”. It is a coaches job to help players block out distractions and clear their mind of anything that will hold them back from performing at their best. The emphasis is to live in the moment and don’t allow the memories of the past or the worries of the future to affect your performance in the present. Nothing is more important than the task at hand. If everyone can embody a spirit of “nowness” (simply meaning that you are locked into the present task with incredible focus), then our team has a chance to be successful every night.

Embracing a championship spirit means collective buy-in from everyone involved. If you can do that then you have a chance to win a lot of games. At the core of this mindset is a humility to approach every opponent with respect, but a confidence that comes from knowing that your teammates and coaches have your back regardless. If you can find this mindset as a player you will be able to play without fear. 


Lead Well. Pursue Excellence. Change your Team.

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2 thoughts on “Shaka Smart Leadership”

  1. I enjoyed the article on Shaka Smart. I was not surprised that the host of the coaches show was able to draw out some of Smart’s brilliance because the host, Greg Burton, is also a really smart guy. Back in the mid 90’s Greg was the sports reporter/anchor at the CBS affiliate in eastern Idaho. I worked in the same capacity at the ABC affiliate. Greg and I became good friends. He came to the market with much more experience than I had. He was smart, savvy and funny back then and I’m sure he’s a whole lot better now. I find it amazing that Smart has been able to be so successful at a school that doesn’t possess a history of basketball excellence, at least not to the level Smart has achieved. Reading some of his quotes answers a lot of questions for me. I played basketball in college. I wasn’t very good. Nor was one of my head coaches. He was a good man who knew the game of basketball inside and out, but he lacked all the leadership and communication skills Smart has. A good coach – a good leader – has to have both the knowledge and the leadership skills.
    Thanks for posting this article. I’m enjoying your website.

    1. Good points Peter, thanks for the comment.

      When I was at William and Mary, VCU was in our conference and we played them twice a year for 4 years. I was always impressed at how solid they were in all aspects of the game, which is a sign of great coaching. The other thing that struck me about Shaka was that he always stayed composed on the sideline and his team never seemed to get rattled. Some of these younger coaches, guys like Brad Stevens, Shaka, and Gregg Marshall seem to embody a new generation of coaching that priorities relationships above guys that scream and holler at their players.

      Interesting to see.

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