Integrity is integral to a play: every player, coach, and staff member must say was that mean, do what they said they would, and acknowledge what they have done. Trust is a cornerstone of all team standards, the foundation of great success. Without trust, teams cannot reach their full potential and fulfill their self-actualization needs.

Integrity Defined

It is not a matter of morality. (Nevertheless, all teams should not only follow what defines ethical behaviour in their respective societies but go above and beyond in order to set the example.) Integrity is not synonymous with judging between right and wrong (Christensen, 2009, p. 16). Camus a dit que «l’honnêté n’a pas besoin de règles» (Camus, 2004, p. 96). Integrity doesn’t need rules, only consistency.

Teams that trust each other and trust the team leadership perform well early in the season and when faced with adversity. Players learn to set aside their personal goals and buy into team objectives (Dirks, 2000, p. 1008). In order to become part of a winning teams, players need to value integrity and coaches must help team develop their leadership skills.

Participation on a team is a promise to multiple individuals:

Players Promise…

  • to teammates: “I will be there for you when you need me. I will follow the standards that we agreed to. I will always be honest with you. I will acknowledge your contributions to my success.”
  • to coaches: “I will always be open with you. I will do what I say I will.”
  • to themselves: “I will keep my words. I will self-evaluate myself sincerely after each performance. I will be at peace with myself.”

Coaches Promise…

  • to players: “I will be clear and direct with you. I will set my expectations at the beginning of the year and be true to them. All decisions will be transparent.”
  • to all team members: “I will treat everyone fairly and consistently. I will hold everyone accountable to what they say.”
  • to recruits: “I will provide an opportunity and be honest about your position within the program.”
  • to the community: “When a member of the team that I am coaching says something, you can rely on it.”
  • to themselves: “I will keep to the timelines to which I agreed. I will not ask anyone to do anything that I would not feel comfortable doing myself. I will self-evaluate myself continually and sincerely.”

Examples of Integrity

Coaches must convince all team members of the importance of integrity. The coach could simply recruit like-minded personnel but that may dilute the talent level and impede creativity. So at some point, the coach must solicit buy-in from all stakeholders.

Integrity is important to team success but it is even more important to one’s character. Even a single lapse can cause lasting damage. Adolescents have high social needs so some players may be susceptible to peer pressure. Others may be open to an appeal to emotion or have high needs for a trusting and safe environment. This is when the coach must lead.

Model the Way: John Wooden placed integrity near the top of his Pyramid of Success. Coach Wooden would say: “Make your ‘yes’ mean yes and your ‘no’ mean no.” Even the bench players on his team, who may have been frustrated by their lack of playing time respected his principles. Andy Hill was one such player and he feels that this clarity allowed the U.C.L.A. teams to function better because everyone understood their role and importance to the team (Hill & Wooden, 2001, pp. 88-90).

Be Consistent: Integrity is not an antiquated idea. Mike Krzyzewski feels that it leads to positive results on the court and positive feelings away from it. To him, it is bad to let others down but it is even worse to let oneself down. Coach Krzyzewski believes that anyone can recover from a bad game or a mistake but that it takes much longer to recover from a lapse of integrity (Krzyzewski, 2006, p. 98).

Designing simple team standards of integrity at the beginning of the season and enforcing accountability throughout the season is one of the best methods for a coach to avoid this guilt among team members. The 2008 Redeem Team won an Olympic Gold Medal, in good part because they made a commitment to their country and each other. Players and coaches created a set of standards and every team member held each other accountable (Krzyzewski, 2009, pp. 67-84).

Communicate Honestly: If a team member senses that any relationship is dishonest, it may lead to lower satisfaction or even reduced performance from peak performers. When Mike Krzyzewski was recruiting Jay Bilas, he confronted rumours that the forward would have to play center if he committed to Duke. Krzyzewski told Bilas that he would have to do so in his first year but that they would bring in a true center the next year. This direct approach convinced Bilas to buy in and commit to getting stronger and working hard so he could defend inside throughout his collegiate career (Bilas, 2014, pp. 207-10).

Players must constantly self-assess honestly. If a person is dishonest with themselves or others, they can suffer stress along with impaired performance. There is a risk that the dishonest behaviour – or the subsequent sentiments of guilt or depression – will contaminate other team members, especially those in the social network of the player or coach who has been dishonest (Messick & Tenbrunsel, 1996, p. 55).

Connect with Each Other: Basketball teams that physically touch each other, such as a high-five or a fist bump, have greater co-operation and better success early in the season (Kraus, Huang, & Kelter, 2010, p. 747). Touching becomes another way to communicate and support each other, indicating that one is there for a teammate. Dean Smith’s North Carolina teams originated the idea of pointing at a teammate who threw an assist, acknowledging how everyone contributes to team success.

Hold Players Accountable: Gregg Popovich believes in being brutally honest with players. He acknowledges successes and criticizes failures but because he has built relationships with members of the San Antonio Spurs over the years, the players understand that he has their best interests at heart (Lee, 2014). Elite players want to be coached by honest people who care because those coaches will help them reach their potential.

Holding others accountable is not personal but about behaviour. Popovich has also achieved success by coaching a bench player as well as a superstar. Everyone and every play can be analyzed in order to help the team improve. Over the course of his relationship with Tony Parker, Popovich has coached not only his basketball skills but his leadership abilities too.

DeMarcus Cousins was cut from the 2012 U.S. Olympic team and criticized for his immature attitude. However, he was given a second chance and contributed excellent defense and rebounding in 2014, especially in the final game. Cousins seems to have benefitted from the experience and plans to hold himself accountable throughout the season, focusing on being a defensive anchor and limiting himself to five technical throughout the season. Coach Mike Malone plans to hold all players accountable for their behaviour with officials by assessing technical fouls in practice and ejecting those who receive two Ts (Favale, 2014).

Integrity in Action

“The Celtic Way” defined the National Basketball Association in the 1960s as Boston won eleven out of thirteen championships and modeled the way on and off the court. Despite his influence, “The Celtic Way” did not mean that Red Auerbach managed the team like a tyrant or that he was not open to suggestions from the players. Auerbach was committed to winning and he believed that the best way to achieve this goal was to treat everyone consistently, irrespective of their race or previous role on the team.

The coach would say: “I never believed in handling players. You handle animals. I treated my players like people. I respected their intelligence. I was straight with them and they were straight with me. I didn’t lie to them and they didn’t lie to me. There was no double standard” (Whalen, 2005, p. 20).

Bill Russell, who followed him as coach of the team took integrity to an extreme. Russell would say that “a man without integrity, belief or self-respect is not a man. And a man who won’t express his convictions has no convictions” (Whalen, 2005, p. 52).

Works Cited

  • Bilas, J. (2014). Toughness. New York City: New American Library.
  • Camus, A. (2004). L’homme absurde. In A. Camus, Le mythe de Sisyphe (pp. 94-126). Paris: Éditions Gallimard.
  • Christensen, K. (2009). Integrity: Without It, Nothing Works. Rotman , 16-20.
  • Dirks, K. T. (2000). Trust in Leadership and Team Performance. Journal of Applied Psychology , 85 (6), 1004-12.
  • Favale, D. (2014, October 8). DeMarcus Cousins Is Blossoming into the Star We’ve All Been Waiting for. Retrieved October 12, 2014 from Bleacher Report:
  • Hill, A., & Wooden, J. (2001). Be Quick – But Don’t Hurry. New York City: Simon and Schuster.
  • Kraus, M. W., Huang, C., & Kelter, D. (2010). Tactile Communication, Cooperation, and Performance. Emotion , 10 (5), 745–749.
  • Krzyzewski, M. (2006). Beyond Basketball. New York City: Hachette Group U.S.A.
    Krzyzewski, M. (2009). The Gold Standard. New York City: Hachette Book Group.
  • Lee, M. (2014, October 4). San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich dreads approaching end of Tim Duncan’s career. Retrieved October 12, 2014 from The Washington Post:
  • Messick, D. M., & Tenbrunsel, A. E. (1996). Codes of Conduct. New York City: Russell Sage Foundation.
  • Whalen, T. J. (2005). Dynasty’s End: Bill Russell and the 1968-69 World Champion Boston Celtics. Boston: Northeastern University Press.

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