Several years back, Dan Clayton kept talking about the book Mindset on the Twitters1. Intrigued, I ordered it off Amazon and read it within a couple weeks; I still pick it up often and refer to it quite a bit. Quin Snyder, by my outsider’s estimation, believes in and implements the principles of the book.
For those new to the concept of Mindset, there are two mindsets at opposite ends of the spectrum: Fixed and Growth. In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like intelligence and talent, are fixed, inherent traits. They believe success is created exclusively by talent. In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. People embrace challenges and implement different strategies in order to drive learning and results, especially after failure.
Discussing legendary UCLA coach John Wooden—who famously said that John Stockton was the only NBA player he’d pay to watch play—Dr. Carol Dweck states:
Wooden is not complicated. He’s wise and interesting, but not complicated. He’s just a straight-ahead growth-mindset guy who lives by this rule: “You have to apply yourself each day to becoming a little better. By applying yourself to the task of becoming a little better each and every day over a period of time, you will become a lot better.”
He didn’t ask for mistake-free games. He didn’t demand that his players never lose. He asked for full preparation and full effort from them. “Did I win? Did I lose? Those are the wrong questions. The correct question is: Did I make my best effort? If so, he says, “You may be outscored but you will never lose.”
He was not a softy. He did not tolerate coasting. If the players were coasting during practice, he turned out the lights and left: “Gentlemen, practice is over.” They had lost their opportunity to become better that day.
This isn’t to say that effort is the only goal of a basketball game; obviously, the result—winning—is also vitally important. But Quin Snyder is part of an organization that is committed (finally!) to player development, and Snyder and GM Dennis Lindsey are playing the long game here: with consistent, sustained effort and with effective strategies, these players will get better.
And, as Snyder has shown in the past, he’s a willing teacher. He will pull a player out of the game, talk to him on the sideline, and immediately put him back in the game to apply what he’s just been taught. This has been a refreshing mode of teaching to watch.
What has been especially interesting to me lately has been how Snyder handles defeat, and how he speaks about his players and their effort in losses. He’s not dismissive of his players, simply saying they need to “get better,” though he does recognize the necessity of that. He discusses their effort and their attitude, while being realistic about the expectations they have, given the injury bug that has bit the team this season. After the 25-point loss to the San Antonio Spurs on January 6, Snyder had this to say:
“The last six minutes of the game we continued to play hard. I thought we got something out of it. We have some guys that we’re going to continue to need to improve—guys who don’t get an opportunity to play that much. That’s why they’ve played so well the past three games. That’s why we beat Portland, that’s why we beat Memphis in overtime, because these guys have that attitude. Tonight there was just too much to overcome and I don’t think there’s any shame in that.”
He validated the players for their effort, for playing hard, and said the team “got something out of it,” meaning that it wasn’t just about effort, but the result—though not a win—was still valuable for this still-learning, still-growing team. He continued:
“I would’ve liked to see us be better defensively and make it a little harder, but I think when you look back at it, there’s a lot of things that you may want that maybe aren’t as realistic against the group we just played with. That’s not giving us an out by any means. They played very well too. They made shots and they made it a tough night.”
One of the aspects of Quin’s personality that I, as a fan, appreciate, are his expectations. Trying to live up to unrealistic expectations is a daunting, emotionally wearing task. But when you’re given realistic expectations and the encouragement and strategies to get there, it can be rewarding—even exhilarating. I think Snyder toes that line very well, as evidenced by this quote. He’s admitting that his team can in no way match the Spurs—the Jazz are too injury-depleted and, frankly, not talented enough with four of the six best players in street clothes behind the bench.
Another example. After the close loss to the Rockets, Andy Larsen asked Quin post-game about the non-call as Jeff Withey attempted a dunk.
“I was at the other end of the court. Whatever they called, they called. I don’t think one call was the game, I don’t think one missed jumper was the game or one missed free throw was the game. It’s easy to look for those things, I do it too. We use it to learn and get better. Those are situations we want to work on but in the end, it’s not one thing. I don’t think it helps us get better to fixate on anything. And this group right now, I mean those are the Houston Rockets, they just went to the Western Conference Finals. [Dwight] Howard’s an All-Star. Jeff Withey was inactive earlier in the year. Jeff Withey played his tail off and that’s where my focus is. Rodney Hood just had a baby yesterday. He’s going against James Harden. The guy’s arguably the MVP last year. I’m so proud of this team the way they fight. So if we make a mistake here and there and struggle for a stretch, I’m not going to go there. We beat Memphis last game. We may not win for two weeks but if we get better I’m happy and we just use this thing to get better. As tough as it is, we can’t wallow in it. We got to learn from it and get better. That’s what we’re doing, we’re competing.”
This quote by Quin is one that I found very insightful when I read it; when I watched and listened to the same quote, however, I was, frankly, touched. There seems to be a mix of respect and pride in his voice. I love how he recognized Withey’s effort, “played his tail off.” He sounds like a proud father as he discusses his team and “the way they fight.” While watching the video on nba.com, you see the paternal side come out as he discusses that Rodney Hood just became a father. While discussing a basketball game, he highlights the personal, off-the-court aspect that can contribute to play on the court. He understands the reality of “a mistake here and there” and the struggle, allowing for failure. As long as the effort and improvement is there, he feels good about the direction.
Snyder has a humility and a grace with which he answers questions that is refreshing, instructive, and insightful. Somehow, Quin was able to use the phrase “get better” several times within that quote there, but without it creating a nails-on-a-chalkboard effect. He didn’t just say the team needed to “get better” and leave it at that: he understands that the struggle and the failure and the attempt is the heroic part of the effort required in order to get better, and he allows for that with his players.
Reviewing the book, Mindset, and looking for its principles within Quin Snyder’s post-game remarks has been a very interesting study. I’m confident we’ll see more examples over the next few years of a coach who encourages effort, learning, resiliency, and a willingness to utilize different strategies to achieve better results. It’s going to make for a fun and interesting ride.