Post 2016 Olympics – Coach K on Winning Character Traits

Hot Shot Kids focus on getting good work done.

Hot Shot Kids start school on the Court of Good Character.

Hi and welcome back to Attentionology for K – 5 Teachers!

Start School on the Court of Good Character – Teachers and students worldwide are transitioning from the excitement of August’s Olympic Games to the start of a new school year or term.

What do the Olympics and school have in common?

In the eyes of basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K), the answer is in a single word…


World-renowned, Mike Krzyzewski is presently celebrating Team USA’s third straight men’s basketball gold medal in the Olympic Games.

But, after his final win in Rio, Coach K turned the focus to his only loss with the national team in Japan in 2006. Why did he do that? Answer…

The coach was describing how one US star player, Carmelo Anthony who was on the US team when it lost to Greece, took responsibility – the word again –  responsibility – for the loss.

Coach K said, “We’ve built on that. I call it character.

When caught up with “Coach,” as his players call him, some months before the 2016 Olympic Games, Coach K weighed in on winning character traits and teaching, beginning with respect

“Respect is huge. It’s right there with trust, with loyalty, with collective responsibility and pride; being part of something

C stands for courage, a letter and word with a powerful sound...part of the sounds of success.

Help kids understand that it takes courage to show winning character traits, like respect, trust and responsibility.

bigger than you.”

Coach K’s words about key character traits resonate on and off the court.

If character traits that are taught in many elementary schools were a “team” of their own, respect would draw on other “players” in a student’s development…trust and responsibility, to name two.

Coach K describes how respect is one of the most important character traits for his winning teams. “It’s one of the standards that we use with our US Team,” he explains. “We have fifteen standards, and respect is used twice.” How? Coach K’s answers are applicable to students and teachers alike.

He emphasizes the importance of creating a great environment by first respecting yourself with proper preparation and then respecting your team (or class) by never being late and always showing consideration.

Coach K relates the second aspect of respect to preparation. In his view, this means recognizing that your opponent (or competition in a global economy) will be prepared and has strengths, spirit and talent. In a phrase, Coach K suggests that to respect preparation is to commit to never having a bad practice.

Respect shines through in good teaching.

“Teaching is coaching; coaching is teaching,” says Coach K. “I think of myself as a teacher; it’s just that I have an athletic team,” (instead of a classroom full of students).

Coach K first learned the value of good teachers and education at home where he says education was stressed much more than sports.

Pulling for students to succeed with winning character traits informs quality teaching. Coach K asserts that one of the traits that good teachers exhibit is a continuing love of learning and being open to new ideas.

“A teacher is in constant search of new knowledge.”

In Coach K’s mind, “A really smart teacher (doesn’t just impart the knowledge he/she has, but also) learns from his/her students…letting them ask questions…asking for their observations.”

Coach K applauding his 2014-15 team before Duke played Army on Sunday, 11/3/14. Photo courtesy of

Coach K applauding his 2014-15 team before Duke played Army on Sunday, 11/3/14. Photo courtesy of

Responsible teachers are responsive to students’ current interests and needs. This is especially important when you consider Coach K’s observation that “the attention span of youngsters – listening today – is much less than even a few years ago.”

Today, says Coach K, “You have to be careful not to talk too long or too much. Otherwise you’ll lose them (students or players) and you’ll be frustrated.”

Referring again to basketball, Coach K explains that he tells coaches all the time, “It’s not about what you know; it’s about what your players know and what they can do under playing conditions.” The same can be said for teaching a classroom full of kids.

Whether you’re on a court or in a classroom and no matter the level of the students you have the honor to teach, suggests Coach K, a teacher needs to come in prepared, organized, and well aware of how she/he will use the time together.

Coach K stresses the importance of engaging kids. “Humor is important,” he believes, “adding music or a joke to somehow get kids involved. Humor breaks things up and sparks kids’ attention.”

Attention is key. You could say that paying attention is another way to show respect.

When it’s game time, Coach K says that he works to make sure that his players don’t get distracted by the crowd, their opponent, or the officials. “So to keep them on task, you do that when you have a time out. You look at them, feel where they’re at, and tell them things that will keep them focused throughout the entire game.”

A new school year or term is game time! Please send comments on how you develop good character in your students. 

Remember, you don’t need to be a magician to work magic in any instructional setting!

Talk with you again soon,

Barbara ♥ The Lovable Poet

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Attentionology for K-5 Teachers
Barbara Cleary has been serving as a resource to hundreds of educators for more than 25 years. An award-winning writer, producer, teacher, and trainer, Barbara’s focus is on offering easy, fun tools and tricks that support K-5 curricula and assist teachers with classroom management.
Quick tips for common classroom conundrums: K-5
Situation: Students continue to use lackluster verbs in their writing.

Solution: Show toy cars and pretend to make them zip across a page, telling the class that good writing includes action words (verbs) that have "zip." Ask the class for examples of "zippy" verbs like zoom, race, flash, rush, etc.

Related Posts: Start Students' Engines for Writing