Skin In The Game

Executing a Turn Around

I  was reading Astroball the other day and it made me think about how important the concept of “skin in the game” is when you are executing a turn around.

“Skin in the game” refers to the extent to which someone is invested in the results of your enterprise. Without skin in the game there is no accountability and no repercussions for failure.

There’s  A Lot of Noise

My first professional season of coaching my team started off slowly. We weren’t winning on the field even though we played pretty well and most of our games were close. Still, losing is not acceptable.

Many people had an opinion about it.  Friends would tell me what they thought and were generally supportive. Family weighed in, although they were mainly worried for me. Fans, of course, were critical, but that’s OK, that’s the job of fans.

And, other coaches–I knew a lot of successful coaches–called, emailed, texted or stopped by to let me know their ideas and the solution.

Then they walked away back to their own lives.

Meanwhile my head was spinning. There were many good ideas from many smart people.

You think we should press? You think low pressure? Just play so and so there, or there?

Many  good ideas all coming from people with no “skin in the game.”

While we were winning or losing they were sitting in the stands, or watching on the game on tv or reading about it on the message boards from their homes.

If you really want to change a program it is good to consult with other  people, but you want it to be people who have something on the line.  People who are invested, accountable, reliable and involved.

Just like you are.

If a consultant wants to let you know what they think then they need to be willing to tell everyone that they are invested in the idea. Succeed or fail. List you as a client on their website. Other coaches? Come join us for a week. Get to work.

All the information was sincere, kindhearted noise. That’s right–noise.

Realizing this was incredibly helpful.


I was lucky that I had an incredibly talented and committed staff. All of them had “skin in the game,” an incredible work ethic and were talented at what they did.

Together we crafted and enacted a plan. Then we followed the plan.

Nobody writes about this idea of “skin in the game” better than Taleb.

By the way, our second season we won the championship.

The most useful book for me was Bill Wash’s Finding the Winning Edge.

I thought about all of this while listening to Astroball: The New Way to Win it All


Arsene Wenger

Excerpts From An Interview

Excellent comprehensive  Arsene Wenger interview from

Set your sights high.

“You won the title unbeaten in 2003-04. What was the secret recipe?

Effectively we were unbeaten for a year and a half. 49 games. It’s an interesting detail because when we won the title in 2002 I told the press my dream was to win the title unbeaten.

I got lambasted as pretentious, arrogant etcetera. We lost the title the next season to Manchester United. In 2003/04, I asked the players why we didn’t win the title. They said, ‘it’s your fault’. I asked why.

They said: ‘you put too much pressure on us.’ And it’s interesting because I told them the only reason I said it was because I truly believed it. And then they did it. Which proves two things.

One, sometimes we don’t put the level of ambition high enough. We don’t dare, we’re scared. But you must set the bar as high as possible. Two, sometimes you must plant the seed and wait for it to grow.”

And, this on the perfect player:

What is the perfect player for you, tactically, physically, ability-wise?

There’s no perfect player. They all have flaws. For example, Messi is the most perfect of them all because he can make others play and he can score himself, but he has weaknesses, contrary to what some people think.

If you analyse his game, he’s not very good in the air, he’s not great defensively. But you don’t make a living out of your weaknesses, you make a living out of your strengths, therefore the coach must emphasise the strengths as much as possible and put players around this person who hide his weaknesses.

Much more in the entire Arsene Wenger interview. Read it here

Read more about Wenger:

Invincible Inside Arsenal’s 2003-2004 Season

Arsene Wenger

Perspective Matters

When I was in college we had to run the Cooper in preseason. We did 7.5 laps in 12 minutes. Just shy of 6 minute miles. For a non-track athlete it was a fast pace.

As a young adult I loved running a 5k. The running itself felt good as exercise. I focused on going my very fastest at each juncture of the run. Pushing yourself is always valuable.

I also liked to start in the middle and pick out people ahead of me to pass. Each time I passed someone it was satisfying. Accelerating to get ahead of a pack or through a tight group of people would be like adding a miniFartlek to my run.

At the end I would be very happy to have run, to have competed, to be in the middle of a crowd of other satisfied runners.

In my early thirties I decided to get very fit. I chose to do this through running. I was not yet lifting much, but I was running twice a day. I got thinner, lighter and faster. I was running close to my college times again on a 3 mile run. Not quite Cooper pace, but a good 7 minute mile every time.

I signed up for a 5k. Excited to compete.

On the morning of I got there early. I started toward the front of the pack. With the real runners. People who train for races.

People who don’t consider a 6:30 mile fast.

As the 5k wore on I ran hard. I got passed time and again by runners. By people with strollers. By people like me who do not look like runners. Each time I was passed I felt a little more discouraged.

When the race ended. Many had passed me. I did not feel near the front, yet I had run my fastest time ever.  I felt a bit defeated.

Perspective matters.




The Coach’s Dilemma– How to Stay Healthy

Coaches–Read this article about NBA coaches, stress, sleep and health challenges for coaches. It truly is the coach’s dilemma–how to stay healthy amidst all the stress and pressure.

“We’re all told what to do, but we don’t do it,” one coach said Sunday. “We’re all told we have to eat healthy, we have to exercise and we have to get our sleep. All of us. Every coach. This is not like, ‘oh, wow, I never thought of that.’ But it’s hard to do it.”

Sure there is more pressure in the NBA, but I bet this rings true for far too many coaches.

Some players take losses to heart, to be sure. But coaches wear them like a woolen coat. Numerous coaches have spoken of walking the streets in their home cities after especially grueling losses, replaying key moments repeatedly in their minds.



Katie Sowers, San Francisco 49ers

Women Coaching in the NFL

“We are all here because of some path that was unexpected.” Katie Sowers

Ann Killion, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle brings us a portrait of Katie Sowers, who coaches in the NFL. Her story is a fascinating tale of hard work, rejection, talent and making the most of opportunity.

Read the whole thing here.

Also read,  women coaching in the NBA