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How the Warriors Leveraged an Uncommon Motivation

How the Warriors Leveraged an Uncommon Motivation

Joy is usually considered the result of success. The Golden State Warriors have turned this on its head and used joy as a means to success.

Indeed, a stated core value of the Warriors is joy.

Words like commitment, hard-work, and integrity are the usual slogans on a locker room wall. Not with this group. Joy takes the Warriors organization to a new level. Joy goes beyond a value to an actual strategy. It is a differentiator like no other, and it’s visible to even the casual fan.

You might say, “They’re happy because they win.”

First, there have been plenty of winning teams which were not a very happy group—instead they fought internally, they pouted, they played out of fear.

Second, happiness is not the same as joy. I’ll explain more later.

The Warriors have created an environment where joy can actually be experienced not just be an aspiration. Being motivated by joy is rare because it takes all three levels of the organization to achieve this environment and so few pro sports teams will align themselves in this way.

The Ownership

The team on the court is the top priority, not the brand. Many owners/organizations have, consciously or unconsciously, moved their “brand” or marketing initiatives ahead of the team.

Of course all teams have to do both: play and market, but many have subtlety focused more on the brand than the team. When this happens, players and coaches feel it and it takes the focus off the game and steals the joy of playing the game.

The Warriors have avoided this temptation. It may have cost them some short-term revenue, but it has also wildly increased the long-term value of the franchise in many ways.

The Coaches

The now well documented retreat in Napa where head coach Steve Kerr and staff clarified joy as a core value early on was a necessary first step—but it didn’t end there. The more important, second step, came as the coaching staff demonstrated their commitment to their values.

Joy wasn’t just a nice word. They meant it. They lived it.

Imagine a coach taking a time out—not to draw up a play, but to reinforce the value of joy in the middle of the game! After their championship week concluded, Stephen Curry said that he had been given special instructions during the series. Kerr reminded him, “play with passion, and play with joy.”

The Players

Joy is not happiness. Happiness is the result of good fortune. Joy is much deeper than happiness, less transactional, not driven primarily by circumstances. Two key elements to experience joy are selflessness and the practice of gratitude. Both are volitional.

Selflessness has been identified by research as a necessary element to achieve true joy. An inflated ego robs joy and demands attention be put on individual performance. These Warriors have made a choice to play as a team, to play for one another.

All team members clearly have a role and are willing to play that role. Stars get greater media attention but carry the burden of higher expectations. For Durant and Curry, the expectations have become practically historic in nature.

The Warriors that come off the bench are clearly talented enough to play more minutes on another team. At some point they may choose to pursue opportunities elsewhere. But for now they have a great ally in Steve Kerr who understands the challenges of limited minutes, as he too was a reserve player for much of his NBA career.

Gratitude doesn’t end with the old saying, “Have an attitude of gratitude.” It may start there but must go beyond a mindset and become a practice.

To be grateful, players must have an awareness beyond their own circumstances. In fact, mindfulness is another core value for Golden State. With this mindfulness it’s not hard to imagine the men on this team thankful for the opportunities they have, the resources and platform to improve the world and life for their families.

Gratitude emerges from the opportunity to experience relationships in the work environment on a level not always easily found. Gratitude arises from the opportunity to make a generous living playing the game that they love.

Bring Back the Joy!

A year ago I met John Robinson, former head coach of both the Rams and the extremely talented, very successful USC Trojans. A man who’s coached many Hall of Fame athletes. I shared with him about the Warriors core value of joy.

He was more than intrigued—he was fascinated. As we parted he commented to me, with some pain in his voice, “Joy…..I think we’ve lost that somewhere along the line in professional sports. Hey! I know you talk to a lot of coaches’…remind them of joy. I think we all need to get it back.”

The Warriors are reminding all of us—loud and clear.