Balls, Chicanery, Ubuntu - What Netflix's The Playbook Reveals About Top Coaches

There are many different ways of getting the best out of great sports stars
13:00, 01 Oct 2020

The winning mentality, the ferocious desire to always improve, and the ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The best coaches just have something about them, an unbeatable aura and hunger to be the best.

If you’ve ever wondered just what makes them tick, what gives them their steely determination and coolness under pressure, new Netflix docuseries ‘The Playbook: A Coach’s Rules For Life’ provides plenty of answers. Packed full of incredible insight and personal, behind the scenes interviews, the new documentary of which basketball legend LeBron James is an executive producer, is a stunning and captivating watch.

Here are our three favourite things we learned from The Playbook...

Doc Rivers

The power of Ubuntu

If you have never heard of Ubuntu before, you’re not alone. Even Rivers himself had no idea what it was before it revolutionised his coaching methods. Leading the Boston Celtics to their first title in 22 years back in 2008 having earlier been under fire, one chance conversation played a huge part in such a major success story.

Rivers was leaving a ‘long board’ meeting at Marquette University when he was approached by a woman who praised his team before urging him to look up ‘Ubuntu’. 

“Ubuntu? What the hell is that?” he asked, perplexed.

“I’m not going to tell you but you need to look this up and study it. It’s not a word, Doc. It’s a way of life.”

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Rivers checked it out and hours later he was hooked into researching and finding out more. There were papers and notes everywhere. People had been calling for him to be fired, but things soon changed.

"If we're going to win, we are going to have to sacrifice. That was the challenge, getting them to buy into being a team,” recalls Doc.

Ubuntu was the answer. All of a sudden the stars aligned and things turned great.

Coming from the Zulu, it translates as ‘a person can only be a person through others’ and has been used by Nelson Mandela and South African archbishop Desmond Tutu, who describes the term as “the essence of being human. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong.”

Rivers implored his players to learn the meaning and live it. After huddles, his team would shout it and over time it brought them closer together. The bond they shared from this simple yet deep word led them to the title.

Jose Mourinho

Some rules are meant to be broken

The Tottenham manager was his usual enigmatic self at the start of this Playbook interview but was soon brutally honest about his career. No stranger to controversy, he will do anything to win.

Back in 2005, he was suspended by Uefa for two games after accusing Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard and referee Anders Frisk of conspiring to cheat. Banned from the touchline, tunnel and dressing room, he knew he had to be there for his players when they faced Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals. He conjured a dastardly plan to be with his players at half-time.

“This is the kind of game where they really, really need me, they needed what I used to call that skin-to-skin connection. Where they listen to you and can feel emotions,” he said, looking back. He decided to “risk his career” by making sure he was in the dressing room.

Arriving “very, very early,” he decided nobody would see him and he would even be able to walk home after leaving the stadium long after the final whistle. There for his players, he listened to the first half from the dressing room but realised officials would soon be hunting him down, ensuring he was nowhere near the action.

“Uefa are intelligent people, I know what I would do. The only possible thing was to dive into the laundry basket. I was a little bit scared. The basket had a metal box and the kitman was so afraid Uefa would go deep to find me, that he locked me in the metal box, ” recalls Mourinho.

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The Special One was ferried to the laundry room, “It was a couple of minutes distance but felt like three hours. It was an incredibly awful feeling.”

The metal box his only disguise, he was able to rally his troops to a 4-2 victory, completely undetected.

“They could not find me. But it’s not about that, it’s about what I did for that game, in that dressing room. It’s something I’m not proud of because I went against the rules, but I’m proud of it as a leader, proud of it as a player’s friend. I’m proud of it because I did it for my boys. 

“For your family you will do anything, even break the rules. I think I became a little bit claustrophobic after that!” Never change, Jose. Never change.

Patrick Mouratoglou

Never be afraid of getting fired

Suave, sophisticated and boasting smouldering movie-star looks, Mouratoglou is a hugely charismatic and confident figure, which makes it all the more surprising that as a youngster he suffered from excruciating shyness. However, he turned the weakness into a strength and became a master of reading people’s faces and the emotions behind them.

In 2012, when tennis great Serena Williams injured her foot, a year after needing surgery for a pulmonary embolism, her comeback did not go to plan and she lost the first round at the French Open.

Needing a change, she texted Mourataglou out of the blue asking if she could practice at ‘his place’ for Wimbledon, and the opportunity to work with one of the greats presented itself to the Frenchman.

She asked him what she could do with a determination to be the world’s best again and Mouratoglou knew he had one shot which had to be perfect.

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“First of all, I think you are an underachiever,” he brazenly told one of the greatest players of all-time. “Thirteen Grand Slams is fantastic but maybe you could have won 26. I’ve seen you go to tournaments under-prepared, I feel you don’t have any plan B, you lose too many matches.

“I had never seen anyone be direct with her but I was not nervous because I thought that was the right way,” he tells the camera. “If you’re afraid, you’ll always tell the player what she wants to hear.” 

Later he passed another test.

“Serena loves to test people and I think she was testing me. I was waiting for her with the team and she arrives late. I look at her when she arrives and I say, ‘Good morning’. She doesn’t look at me, she passes, doesn’t answer. We start practice, I tell her something, she doesn’t answer, she doesn’t look at me and I think this is totally wrong. I feel this is not going to work like this. I can’t let her disrespect me, even less at the start of the relationship.

“After 45 minutes she sits down to drink, I wanted to have her attention, she doesn’t give me attention. So I come to her and slap her on the cap and so she is super surprised, nobody does this to her.

“I said, ‘Listen Serena, there are three rules. Rule number one, when you come to my court, you look at me and you say good morning. Rule number two, when I talk to you, you listen to me, you look at me and you answer me. And I said, is it clear? You know what she answered? ‘What’s rule number three?'”

From that day, Mouratoglou had Williams’ complete respect.

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