You, no doubt, have read Mike Krzyzewski’s lips through the TV screen. His overriding philosophy in coaching the Duke men’s basketball team comes through loud and clear several times each game.
“Next play,” he often says.
It is a mindset Krzyzewski instills in each of his teams whether dealing with on-court performance or off-court issues, whether the previous result was beneficial or detrimental to the team.
“It’s a good philosophy,” Krzyzewski said recently. “The expression of not having a rear-view mirror: I think anyone who’s had success or wants it, can’t have a rear-view mirror in their car. They can’t look back, they’ve got to look ahead.”
Krzyzewski, of course, has the resume of success to support his thinking. He says his “next play” mantra has permeated his teachings while becoming the NCAA’s all-time leader in wins through five national championships, 12 Final Four appearances, 25 ACC regular-season and tournament titles and three Olympic gold-medal winning performances.
Krzyzewski writes more extensively about “next play” thinking in his book “Beyond Basketball: Coach K’s Keywords for Success.”
“In basketball and in life, I have always maintained the philosophy of ‘next play,’ ” Krzyzewski writes. “Essentially, what it means is that what you have just done is not nearly as important as what you are doing right now. The ‘next play’ philosophy emphasizes the fact that the most important play of the game or life moment on which you should always focus is the next one. It is not about the turnover I committed last time down the court, it’s not even about the three-pointer I hit to tie the game, it is about what’s next.
“To waste time lamenting a mistake or celebrating success is distracting and can leave you and your team unprepared for what you are about to face. It robs you of the ability to do your best at that moment and to give your full concentration. It’s why I love basketball. Plays happen with rapidity and there may be no stop-action. Basketball is a game that favors the quick thinker and the person who can go on to the next play the fastest.”
The mindset was rooted during Krzyzewski’s undergraduate days at the U.S. Military Academy.
“It’s more like a West Point thing, like what’s your next mission?” Krzyzewski said. “One of the key lessons I learned at West Point as a cadet was that failure is not your destination. So, whenever you got knocked back individually and collectively --- and that’s what they taught you --- OK, next play. What am I going to do next?”
Amile Jefferson, the 6-foot-9, fifth-year post player, says “next play” is now engrained in his thought process. It is imperative, he says, to make certain first-year Duke players learn to live by the credo as well.
“As a young guy, when you make mistakes it can linger on,” Jefferson said. “You can be thinking about it five, six, seven plays later and it can affect your performance. . . . It happens all the time. If one of our young guys makes a turnover, and the next play down (court) he’s hesitant to make a play, coach will stop and will tell him, ‘That play is over. The wrong play to make is to let that play bother you into doing other things.’ ”
Still, Krzyzewski warns it is not about completely forgetting the past.
“You don’t want to forget the experiences or knowledge you gained the plays before,” he said. “You want to . . . stay hungry, stay positive. If you’re coming from a negative, you want to remember that you’re pretty damned good and you can do this. If you’re coming from a positive, you want to say, ‘You’re not that damned good, you’ve got to do it again.’
“It’s like staying in the moment.”
Off the court, Krzyzewski said, the proliferation of social media has made that task increasingly more difficult. Why, he asks his players, should you care what “George from Des Moines” has to say about you and the Duke program? Why, he asks, does it matter how many “likes” you have on Facebook?
What is most important, according to Krzyzewski, is the task at hand and directing one’s attention to the “next play.”
Krzyzewski has demonstrated his “next play” philosophy to his team many times during his illustrious career, perhaps no more illustrative than following the 2006 regular season that concluded with No. 1-ranked Duke losing games at unranked Florida State and at home against 13th-ranked UNC.
Prior to the ACC tournament, Krzyzewski gathered his team and conducted a ceremony whereby he placed the Preseason NIT championship trophy, all-tournament team plaques and videotapes from the games in one cardboard box, and all awards and videotapes from the regular-season in another cardboard box.
His team did not need to read his lips to know that all of the regular season was behind Duke and it was time to focus entirely on the next season --- the postseason --- where the Blue Devils charged to the ACC tournament championship and into the NCAA tournament.
Duke at Virginia Tech
When: Noon, Saturday
Where: Cassell Coliseum, Blacksburg, Va.