3 MIN READ | Positive Psychology

Alicia Saville

How Top Coaches Like Tom Thibodeau and Bill Belichick Build Winners

Cite This
Alicia Saville, (2021, November 19). How Top Coaches Like Tom Thibodeau and Bill Belichick Build Winners. Psychreg on Positive Psychology. https://www.psychreg.org/how-top-coaches-like-tom-thibodeau-bill-belichick-build-winners/
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Tom Thibodeau had a seemingly lengthy task of rebuilding the New York Knicks when he was hired as the team’s new head coach before the 2020–21 season.

The Knicks were coming off their seventh straight losing and non-playoff season. From 2014 to 2020, the franchise went through six different coaches: Mike Woodson, Derek Fisher, Kurt Rambis, Jeff Hornacek, David Fizdale, and Mike Miller.

Expectations were extremely low for the Knicks entering 2020–21, even with the hiring of 2011 Coach of the Year who turned the Chicago Bulls into an Eastern Conference juggernaut a decade earlier.

But Thibodeau did wonders with the underdog Knicks right off the bat. In just one season, the renowned defensive-minded genius turned New York’s defence into the league’s best.

Last season, the Knicks finished first in scoring defence (104.7 points allowed per game), and third in defensive rating (108.2).

Thibodeau’s impressive turnaround in New York landed him Coach of the Year honours after the team finished 41–31 to claim the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference. The Atlanta Hawks would go on to eliminate New York in five games.

For Thibodeau, it goes beyond his tactical strategies. The implement of a fun-going culture has been paramount in the Knicks’ unexpected resurgence.

‘There is a mentality shift,’ an NBA executive told Marc Berman of the New York Post last December. ‘Thibs wants to win every game and he’s selling that to the players and they are buying into it so far.’

Perhaps no Knicks player individually benefited more from Thibodeau’s arrival than Julius Randle, who earned his first career All-Star selection in 2020–21. Per Berman, Randle praised Thibodeau last year for his ‘great job of just implementing his system of how we want to play’.

It also helps to have 2011 league MVP Derrick Rose, who also played under Thibodeau in Chicago and in Minnesota.

Clearly, having a veteran who’s familiar and all-in with Thibodeau’s system has meshed well for the rest of the Knicks.

‘I know his terminology, and my job is to be vocal and not only help the players but help him adjust too,’ Rose said in April of last season, per Coby Green of SportsNet New York.

The NY Knicks sit at 8–6 through the first 14 games of the 2021–22 season, and their NBA Championship odds sit at +9000 in the New York sports betting industry.

Bill Belichick and ‘The Patriot Way’

Bill Belichick is widely considered to be the greatest head coach in NFL history, and for a variety of reasons.

It’s not just the six Super Bowl rings he owns as the New England Patriots head coach (plus the two he won with the New York Giants on Bill Parcells’ staff). It’s his work as a general manager and especially his implementation of ‘The Patriot Way’ that has allowed New England to sustain excellence for two decades.

Belichick and the Patriots have adopted the ‘Do Your Job’ slogan. The future Hall of Fame inductee has stressed this message throughout his 22 seasons (and counting) as the team’s head coach.

Belichick is able to keep a locker room of 53 players together by getting them all on the same page. He never puts an individual player above the team.

Jonas Gray had a 201-yard rushing performance against the Indianapolis Colts in a 2014 game. He overslept and missed a practice, got sent home, and never got the starting duties with the Patriots again.

Belichick hasn’t been afraid to move on from disgruntled stars like Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss (2010), Stephon Gilmore (2021), or Malcolm Butler (2018): Players who were vital to his team’s success but also vocal about their unhappiness while with the Patriots.

Though Belichick runs a tight ship at Patriot Place, he also goes out of his way to shield his own players from criticism (hence the ‘Ignore the Noise’ mantra).

He never throws his players under the bus to the media and takes the responsibility for the team’s (rare) shortcomings. He’ll always cite coaching when reporters question him after a loss.

During the Patriots’ Super Bowl LI parade, Belichick memorably chanted ‘No Days Off’, which stressed the need to stay hungry and focus on the next season.

For coaches like Thibodeau and Belichick, turning a team into a winner is about more than strategizing. It’s about the creation of a strong, lovable culture that bonds the players together. And it’s why coaches of their calibre have been so successful in turning a longtime struggling organisation around.


Alicia Saville did her degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. She is interested in mental health and well-being.


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