Basketball’s Leadership Parachute

In 1967 after taking off from the USS Kitty Hawk, a combat pilot by the name of Charlie Plumb set out on his seventy-fifth mission over North Vietnam. Despite his best efforts and endless hours of tactical training, Plumb would eventually lose a battle in his F-4 Phantom jet and end up in the famed Hanoi Hilton.

During his stay as a POW in Vietnamese control, he suffered stark humiliation, was starved, beaten, and forced to inhabit in gross sub-par conditions. After his release in 1973 Charlie found himself having dinner with his wife when a gentleman approach and asked him, “You’re Plumb. You flew fighters in the Vietnam conflict?” Plumb responded by affirming the man’s identification of his past. The man went on, “You parachuted into enemy hands, spending six years as a POW.” At this point Charlie was dumbfounded by the man’s history lesson. Curiosity was killing Plumb, he had to know how this stranger knew so much, so he asked.

“I packed your parachute” the man replied.

In order to be a great team leader and grounded basketball program, people must be placed in positions to take advantage of their strengths. Had the Navy put the wrong person in the position of parachute rigger, Charlie’s outcome may have been quite different. All players have a place where they add the most value. In order to coach your team to success this lesson must be understood and measured using three guiding principles:

1. Understand your team.

2. Know the Situation.

3. Know your personnel

These three principles make up the parachute of team leadership. I would invite you to share the story of Charlie Plumb with your team and balance the ‘star’ with the importance of the ‘man who packs the parachute’ and challenge your team to shake the hands of all who have packed their parachutes over the years.

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