It is better to focus on building winners than on trying to win because that approach is better for the individuals and for the team and it delivers better results over time.

No baseball player bats 1.000. No salesman closes every sale. No forecaster gets it right every time. The best coaches know that if they inspire and enable others to do their absolute best together, they will win far more than they lose over time and will be winners whether they win or lose in any particular situation.

Sam Greenblatt epitomizes this. He is the second assistant coach for men’s crew at Oregon State University now and coached at the Atlanta Junior Rowing Association previously. He describes himself as a “teacher with a whistle,” “lucky to be doing what I’m doing.”

One of his former rowers describes “Coach Sam” as:

On fire with a passion for rowing.


Overpowering confidence that compelled us to believe in ourselves and the team.

Relentless on disciplined training and measurable milestones.. I still remember every step of every drill we ever did.

Passion + confidence + basics = a broadly transferable formula for success.



Sam loves what the sport of rowing and he can do for people. As he puts it:

My goal as a coach is not only to help young athletes become better, more responsible people in life, but also to help them reach their individual potential for the benefit of the team.



When Sam started coaching, he saw everything as black and white:

There was winning and losing. No middle ground…I felt like a complete failure if the boat lost. I didn’t prepare them as well as needed.

Over time Sam realized that:

Sometimes you have the pieces where you’re going to have a success and sometimes you don’t. When you don’t, you help people punch above their weight and do more with less.

That’s a mark of experience-built confidence. Sam knows he’s a winner. Of course he loves it when his boats win. He expects them to win. But the real reward is what the program does for his rowers, giving them confidence and opening up opportunities.



Sam wasn’t surprised that his former rower remembered all the steps of the drills:

The reason he remembers it is that I preach fundamentals so so much. It’s the same drills day in, day out, adding complexity intentionally.

No one goes to step two until they’ve managed the simpler step one. The team as a whole can handle only the level of complexity that each and every individual member can handle. Sam builds the team:

…through a consistently challenging and systematic team-oriented approach, based on competition, mutual respect, detail driven fundamentals, and a focus on the process of development and not strictly results.



We’ve all seen the pain caused by gaps in any of these.


Passion. The value of charisma is overstated. People catch on to leaders that are “all hat and no cattle” pretty quickly. In the end, no one really cares about their leaders or coaches. Some care about what those leaders and coaches can do for them. The very best care about how those leaders and coaches help the team do good for others. Those leaders and coaches have a real passion for the cause.


Confidence. Virgil put it well, “They can because they think they can”. Bosses that manage through fear and intimidation break down confidence. Their people get things done only because they fear retribution for failure. They begin to believe their natural default is failure. It’s crippling.


Basics. Complexity is sexy. Bells and whistles, flashy videos and innovations are wonderfully exciting. But they don’t win boat races or basketball games or sales. Basics do. Running the drills. Learning how to put on your socks and shoes. Learning the fundamentals of your business like always thinking customer first.

Implications for you

  1. Lead with honest passion. Find a cause you care about deeply and help others commit to that cause.
  2. Build your team members’ confidence. Help them leverage their strengths as winners individually and together. The wins will follow.
  3. Stick to the basics. Build complexity intentionally – as warranted.