"Goals are short-lived—you get satisfied," Pitino explains after his speech in Philadelphia. "I try to get them to dream. The great ones started with dreams. The overachievers, the ones who hit the jackpot, are dreamers."
But aren't the overachievers the ones who don't need to be tutored? Are the mere achievers in life—the ones who don't reach the Final Four—simply relegated to being failures?
"These speakers should really be teachers," contends former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, who will not talk about winning during his own speeches to business groups any more than he did to his players during his 40-year coaching career. "I've seen Holtz, and I've seen Pitino—and they're really entertainers. There is obviously a tactical correlation between business and sports, but the struggles of coaches to win, in and of themselves, don't have much to do with character. Winning is a byproduct of other, complicated things.
"I don't know if some of them can begin to understand what it's like outside of sports," Wooden continues. "Coaches complain to me about the pressures they live under all the time, and I say, 'Try being a salesman if you want to learn about pressure. Try to run a butcher shop, for that matter.' "
Atop pulpits built on other people's fears and unrealized aspirations, peripatetic sports motivators preach to the business culture and further imbue it with sports metaphors and sports pontifications. They sell only a half-true sense of what makes well-played games so compelling and so beautiful. What is artless and graceful and completely moving about the acts of gifted players in motion, or the actions of leaders of magical teams, becomes instantly banal when it is deconstructed and mined for pithy truisms fit for the marketplace.
Certain leaders of sports teams might well own the skills and insights required to master business life. But sports can also be much more complicated, much less glamorous, much more brutal, much less grown-up and only tangentially related to the myriad complexities of running enterprises and selling widgets—although you certainly wouldn't understand any of this from listening to the bull-moose motivators working the talk circuit today.
Dan Whitehead, an insurance salesman from Fort Washington, Pa., waits patiently in a long line to shake Pitino's hand when his speech in the Convention Center is over. "He was just great," Whitehead says, patting a notebook he has filled with Pitino's phrases. "He wasn't too rah-rah, like Holtz. When he told that story about how he told [former Knick] Mark Jackson that he was going be Rookie of the Year even though Jackson was the 18th overall draft pick—and then he was!—well, that was amazing. This is why I'm here. I just gotta figure that being around successful people like Rick Pitino has got to help me live my own life."
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