Though Kevin Cook found success as an assistant at Kansas and for the four-time WNBA champion Houston Comets, he may be experiencing his most rewarding success at Division III Gallaudet University, the world’s only all-deaf college.
When he arrived in September 2007, he didn’t know sign language or that the team hadn’t won a conference game in years. After winning just 3 and 6 games respectively in his first two years, Gallaudet went 14-12 last year and 24-4 this season, earning a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Great coaches see what others don’t or won’t. What did Cook see when he took over the team?
Player potential. Rather than focusing on his players’ limitations, he coached their strengths, constantly emphasizing effort and hard work. The best coaches see who their players can become, not who they are in that moment. The team bought in and is now reaping the rewards. In addition to their strong season, the NEAC named senior Easter Faafiti player of the year, and Cook the coach of the year.
Through adversity. Cook had to use an interpreter his first year, since he didn’t know sign language. He has since learned and now communicates on his own with his players. In late 2008, Cook was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and in 2009 he lost his sister in a house fire. Yet, Cook kept going, kept fighting through the adversity that came his way—the sign of a leader worth following.
Beautiful people. Cook believes basketball is basketball, whether it’s the WNBA, Division I or Division III. He loves the student-athletes at Gallaudet and it’s clear that he sees past their disability and into their hearts as people. He’s coached at every level and yet, at each stop, I’m guessing he was motivated mostly by the people.
As leaders, let’s learn to see like Kevin Cook. Let’s see the potential in those we lead, look through the adversity we face along the way and recognize the beauty of the people entrusted to our care.