Developing a Different Kind of Transition Game

Stephanie Harris Human Resources, Issue 16 - March/April 2015 1 Comment

Greg Taylor, SVP of Player Development for the NBA, on how he and his team cultivate players’ leadership on a personal, professional, and social level

With quick-paced games full of exciting fast breaks, alley-oops, buzzer-beater shots and defensive strategy, professional basketball players captivate fans around the world. And as players of the National Basketball Association (NBA) achieve excellence on the court, their celebrity status grows.

Enter Greg Taylor: the point person responsible for coaching NBA players when they step off the court and into the public spotlight. As the Senior Vice President of Player Development for the NBA, Taylor manages the league’s programs that promote the personal, professional and social development of NBA players. He realizes these men have a tremendous platform to positively influence their communities, and he works hard to mold them into the quality role models today’s children need.

“If you are a leader in your community, family and team, you have a platform to do good in the world,” Taylor said. “What motivates me every day is to take the lessons of leadership, value of education and importance of service, and help develop the players’ understanding of how each of these tenants makes them better players, better people and better leaders.”

20140730_GregTaylor_SFR_277The Value of Education

Taylor’s father a double-war veteran and his mother a university professor, and he was raised in a household rooted heavily in the values of education and service. After law school, Taylor went on to work for a nonprofit organization devoted to developing education and leadership in youth. He later worked at a national foundation where he invested in education and leadership development programs across the country.

“I believe the value of education prepares you for whatever options life presents you,” he explained. “What was important from my standpoint was to help prepare others to be able to capitalize on whatever those opportunities may be.”

When Taylor joined the NBA in February 2013, he had a unique opportunity to capitalize on his more than two decades of experience in a role that encompassed all of his passions: youth development, education and sports.

“My previous work was about program design and applying research that has proven the most effective ways to educate young people,” Taylor explained. In his current role, he is bringing the best of those innovation and strategies to the NBA to strengthen their programming.

“One of the main tenants of education is to engage the student—in this case, the player—in their own learning. We work hard in our player development programming to break up the guys into smaller groups, what we call ‘learning communities,’ for them to be actively engaged and digest what they are learning,” Taylor said. “It’s not lectures or big binders with a lot of materials; it is done in a way that engages the players in their own learning. My job is to facilitate that learning over time.”

Learning in Communities

Although the Department of Player Development offers training year-round, as the NBA’s regular season winds down, the department’s educational season really ramps up. Taylor and his team work hard to educate players on various levels. One of the league’s most-noted training programs is the Rookie Transition Program, which all first-year players are required to attend before joining their respective teams.

“We take time to work with those individual players and help develop their understanding and knowledge of what it takes to be a successful professional athlete,” Taylor said.

There are a number of supplementary educational programs for rookies in the areas of financial education, relationship management, communication and leadership development, all of which are focused on the individual players.

Various programs are run throughout the year at the team level, too—most notably, the league’s team awareness meetings. “We go out two times a year to each market in the NBA and spend our time primarily talking about four topics: career transition, financial education, personal health and player assistance, which is our anti-drug and alcohol programming,” Taylor explained.

Furthermore, each team is staffed with its own Player Development Director, who works closely with the Department of Player Development to provide day-to-day support for players.

20140730_GregTaylor_SFR_213Building Partnerships

When Taylor joined the NBA to lead player development, the function already was well established with a solid mission in place: to help players become professionals and overcome challenges on and off the court. His goal, in addition to developing new leadership initiatives, was to strengthen the existing programs and to apply his own experiences in doing so.

Taylor quickly realized that in order for the department to succeed, he would have to develop relationships with external partners who had great reputations in the areas they were looking to lead.

“We partnered with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to strengthen our financial education program,” he said. “The model as we move forward is to bring in external experts like PwC to strengthen our content, make sure we are operating with best practices in mind, and build on lessons that both sports leagues and other professions have learned in that content area.”

The model has been effective so far, and the department experienced tremendous success around its recent career transition program, The Leadership Excellence and Development (LEAD) Program, held in Las Vegas.

“We brought in industry experts in entrepreneurship, real estate, retail development and entertainment to talk directly to current and former players who are interested in transitioning into those areas of business once their playing days are over,” Taylor said.

Leaders to Look To

Above all, Taylor and his team spend a lot of time educating NBA players on communication and how to present themselves positively to their communities.

“We know that the way the players present themselves and their ability to both understand and articulate their perspectives around a current issue or event is very important,” he said. “We take the time to walk the players through how to effectively present themselves on the issues they care about in the community and to their teams, and we recognize that the players have a tremendous platform to be ambassadors on behalf of the NBA.”

One of the league’s most notable examples of player leadership in the community is the NBA Cares program. It is a global community outreach initiative that addresses social issues such as education, youth and family development, and health and wellness.

“We know that’s the community platform our players are able to build upon, and serve as ambassadors and connect with the community,” Taylor noted. “This past year, we’ve had players in many countries around the world and domestically step up and talk about issues they care about—after-school programs for youth, breast cancer awareness, domestic abuse. All of those are content areas that we know the players are particularly interested in being leaders in, and we’ve helped to educate them, develop messaging and talking points, and have prepped them for leadership opportunities in those spaces.”

As the popularity of NBA players continues to soar and children around the world look to them as role models, it is reassuring to know they, with support from their league, are working hard to succeed as leaders off the court as well.♦


20140730_GregTaylor_SFR_025Leading the Way in Diversity & Inclusion

How has the NBA been working with players to help them be leaders off the court?

With the popularity of NBA players at an all-time high, Taylor and the league recognize that they have a tremendous platform to influence children and communities on various topics.

“Whatever it takes to prepare our players to be able to be leaders on issues they care about, we want to take the time to do that,” Taylor said. “One of those areas is the diversity and inclusion work that we do.”

Taylor and his team have been working hard to educate the players on what it means to be respectful in the workplace and to embrace a teammate or community leader who may have a different orientation or political view.

“As more players are coming out with regard to their orientation in football, basketball and other sports, we know that the NBA has historically been a wonderfully inclusive league and our players are leaders in that space,” Taylor said. “We are helping to educate our players on issues of diversity and inclusion, so when asked the questions, they are knowledgeable and aware of the topic. They know how to communicate in a way that portrays them as allies or at least neutral to those who are choosing to be expressive with their orientation.”

The Department of Player Development dedicates a great deal of time to educating the players on how to be respectful, supportive teammates. “If you are able to play the game,” Taylor noted, “it doesn’t matter what your orientation is, where you are from, or what your political beliefs are.”

He and his team have been working hard to equip the players with supporting information and prepare them to be positive spokespeople within the community.

“The relationship we have with the guys, the time we take to educate them on particular issues and preparing them to be spokespeople, we think, has gone a long way in terms of the players demonstrating their leadership ability at the community level,” Taylor concluded.


Stephanie Harris

Stephanie Harris is a freelance writer based in Chicago, Illinois.

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