As executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, Craig Robinson kept hearing from Hollywood: People wanted to tell the stories of his members and their athletes. That’s where he saw an opportunity to build a new company that ultimately became Coaches+ Media, through which he’s placing coaching-based instruction and media online while also developing its own signature with established outlets.
With a career that bridged sports and Wall Street, Robinson has drawn leadership lessons from many fields.
“Almost everyone is coached in some way, shape or form, whether you’re in sports or not,” he told TheWrap for this week’s Office With a View. “And that’s why we feel there’s a whole arena for us.”
A key lesson he learned and kept with him during his professional career, he said: “You want to be a leader, you have to act like a leader.” Embodying the position you want requires preparation and willingness to make changes, he added.
Robinson, former First Lady Michelle Obama’s brother, played basketball at Princeton and coached college basketball before getting his MBA at the University of Chicago and working on Wall Street as a bond trader. He returned to coaching in 1999, including stints as head coach at Brown and Oregon State. Before joining the coaches’ association in 2020, he’d moved into managerial roles including operations at the New York Knicks.
Announced in April 2022 at the NCAA Final Four tournament with the backing of the NABC, Coaches+ Media has developed recent documentaries “Think. See. Do: The Legacy of Pete Carril” and “Dear Coach Stringer” through a partnership with CBS Sports.
Robinson broke down where the craft of coaching is today, how Coaches+ Media plans to cater to the 8,000-plus coaches in its network on and off the court and the coaching methods that have served him best.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What was the inspiration behind Coaches+ Media and who’s your consumer?
We were told by an executive producer at a well-known streaming company that whenever they tried to do things with sports [talent], they’re hard to corral them because they’d have to deal with agents and coaches. Coaches+ has access that most people don’t have.
Coaches+ will be a vehicle through which we help people who are in the sports world, the business world or the entertainment world with understanding how to coach and be coached. If you’re the director of a film, you’re coaching. If you’re a CEO of a company, you’re coaching.
Who were the coaches in your life who helped shape you?
My first coaches were my parents. Those are the first people who coach you on how to talk, walk, what to say, where to go, what not to touch, all that kind of stuff. That’s all coaching.
One of the best lessons is basic: On time is early. It’s one of those things that has served me well. Even when you’re early to class as a child, teachers pay attention, and they usually give you extra attention.
Another lesson is to treat people the way you want to be treated. That’s a big lesson I learned from my parents. That’s a really good one to teach young people because I think that was the start of me learning how to be empathetic, which helped me in my managerial experience.
What are the qualities that make an exceptional coach or leader?
Empathy is so big. The ability to put yourself in the other person’s shoes will just make life easier for you as a coach. You never know what people are dealing with. I think the ability to be coached as a coach might be the most important, because even with all the experience a person might have, there are new things you can learn daily.
What’s the best personal and professional advice you’d give someone?
This is personal advice but it applies to your career: Everything you do is important. Getting up in the morning, making your bed, everything. If I slack off a little bit, I’m not getting an A, I’m getting a B.
Most people work in an organization where they’re trying to ascend, get a better salary, a better position or another title. The best advice I was ever given, when I was still working on Wall Street, my manager told me, “You want to be a vice president? Act like a vice president.” If you want to be a head coach, you’ve got to start acting like a head coach. Sometimes that’s hard for people to do, because in order to act like your next level, you have to give up some of your power to the person who’s got to take your place. I’ve been using that advice my whole life.