Play video

‘You Control Your Attitude’: Wisdom from Jay Wright

by Liz Puzio June 22, 2018

Among fans of college basketball, Jay Wright needs no introduction. The Villanova men’s basketball coach has a record that speaks for itself: The Wildcats took home the 2018 national title, the team’s second championship win in three seasons.

His low-key personality has led some to call him an “anti-coach.” Coach Wright’s style, developed over a 30-plus-year career (the past 16 spent leading Villanova), is singular and highly personal, a blend of heads-down tenacity infused with spiritual beliefs and anchored by a steadfast optimism. As Wright, 56, has emerged as a formidable competitor in college sports, he’s become synonymous with a pair of rallying cries: “humble and hungry” and “attitude” — also the title of his 2017 book on cultivating a mindset geared toward success.

But his coaching lessons tend to transcend the confines of the court into the arena of life; they’re as much about training superior athletes as they are about molding authentic collaborators and stakeholders in a team culture. 

Here are some of Wright’s pieces of coaching wisdom:

'Humble and hungry.'

“To be a competitor, you need to have an unrealistic belief in yourself,” says Wright, reflecting back on his “hungry” years as a college player intent on going pro. But he finally admitted to himself that he was never going to make it as a pro player and took a sports marketing job after college. That job later opened the door to an unexpected opportunity to get back on the court as a coach. Within the initial two days of his first coaching gig at the University of Rochester, working as an assistant coach, Wright fully embraced the role of mentor and what he refers to as “the servant leader.” He traces his signature motto of “humble and hungry” back to this time, saying that he loved the Rochester role and would have been content to coach that Division III team for the rest of this career.

'We determine what a win is.'

Social media, with its incessant stream of likes, shares and comments about other’s people’s lives, goes against that credo, Wright says. He tries to remind his players that social media is a tool where words and images take on a life of their own. “All [players] must have an understanding of who we are and what we represent,” he explains. “Everything that we do now counts.” He often tells his players, “Your actions speak so loudly, I can’t hear what you say.”

Wright emphasizes the power of being present and how disruptive social media can be on and off the court. The coaching staff has to educate the guys on how to be in the moment, he says. There is literally a line at practice that once you cross, he tells players, you don’t let the outside world affect you in those two hours. He asks: “What are we there for? Staying focused on the game, getting rest, being here now. Be in the moment.”

What are we there for? Staying focused on the game, getting rest, being here now. Be in the moment.
End Quote

'You control your attitude and your effort.'

“Attitude is the biggest part of our program,” explains Wright. “A great attitude is the greatest characteristic we can have.” This is a central tenet of his best-selling book Attitude: Develop a Winning Mindset on and off the Court. This belief so permeates the team that Wright proudly recalls his players chanting “Attitude” in the huddle before the final play of the 2016 national championship.

If something doesn’t go well, it’s not about the mistake, he emphasizes. For Wright, it’s always about the next decision. “Clear the mind and do the right thing,” he says. His approach to evaluating players is based on a similar transparency and grounded in the Villanova culture he created. The message to recruits is straightforward: You become us. We don’t become you.

'Humility and intelligence is the winning combination.'

According to Wright, there are two kinds of people in this world: the humble and those who are about to be. He looks for players who have talent, of course, but also humility and intelligence — players who have more capacity to improve. “Knowing where you need to get better is the intelligence part,” he explains. Wright doesn’t wear his national championship rings; he says he gets more excited about the process and the journey than the destination or goal. He says, “Our culture is what’s important, not our win/loss record.”

A great attitude is the greatest characteristic we can have.
End Quote

'Everyone’s status is the same, everyone’s role is different.'

“Success shouldn’t change you,” he adds. “Stick to your core values.” Wright tells his players: Don’t let success and outside stimulation change us. “You’re either 100% in or against us. We can’t hide from each other.”

And he doesn’t exclude himself from those rules. “Be authentic as a leader — that’s the most important advice a mentor gave me that I didn’t listen to and had to learn the hard way.” Wright uses the word authentic often when he talks about managing people. He likes to make a distinction between authentic and respectful relationships. “Being honest with your feelings,” he says, “leads to that authentic relationship and trust.”



Liz Puzio creates content for Citi’s Global Consumer Bank and is a big fan of being present and authentic. She has covered trends in health, fitness and well-being for over a decade.



The content reflects the view of the author of the article and does not necessarily reflect the views of Citi or its employees, and we do not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information presented in the article.