Management Lessons Pay Off on the Basketball Court

SOM Faculty Member’s Annual Workshop Helps Coach Find Team's Leaders

Dec. 2, 2010

Every fall, UT Dallas men’s basketball  coach Terry Butterfield begins searching for the players who can take the Comets to another conference championship. With the help of a School of Management faculty member, he has developed an innovative way to find his leaders.

Three years ago, Butterfield met with John Barden, a senior lecturer, business coach coordinator and director of undergraduate accounting programs. They brainstormed about ways to help the team.

John Barden

Greg Chiasson gently handles a construction project used in the leadership workshop.

Barden, a certified public accountant and a basketball aficionado, offered to direct the players in a leadership workshop similar to those he leads at PricewaterhouseCoopers.  Since, 2002, he has trained more than 5,000 auditors to work in teams.

“John has shown us in a variety of ways that he’s passionate about our guys,” Butterfield said. “This workshop is beneficial to them not only because it allows them to get away from their studies and the intensity of their two-and-a-half-hour practices, but they get to see that their professors are just regular people.”

Barden’s idea blossomed into an annual event that takes place at his home.

The relaxed atmosphere camouflages the more serious business of putting the potential leaders through their paces.

Barden leads a series of exercises to put the players in pressure situations to learn how they would react.  This year's activities  included an egg drop, a ball toss, a pie-eating contest and a construction project. Butterfield offered guidance, all the while observing who might emerge as team leaders.

“I get them to start thinking differently, from an academic side, creatively and critically,” Barden said. “It all looks like fun and games, but every event is scored, so it can get pretty competitive.”

Assistant Dean Matt Polze, Assistant Coach Travis Carruthers and former tennis coach Leo Eveleth acted as judges for this year’s workshop events.

“Our team worked together, talked things out among ourselves and got different ideas from different people,” said Brandon Greene, a senior wing who is pursuing a master’s degree in economics. “Things seemed to come together a lot better than they would have if we were just trying to do things by ourselves.”

Freshman wing Dmitriy Chernikov an accounting major on the same team as Greene and Greg Chiasson, wasn’t intimidated by his lack of workshop experience. “We didn’t have just one leader,” he said. “We all put our own pieces into each puzzle to solve them. That’s how we won.”

How does this training translate to the basketball court?

“Say you’ve got 10 seconds left in the game, you’ve got the ball, and your team is down by a point,” Barden said. “You have to get someone to take the shot. If he’s a leader, he’ll maintain focus while under pressure and make a quick decision either to make the shot or kick it out to one of his teammates. Coach Butterfield, meanwhile, will know which five players to have on the court in this type of situation.”

Barden is not sure whether there is a direct correlation between success in his workshop and success for the Comets. But he is certain that leadership is universal and, given the right circumstances, reveals itself.

Butterfield appreciates the immediate feedback he gets from observing his student athletes assert their leadership skills.

“One of the cool things about coming out here is that the kids start off slowly,” Butterfield said. “But then — when you put a little competition into it — you can really see who wants to step up and go to the front and direct their own groups. … It’s fun to see them out here expressing that leadership in a different way than they normally do on the court.”

Media Contact: Jimmie Markham, UT Dallas School of Management, (972) 883-4793
or Kris Imherr, UT Dallas School of Management, (972) 883-4793, [email protected]
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UT Dallas Basketball and Barden

From left: Ben Byron, Sean Poe, Wells Adams and Chris Fisher celebrate the creation of their gumdrop polyhedron in one of the team-building exercises.


John Barden

John Barden is the School of Management’s director of undergraduate accounting programs. He is also a business coach coordinator.


Terry  Butterfield

Terry Butterfield, the UT Dallas men’s basketball coach, has been working with Barden on team leadership for three years.

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June 22, 2018