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    Meet The Crimson Coaches - Tommy Amaker
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Learn More About Tommy Amaker

When it comes to inspiring successful teamwork, there are few better, quantifiable examples than what Harvard University men’s basketball head coach Tommy Amaker has accomplished. Harvard’s winningest men’s basketball coach of all-time, Amaker’s success in building a culture of cooperation and shared purpose provides a practical model that can be applied well beyond the basketball court and into organizations across industries.

Teach. Lead. Serve.

Not just a motto but an actionable framework for inspirational leadership, Amaker’s “Teach. Lead. Serve.” philosophy is about empowering the leaders of tomorrow through education, authenticity and purpose.

A teacher who uses personal stories and real-world case studies to lead and inspire resilience, he emphasizes how service to others is just as important for the next generation of leaders.

“That last one, ‘serve’, to serve others and serve your community or your family in different ways, is just as important as any part of that philosophy,” Amaker explains. “Everything that I’ve tried to share and drive home at any point, my guiding force, is really around those three words teach, lead, serve – to not just speak it, but to live by it every day.”

Inspiring Growth “Beyond the 94×50”

“94 by 50 feet are the dimensions of a basketball court,” Amaker explains. “I believe that coaches are teachers first, and that a team’s most important work happens off the court.”

With a goal of creating well-rounded “scholars and ballers,” one of the ways that he inspires his team outside of basketball is through the “THE Breakfast Club” mentoring series. With student athletes mingling with guests from across academia, public service and business, the monthly event is intended to create connections with ideas and opportunities that will help them develop and grow comprehensively.

Amaker recently welcomed the biggest THE Breakfast Club guest yet – Harvard University alum and former U.S. President Barack Obama in his first official visit back to his alma mater.

“He wanted to meet our players, speak to them and share some thoughts and words of wisdom about winning the long game,” Amaker recalls of the intimate session. “He’s always been interested in hearing about THE Breakfast Club, so it was a powerful moment to have him participate and recognize the character-building work that we’re doing.”

“Good Teams Have Good Players. Great Teams Have Great Teammates.”

Whether talking about sports teams or business teams, Amaker emphasizes that great teams start with a culture of excellence that inspires people to become great teammates. Good teammates accept their roles but, according to Amaker, great teammates embrace their roles.

“You can accept something and say, if that’s what you want me to do, I’ll do it,” he explains. “Or you can embrace something and say, ‘what else do you need me to do?’ And that becomes something that is very contagious within a group dynamic, within a unit, and within an organization. Culture is paramount to creating great teams and you have to be adamant about protecting that. When you’re willing to fit in, it’s amazing how much you can stand out.” 

A Leader In Diversity and Inclusion

Co-chair of both The John McLendon Minority Leadership Initiative, and the National Association of Basketball Coaches’ Committee on Racial Reconciliation, Amaker has been recognized for his diversity leadership by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) with its 2020 Champion for Diversity and Inclusion award.

“We have built a program and an environment for players, coaches, and staff that values diversity of experience and perspective, and creates safe spaces for all of us to learn and grow together,” Amaker said in accepting the recognition. “If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that creating those conditions and making space for that conversation is more important than ever.” 

From his coaching beginnings as an assistant under legendary Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski to leading the Harvard Crimson to 14 post-season appearances and 7 Ivy League championships, Coach Tommy Amaker has proven that a bold, principled framework for authentic, inspirational leadership creates diverse, winning teams and future leaders in sports, in business and in life.

“In the end,” he concludes, “success is really going to come down to relying on two things – your principles and your people.”

# # #

Tommy Amaker is currently a member of the Board of Overseers for the Boys & Girls Club of Boston, an Executive Fellow at Harvard Business School, a Hauser Leader at the Harvard Kennedy School, and a Special Assistant to the President of Harvard University. In 15 years as the Crimson Head Coach, Harvard has won 7 Ivy League championships, has appeared in 8 post seasons (4 NCAA, 3 NIT) and received accolades from ESPN as one of the nation’s 25 best recruiting classes in 2008-2009 —the first such recognition for an Ivy League program.

Amaker’s playing career included leading Duke University’s Blue Devils to four NCAA tournaments, including the 1986 National Championship game. He was also a member of the gold-medal-winning U.S. national team at the 1986 FIBA World Championship and was presented with the inaugural NABC Defensive Player of the Year award (formerly the Henry Iba Corinthian Award) in 1987. In four years as head coach at Seton Hall, Amaker led the team to four post-seasons, including advancing to the NCAA Sweet 16. The program was also recognized for the nation’s number one recruiting class. His six-season stint as head coach at the University of Michigan included a 2004 NIT championship title, making him the youngest Black coach to ever win a national title (NIT or NCAA).

Tommy Amaker is available to advise your organization via virtual and in-person consulting meetings, interactive workshops, and customized keynotes through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers & Advisors, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.

Tommy Amaker was last modified: March 1st, 2024 by Justin Louis

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Leading Authentically to Build Resilience After Failure

A setback is a setup for a comeback. Rejection leads to a new direction. Failure is inevitable, and if you’re doing things right, it’s repeatedly inevitable. With these insights, this fascinating presentation by Harvard men’s basketball head coach Tommy Amaker, the winningest coach in Crimson history, demonstrates how hard moments that impact us most ­– both individually and societally ­– can be the most transformative, leading us to become more innovative, strategic and resilient. Through real-world case studies and personal examples of failure and comeback, Amaker teaches attendees the art of authentic leadership, including how to embrace failure, recover quickly, be a great teammate, and bounce back as a stronger, more resilient team than before.

The Start-up Mindset: Pushing Progress from the Inside

Harvard University has been around for more than 380 years. But when Tommy Amaker arrived to lead the men’s basketball program, he had his own ideas and assembled a team that could execute a new, more diverse and inclusive vision. For Amaker, success is measured not just on the court, but beyond “the 94 by 50.” In this engaging presentation, he’ll walk attendees through a framework of how to take a start-up mindset and apply it to established organizations. Amaker uses personal stories and real-world case studies to illustrate the value of building relationships and a community of support that accelerates progress and inspires a continuous growth-mindset that can be applied in any organization.

Teach. Lead. Serve: The Formula for a Winning Team

Good teams have good players, but great teams have great teammates. That core tenant is woven into the Harvard men’s basketball program led by head coach Tommy Amaker. An expert on driving individual and group performance, Amaker inspires leaders and managers with his teacher-first approach for building two-way trust and two-way communication in any team. Winning teams need effective, honest communication and to come to the table without egos. Amaker uses an engaging personal storytelling approach to show that leaders who are inspirational and effective lead by example, caring more about the good of the team than being consumed with who gets credit. He’ll illustrate the amazing things that can be accomplished by teaching participants how to leverage their best skills as individuals for the greater good of an organizational team.

Play to Win: Why Culture Matters

Throughout his career, Harvard men’s basketball head coach Tommy Amaker has seen leaders with a single-minded focus: winning. The winningest coach in program history, he’s found the most character-building progress made by his team has been off the court, particularly through building trust and collaboration. In this eye-opening presentation, Amaker unveils his thoughtful, intentional approach to team building and continuous learning that allows players to feel supported by both leadership and teammates. Attendees will learn what it takes to foster an environment that values diversity of perspective and experience that can inspire both individual and collective improvement in any kind of organization.

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June 10, 2020