Newly appointed head coach of the Duquesne men’s basketball team, Keith Dambrot, is looking to bring the philosophies and culture he developed at Akron to the Dukes. To do so, Coach Dambrot is enlisting the services of revered sports psychologist, Dr. Joe Carr, just as he did throughout his career with the Zips.
The name “Dr. Joe Carr” may not resonate with the casual fan, but the man is well recognized and renowned within the basketball community. He has worked with an extensive list of players at the professional level, including superstars like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. Along with Oscar Robertson, Dr. Carr also developed the NBA’s rookie orientation program. And at the collegiate level, he has helped struggling teams achieve consistent success (Akron, for example), while helping esteemed programs win national championships (Connecticut, 2013/2014 season). His approach towards teaching teams to overcome their self-imposed limitations is tried and true, and he will soon introduce this approach—based around the acronym R.A.R.E.—to the Duquesne Dukes.
“R.A.R.E. is going to be our mantra, and that’s going to set the tone for culture,” said Dr. Carr. “R stands for Relationships; you know, establishing like a brotherhood, kind of a close-knit family. A stands for Accepting Challenges; getting people to handle tough things, tough times and experiences, and being able to do it at a high level. The next R stands for Recovery from Mistakes; having people that bounce back quicker and don’t dwell on stuff. And E stands for Executing Coach’s Direction, so that everybody is having like a blind trust in what coach is telling you.
When recruits come in, and we’re trying to put together direction, we want everybody to feel that the reason that we are putting people through whatever they’re being put through—whether that’s coaching, whether it’s X’s and O’s, or whether it’s classwork—we want them to think that they’re going to be R.A.R.E. And R.A.R.E. will be separating them from everyone else who they play against in the conference.”
While visiting Pittsburgh earlier this month, Dr. Carr and Coach Dambrot discussed their approach towards changing the infrastructure, or culture, of Duquesne’s program. The two men collaborated over the strategy needed to develop a winning culture, using R.A.R.E. as a basis for their plans.
“The first thing is culture. Values. What do we value? What do we stand for? What’s our identity? And the R.A.R.E. paves the way for that. Now, you can take a player who maybe didn’t have an identity, who didn’t have any direction, and then you put in front of him R.A.R.E. and you tell him what that means. And then you tell him, ‘These are the duties and responsibilities that you’re going to have in order to be R.A.R.E.’ I think that’s really special. Whoever you bring into the program—whether a tall, whether a big, whether a small—they’re going to have this kind of expectation. They gotta do something special. We’re not going to accept mediocrity.”
To better understand the impact R.A.R.E. can have on a team, Dr. Carr cited a specific instance from his time assisting Marquette that epitomizes the way a player and a team function under this mentality.
“Marquette, I remember I was working with them [when they] went to the Elite 8,” Dr. Carr recalled. “We had a center who had one eye. In today’s world, having a guy with one eye, you look at that as a disability, because maybe this guy can’t compete with maybe the top-echelon players. But when you have an identity, and you have a mission, and you have a purpose, you can have a handicap—but you’re going to feel part of something. You’re going to elevate your energy. You’re going to elevate your mindset. You’re going to elevate your thinking, so that you can please your coaches, and you can please your teammates.
“That’s one of the things we want to do [at Duquesne]: really create a mindset, a value set, and a culture that the kids can wrap their arms around. Kids coming in from junior college, kids coming in from high school, they know exactly that this is something special, and that they’re playing for something much bigger than themselves. That’s what we’re trying to do, and this is the first step.”
Duquesne finished the 2016/2017 season with a 10-22 record. The team, featuring a relatively young lineup, squandered multiple leads throughout the season in perceivably winnable games. With Dr. Carr’s guidance, the team will work to improve their collective resolve, preparing themselves to close out such games in the future.
“I don’t want to bash previous coaches—what they didn’t do, or what they should have done—but losing can be a habit,” Dr. Carr asserted. “Losing can be a mindset, as well. Hopefully the concept of R.A.R.E. and all the underpinning that go along with it creates an antithetical force that pushes the losing mindset out.”
While an improvement upon the Dukes’ record is certainly possible next season, the whole-scale transformation Dr. Carr is planning will take time, and the effects will not be blatantly visible on day one.
“We know that this is going to be a process,” said Carr. “This is not instant coffee or Alka Seltzer, [where] you just drop an idea in and all the sudden it’s going to ‘plop plop fizz fizz, oh what a relief it is.’ It’s not going to work that way. But it is going to be a process where we know exactly what we want to do, we know the milestones we want to achieve, we know the energy level we must have, and we know the kind of kids we’ve got to have.
We can’t have knuckleheads. Knuckleheads won’t work in this environment. We’ve got to have kids who are really committed and dedicated to be givers. And I know ‘givers’ sounds like such a platitude—a trite word—but I mean that’s the essence of building a chemistry. If you can have guys who want to give, and not take, man that just really makes life a lot easier … and helps coaching to be fun, because everybody is trying to say, ‘What can I do to extend myself?’ And that’s what we’re trying to do here: create a community of giving.”
The process of becoming R.A.R.E. typically begins with a weekend that will forever change the lives of the players involved. Dr. Carr is known for initiating a team’s cultural transformation with an intensive weekend of teambuilding exercises. These weekends often feature over 30-hours of emotionally demanding sessions that require vulnerability and humility from college-aged males. Tears almost always ensue. And according to Dr. Carr, the Duquesne basketball team should prepare for a weekend like this in their future.
“Absolutely!” Dr. Carr emphatically replied when asked if he will be conducting such a weekend at Duquesne. “That’s going to happen, and we may do that this summer after coach has a chance to put his group together and finalize all the scholarships. We will definitely then start what I call the ‘formation stage,’ which is getting everybody together and kind of do a cleansing, if you will—and a redirection in the process of becoming R.A.R.E. That will be a very tough and arduous task, and if we have kids who are holdovers from last year’s program into this year, they’re going to find this very challenging. But at the same time, they’re going to say, ‘Gee, there’s hope. We can probably make something happen.’ They’re going to really value the collective. They’re going to see this fit that we’re trying to create here, [and that] it’s going to be pretty tight.”
The initial weekend will be challenging for all who participate, including Dr. Carr. In order to set a team on the path to becoming R.A.R.E., he must confront the obstacles that surface when asking a group of individuals to demonstrate vulnerability for the first time. Thanks to his years of experience in the field of sports psychology, he is well acquainted with the common hurdles one must overcome when reaching through to collegiate basketball players.
“The biggest hurdle is that a lot of these kids come from families where they have not seen serious connection: i.e., a divorce home, a home where there’s a lot of cheating, a situation where there was abuse, parents who had to work out of necessity and they’re not at home a lot … The lack of attachment that these kids come from, it’s a hurdle that a coach has to overcome. Now, you have to teach this kid—who has not been connected—that he’s got to learn how to be attached; he has to be attached to coach, he has to be attached to teammates, and he’s got to do that on a consistent basis. That’s kind of a relearning. And now that we’re trying to win a championship, that connectivity has got to be as close as anything he’s ever had in [his] life. That’s going to be a huge hurdle. A huge hurdle.
“The next thing is the sacrifice. What do I have to give up in order to make me better? To make the program better? These kids, they come from an entitled generation. The A.A.U. programs and A.A.U. circuits, everybody’s catering to them. They get to have it their way. Well, that’s going to be a hurdle to say, ‘Ok, you’re going to have to sacrifice your stubbornness. You’re going to have to sacrifice your time. You’re going to have to sacrifice your scoring.’ That’s going to be a huge hurdle.
“Last but not least is the social life. Because of the noise we’re going to make, all of the sudden they’re going to be really popular. They’re going to have to develop what I call some ‘refusal skills.’ They’re going to learn a complete sentence: ‘No, I can’t go out.’ Or, ‘No, this is not the right person to be with.’ You’re going to start picking and choosing your people.”