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Germany basketball coach Gordon Herbert on World Cup win

September 20, 2023

Gordon Herbert led Germany to an unlikely basketball World Cup victory in the Philippines. He told DW the importance of his team’s togetherness and how he tried to eliminate pressure during the tournament.

Germany basketball coach Gordon Herbert sits on the floor
Gordon Herbert sat on the ground after his biggest triumph, but there is a reason...Image: magentasport

One of the most memorable moments of Germany's FIBA Basketball World Cup victory came immediately after the team's shock 83-77 win over Serbia in the final earlier this month.

Head coach Gordon Herbert sat on the floor, slumped against a wall, seemingly unsure what to do.

"I was actually looking for a chair to sit on, and I couldn't find a chair. So, I just sat on the floor, and my whole body went a little numb," Herbert recalled of the moment to DW.

"I just didn't want to stand anymore for some reason. The emotions of everything being over ... It was just hard to comprehend everything.

"To be honest, I really don't know what happened. I just had to gather myself a little bit, and I wanted to really enjoy the moment because it was a lifetime moment. I was trying to gather my thoughts and enjoy the situation."

There is an 'I' in team

Herbert's reaction, as the German team celebrated wildly in Manila after clinching the title in their first-ever World Cup final, was understandable. 

A semifinal loss in 2002 was the furthest the German team had managed in their previous World Cup history, and as the team pulled off shock victory after shock victory on their path to glory in the Philippines, the support at home grew.

Around 4.6 million people in Germany watched the final on public broadcaster ZDF. The win came hot on the heels of a 113-111 upset of the United States in the semifinals, which caught the public imagination but was only available in Germany on a streaming platform.

For Herbert, born and raised in Canada, focusing on the players as individuals rather than just focusing on the team as a whole was a key to the side's success.

"I worked with a sports psychologist in Canada named Peter Jensen, and he really helped me when I was coaching the Canadian team," he explained. "I always said there's no 'I' in 'team,' but he told me there is an I'' in 'team.'

"We need the individuals. I'm a big believer in setting a goal, creating performance goals, which are daily but also bigger."

It was vital for him that his team had an identity that everyone felt, which he defined as "toughness, communication and togetherness."

"And the players made all of these things happen," he said. "Creating this is one of the most important things we did."

Eliminating pressure key to success

Having been a professional coach since 1994, Herbert is no stranger to taking charge of pressure moments at the helm of a team.

The 64-year-old was only 35 when he took on his first coaching job at the Finnish club Korihait. While it was a natural career progression for the former forward, he admitted that it was not something he relished.

"When I started coaching and I was younger, I didn't really enjoy it," he said. "It was just the pressure to win that was a lot. I still put more pressure on myself than anybody else."

"Now I try to enjoy the process and make it enjoyable for the players. I talk about enjoying the situation, enjoy the moment, live the moment."

"I keep reminding myself I need to do that too. I really focus on the process of how I want to coach. I don't focus on the product. I try to eliminate as much pressure as I can."

Edited by: Matt Pearson