As the clock wound down, the excitement was palpable and celebration of the "miracle season" began! The Ohio State Buckeye's had accomplished the improbable, pulling off their 2nd upset in as many weeks defeating the #1 & 2 ranked teams in the country on the way to their sixth National Championship with their 3rd string quarterback at the helm. The accomplishment would become international news, 'the stuff movies are made of'. Appropriately, over the next two weeks the number one question for the number one college team & coach would be how did they do it?
As an amateur coach, father of athletes, business owner and guy who generally thinks we could be doing things much better (relative to empowering success) I too wanted to know 'how'. Was there something in this example I (or those I influence) could learn/benefit from? Admittedly I'm a little bit of a know it all, however the basis of my knowledge comes from studying those who have/are achieving the same successes I'd like to see us achieving... and adopting their strategies. Why re-invent the success formula when there are others already achieving at high levels?
So I called Gene Smith, Athletic Director for The Ohio State University and asked "what's coach Meyer's secret?" "Leadership, focus, accountability & buy in" was his answer. Over the next 15 minutes, he would explain how one of the greatest coaches in college football sets the cultural & behavioural expectation for his coaches & athletes and then holds them accountable to it. Simple... but not easy. Imagine, smack dab in the middle of the all about me revolution empowering a team of young players to buy into the notion of 'delayed gratification, team first & brotherhood' on a daily basis? No individual player on this championship team was bigger than the unit they were accountable to or the responsibility they had and it started at the top and spread the field so to speak.
This winning formula reminded me of the winningest high school football program in the USA coached by Bob Ladouceur. De La Sale held the longest win streak of ANY sports team in history at 151 games and coach Ladouceur who've you probably (by his choice) never heard of, accomplished this by implementing the exact same 'brotherhood' ideology, coach Meyer has. When you watch this video (a free recipe for team & business success) the following should stand out;
- The focus isn't on scoring points or winning games. It is on being accountable to a greater responsibility as a human being. By focusing on that responsibility & commitment, scoring & winning will take care of themselves.
- In order for this to actually happen, players on Ladouceur's team, had to be held accountable to setting and achieving their goals. They did this through commitment cards. Where there is no accountability, success is based on luck and is arbitrary.
- There was no room for individuals. If you read the book or watch the movie, the minute it became about the individuals, was the minute the winning streak ended.
As a coach, I can recall three specific examples of the 'brotherhood' process yielding results.
- 2012: We were leading a group of little league baseball players into an all star tournament. Given our catchment & talent pool, the only way we stood a chance of experiencing success was if the boys believed in themselves and each other because frankly, they lacked the baseball skill. Our season is 7 weeks long and at the end of the season, teams are given two weeks to prepare for an all star tournament, which means you must select a team & coach the heck out of them to get them ready. Our association was that 'guaranteed win' other teams count on so knowing that we constructed a full week of activity for the kids at the beginning of the summer. Each day, kids were dropped off at the front door at 8am. We began with a chalk talk which focused on what it took to be successful as a human being followed by our first practice, a non baseball related activity, lunch, free time and concluding with a second practice ending at 5pm. We went bike riding in the demonstration forest, hiked the grouse grind, and attended a Canadian's game as a team; focusing on elements outside of catching, fielding and batting. Low and behold we 'magically' found ourselves on the short end of a semi final game, one of the better showings for our catchment in a long time.
- 2013: We decided to host a pre-season summer soccer camp to bring a team of kids closer together. While the focus was on soccer skills we challenged kids to try new activities & adventures at the same time as holding them more accountable (behaviour wise) then they've likely ever been held before. The highlight of the week came when the boys hiked into the back 40, set up their tents and read letters their parents had sent (without their knowledge) describing how proud they were of the men they had become. There they stood (at 11yrs old, vulnerable as hell) hearing words that had probably never been more genuinely stated or understood, in front of their peers. I will never forget that point of empowerment and upon our return we would hear how kids came home 'really positively affected by that experience'.
- 2014: We were leading a dry land hockey training session at 6am in the morning. The kids rolled in fresh of another beat down from a mediocre team the night before as we had entered our predictable January losing streak (perdioization anybody?) Instead of putting them through the paces, we sat them all down for a session of less of / more of explaining how mental framing and accountability were huge determinants of success. Each of the 16 players got to hear what their peers wanted to see less of from them and what they wanted to see more of from them on the ice. Yes, there was the standard jackass response from the insecure kids, but one example in particular stood out. He was a d-man who lacked the confidence to take a slap shot from the blue line because it was obvious he didn't feel confident in his shot. When more of rolled around to him it was a unanimous 'take the damn shot'. The next game the puck was dished back to him and without hesitation, he took the shot and scored top left corner. His team mates were ecstatic and while few could understand the over celebration, we did. Some would say we lost that game (based on the score). I wouldn't.
I live on the North Shore of British Columbia. Our climate is conducive to year round sports, our facilities are some of the best in the country and our athlete pool is massive. If we calculated the amount of time & money we invest in our kids sport experience vs the amount of successful athletes & championship teams we might be embarrassed. How could we improve this?
Leadership. All success begins with the right leadership and the leadership at the top of our sporting organizations can be improved. Drawing from experiences in baseball, soccer & hockey (without blaming) I've got some suggestions.
- Have a short & long term vision. This vision should not be something you arbitrarily conjure up. It should be based on input from your membership; your paying membership. Eg; Our hockey associations vision is to "create beer league players" yet I challenge them to ask a kid (who wants to get an education or aspire to be more), a parent (who will invest over 100k over the years in the association) or a coach (who runs practices & games 6/7 days per week) if this is all for a beer league ending and have them say yes. I sat on the board and when it came time to elect a new president for the association and people looked at me sideways when I asked the simple question "what are the applicants visions?" We were told to elect an incoming president based on who they were vs. what their vision was for the league because nobody had one. This happens all the time and when you add up the total amt of revenue invested by the members, this is unacceptable.
- Communicate and stick with that vision. Once the membership has been polled and the inputs have been disseminated, articulate that vision and have the confidence to stick to the plan. Outcomes will not appear in year #1. They will appear in 3 and 5 year spans (if measured). It is important that success metrics are articulated, tangibly tracked and reported. If you hit them, you are welcome to another term. If you miss them, you're fired. Period. Leadership must have the confidence to stick to the plan during the period of change and there has to be complete buy in from everyone at the top. if you're not in... you're out. I recall sitting at the table in a board meeting advocating input from our membership to which one director replied "our members are just a bunch of fucking idiots". A handful of the rest of the directors agreed and I knew right then, this attitude would not beget success. This is ego & ignorance.
- Surround yourself with a competent support team who buy into the vision as well as tell you what you need to hear vs what you want to hear. A good friend started a movement called PLAY BETTER It's no secret we can do better in Canadian mens soccer and despite having X clubs and Y high performance groups, we generally (and statistically) can improve given our populations potential. His goal was to Meyer/Ladoucer the sport of soccer so kids could actually learn how to understand the fundamental & developmental concepts of this great game vs. the "go go shoot shoot score score" we have been brainwashed into thinking is the benchmark of success. Not surprisingly, he was stymied by the local leadership who undoubtedly felt threatened. They had all of the answers and banded together to 'how dare you' him into keeping quiet. True leadership is often challenging status quo, not rolling along with it because it benefits you at the time.
- Understand what youth sports is about. It's a dress rehearsal for success in life. No more. No less. I defy any parent to tell me their ultimate goal isn't to see their kids experience success through their lives. Ok, then stop repeatedly getting in the way. Each time you think, make or reinforce the game around the individual or score you are reinforcing the wrong short and long term outcomes. Sports is about adversity, responsibility, team work, positioning, tactics, winning, losing, praise, constructive feedback and the life lesson list goes on. It's a season/life long process not a game by game outcome. Ever notice the teams that are successful have mastered the fundamentals? This is not by chance.
- Embrace accountability & adversity. Please stop trying to flatten your child's exposure to accountability and adversity. Each time you do this, you set them up to fail. We all understand your #1 goal is to never see your precious fail, however there is absolutely no adversity without challenge and no victory without adversity. If you don't think your kid knows what the score of a game was (when we don't keep score), you're wrong. If you don't think someone is going to be 'hard on' your little precious at some point in their lives. You're wrong. If you think success comes from a place where there is no accountability or adversity. YOU. ARE. WRONG. Don't make your child a ****y because you're a ****y. If any coach worth their skin as a human being is holding your kid accountable or riding them to achieve more, it means they care. Be grateful & feel fortunate.
- Enjoy watching your child have a great time. With their friends. At their level of enjoyment & pace. Lose the ego, your children are not a reflection or extension of you. They are a reflection and extension of themselves. Don't put your failures, insecurities and shortcomings on them. Also, avoid being caught in the sport-profit traps eg: it's been statistically proven one of the reasons kids are becoming physically illiterate (and chronically injured) is due to early specialization in sports. Where do you think a kid you've forced into a sport year round while you yell at them from the stands / sidelines is going to end up. He/she is going to end up hating that sport, and likely you too. Educate yourself as to what your role is as a parent, stick to the script and support. If you have questions, ask those who can make changes.
- You're the easiest group because if the leadership and parents can get it right, you are the beneficiary of the messages that should be filtering down to you. Have a plan for yourself, communicate that plan, surround yourself with the right people, understand what it's all about, embrace accountability and have fun. It's pretty easy unless we continue to **** it up for you.