leadership, Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

A Different Take on Sideline Leadership

Some media have taken an understanding of Coach Nick Saban’s tantrum during the Alabama-Oklahoma semifinal as a sign of a leader’s high expectations and demanding excellence. Up 28-10 nearing the end of the half, the Tide made errors that led to consecutive penalties and Saban’s vigorous, demolishing spike of his headset. The misunderstood genius is an old and tattered card, and underneath the words and actions, something else lurks that deserves some light.

If you caught the face of the young man (a close-up followed the headset explosion) who drew the flag, he had already paid his penance. No one felt worse and his face showed his disappointment in himself and letting his teammates down. If you have played teams sports, this sits heavy. Like the stages of grief, you wish you could take it back and the road to acceptance and being ready for the next play is difficult enough. Nothing feels better than your teammates saying, “I got you…it’s all good,” especially the ones with “C” on their jerseys. The gesture says we all have been there, this too shall pass, and we are moving on. Forgiven and forgotten—for that is all you can do anyway.

What is missing in the explanations and rationalizations of the action is the poor insight of the moment within the bigger picture. I am sure the coaching staff sat in this young man’s living room, recruiting him with promises of looking after him like a son…

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I’m not arguing Saban’s success or his net worth. I am saying that if you preach “the process” then mistakes are part of this methodology, part of the learning process. Smashing headphones is a choice based on an outcome. It is an ego-centered move that diminishes and shows up individuals who are giving blood and bone to the process. It says I do not have to respect you but you must respect me or I will smash these headphones to get your attention. And I am sure, in this impulsive gesture, not a thought was given to the fact that the headset could possibly cost more than some of the Alabama parents have in a year’s worth of disposable income.

While I respect how other media have approached this situation, and glamorized and made humor for the headset (moment of silence for the headset, haha), it is only part of a story. Underneath the outcomes are the values and assumptions that motivate choice. If a middle-aged man can act impulsively and from the anger of things not going his way, how is this a measure of the leadership we aspire to model for the ones we lead?

Call it what it is. Be honest. It ain’t about the process. It’s the outcome. Just win at all costs. And the few grand of a new headset seems a paltry price when you consider the cost of the meta-message of leadership. Every choice has a consequence whether you wish to address it, name it, forgive it, apologize for it—or not.

There is an old adage that nothing fails like success. And sometimes this speaks to more than just the numbers.

If you would like more structure to take your mental approach to the next level, consider picking up a copy of my new sports psychology workbook: Above the Field of Play. Or to learn about other sports psychology services, visit my website at DrJohnPanepinto.com.

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Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Team Mindset: No Folding Here

With the 2018 World Series in the books, let’s take a quick look at the mindset of a team. There are certain factors and qualities that are discernable Above the Field of Play for groups to be successful. The Red Sox as a team and an organization exhibit these qualities and can provide a model for any competitive team. I grew up in New York City, and while my original devotions are with some of these teams (Mets, Knicks, Giants) in terms of present cultural and mindset they provide a striking contrast to what the Red Sox have built in recent years. There are four qualities that stood out to me as I marveled at the complete commitment and execution of this team…

aerial view of sports stadium during daytime
Photo by Tim Gouw on Pexels.com

Culture

There are fans now deceased who rooted for the Red Sox for decades under the motto “When are the Sox gonna fold?” And fold they did, for generations filled Fenway in vain from 1918 to 2004 without a World Series Championship. In contrast, a close family friend born in 1997 has celebrated 4 Red Sox Championships in her lifetime. Culture in most hierarchies starts with at the top with leadership. If that is the case, then it is no surprise a culture shift started in 2002 with new ownership, and with a change in perspective brought by the youngest GM in baseball history, Theo Epstein.

Adaptation

As far as systems, there is a maxim that if you do what you always do, you will get the results you always get. The Red Sox appear to understand the dynamics, the ebb and flow of building and developing and its unceasing need for attention and energy. Key pieces to the complex puzzle of “team” were added during the 2018 season, but the vision is one of both short-term and long-range. The Red Sox last won the World Series in 2013. Nearly the entire roster, including the manager, has turned over with only four players remaining from that team just 5 short seasons ago. It appears obvious that adaptation and evolution are a part of the organization’s overall mission, and they are not encapsulated by their own success.

All In

During the World Series, manager Alex Cora remarked during an in-game interview about the team’s two-strike philosophy. He commented that there is a trend to take the same approach regardless of the count (which produces an occasional blast, but lots of strikeouts—both of which have been trending upward), but he suggested an “Old School” approach. Get the bat on the ball. Use the whole field. The grit and relentless pressure were evident in that the Red Sox were never out of a game and many rallies started with two outs. They made Dodger pitchers work for every inch, and despite the top regular-season producers hitting well below their regular season average (Betts:- 129 points, Bogaerts: – 152, Martinez: – 52, Holt: – 110) others carried the load like Steve Pearce (batting .333, with 3 home runs and 8 RBI).

Identity

For teams to come together and be cohesive and resilient, they have to establish an identity. Some of this is witnessed on the field, some off. While the team’s motto “Do Damage” spoke of the on-field approach, watching the dugout during the game gives a sense of belief and commitment. Players that are stars and would be the centerpiece of most teams sat the bench following outstanding performances (Benintendi) or to put the best possible matchups on the field (Bradley, Jr., Kinsler). But, the engagement was apparent in the rituals and interactions. Witnessing David Price’s reactions in the bullpen following a dramatic hit and game-ending out was a testament to involvement. Or the celebratory rituals along the bench following a home run or big hit. True teams are evident in the quality and in the intangibles that matter deeply. And in a day and time of “super-teams” and when people follow stars more than the name on the front of the uniform, it was both informative and inspiring to watch what can be done when each player becomes a part of a collective identity.

 

If you would like more structure to take your mental approach to the next level, consider picking up a copy of my new sports psychology workbook: Above the Field of Play. Or to learn about other sports psychology services, visit my website at DrJohnPanepinto.com.

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