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Aug 5

Finding the Winning Edge by Bill Walsh

Posted on Monday, August 5, 2013 in Uncategorized

Although many of these factors are discussed in greater detail in subsequent chapters in this text, there are numerous precepts that should be the building blocks of a sound philosophy. As the head coach, you should consider embodying the following points of philosophical counsel:

• Be Yourself

Throughout your career, you will have the opportunity to observe and work with other coaches. While it is important that you learn whatever you can from each one of them, you must recognize the fact that you can’t be any one of them.

You should work to take advantage of your strengths and to diminish your weaknesses. For example, you can become more knowledgeable. You can enhance your ability to apply that knowledge in the fulfillment of your professional responsibility. At any given moment in time, however, “you are who you are.”

If you try to be someone you’re not or act as someone you want to be, the effort will typically be perceived as phony — by both your assistants and your players. In the process, everyone may lose respect for you. As a result, your ability to lead effectively will be severely compromised.

Your approach to coaching football should be a natural extension of your personality and your philosophy. Some great coaches are extroverts, others are introverts. The important thing is to approach every task in a sincere and honest manner.

• Be Committed to Excellence

To a point, you must be willing to work extremely hard and make whatever reasonable sacrifices are necessary to achieve the organizational goals that have been established for the team. At the same time, you must ensure that every member of your staff and all of your players fully understand that the commitment to excellence can never willingly be compromised.

At all times, the focus must be on doing things properly. Every play. Every practice. Every meeting. Every situation. Every time.

In reality, the talent level of most NFL teams is relatively even. As such, one of the critical keys to success is execution. Players making plays is what wins football games. More often than not, the primary catalyst for the occurrence of such plays is an unwavering commitment to excellence.

• Be Positive

One of the most important things a head coach can do is to adopt a positive attitude.Your staff and your players will respond better to a positive environment than to a negative one.

While it is often very easy to accentuate the negative aspects of a particular situation or set of circumstances, such an approach typically accomplishes little (if anything) other than to serve as a means to let you vent your feelings. In most instances, what it really achieves is to establish a mental barrier between you and your staff and your players that inhibits their ability to maintain the proper focus and to communicate effectively with you.

• Be Prepared

No aspect of coaching is more important than preparation. While coaches cannot actually control which team wins a game, they can determine how their teams prepare to win.

Good fortune on the playing field (i.e., performing well, winning, etc.) is a product of design. Accordingly, you must develop a plan to ensure that your team is properly prepared to handle every contingency and possible situation.

Attention to detail is critical in this regard. You must address all aspects of your team’s efforts to prepare mentally, physically, fundamentally and strategically in as thorough a manner as possible.

• Be Organized

It is critical that you make the best possible use of the available time and resources. Being organized is the single best way to avoid wasting either.

Fortunately, the effort needed to be organized is not that extensive. The process of becoming organized essentially requires two qualities: a disciplined mind and the ability to think clearly. However much energy you spend on the process, it is time well invested.

Getting organized can provide substantial benefits (e.g., it frees up time; relieves stress and pressure; and helps engender confidence in your competence from other individuals). Given the axiom that “luck is merely preparation meeting opportunity,” the more well organized you are, the more likely you will be “lucky.”

• Be Accountable

You must accept responsibility for those matters over which you are in charge. Deflecting blame, even if you are not responsible for a particular occurrence, is often viewed as a sign of weakness by both your staff and your players.

Whatever the situation, offering apparently well-­reasoned excuses and plausible alibis to explain your failings is simply irresponsible. “Passing the buck” when times get tough will not enhance the level of respect you engender from others. If you expect loyalty from your staff and your players, you must show it to them first by being accountable for your own actions.

The factor that is most often at the heart of accountability issues is the team’s win ­loss record. However unfair it may seem that you are held responsible for something that is not totally within your control, the responsibility comes with the position. If the team wins, you get much of the credit; if it loses, you get most of the criticism.

You should remember that ultimately, you are responsible for the performance of your players. As such, fair or not, it is logical that you would be held accountable for whether their performances led to the requisite number of victories.

• Be a Leader

From a leadership standpoint, an effective head coach is someone who is able to develop a vision on how the team should operate, is able to establish a strategy for achieving that plan, and is able to inspire everyone (staff and players) to carry it out successfully.

An effective leader is an expert in his field. His actions embolden confidence and respect for him by those with whom he works. He cares about people and treats them fairly. He demands that all staff members meet the highest possible standards. He prefers positive reinforcement, rather than the “big stick” approach.

He knows that results are what count — not the number of hours spent on a task. He does not second guess himself on decisions that were made with integrity, intelligence and a “team-­first” attitude. He is able to identify appropriate priorities. He doesn’t coach “caution”; he coaches to win.

In this regard, one of the more outstanding coaches in the history of the game was John Madden. John deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, not only for his coaching efforts with the Oakland Raiders, but also for his contributions to the game as a television commentator.

Another exceptional coach who was an outstanding leader was Tom Flores, who led the Oakland Raiders to two Super Bowl championships. During my first year on the Raiders’ staff, I had the opportunity to learn a lot about quarterbacking from Tom, when he was still an active player.

• Be Focused

You must be able to keep everything in the proper perspective and to concentrate on the appropriate task at hand. Everything should be viewed in terms of how it affects the team and the organization—not how it affects you.

All factors considered, your focus must be results-­oriented. To the extent possible, these results should be measurable. All efforts and plans should be considered not only in terms of their short­-run effect, but also how they might impact the team and the organization in the long term.

Several examples exist of NFL coaches who were unwilling or unable to maintain the proper focus. One of the better ones involved a coach who believed that by building the most intense, most physical, toughest, best conditioned squad, his team would have undeniable success—even to the extent of dominating and intimidating the opposition.

Despite the fact that his team subsequently developed a well­-deserved reputation for toughness and endured an incredible level of human sacrifice in both training camp and practice sessions during the season, the team proceeded to lose virtually every game badly. The losses were directly attributable to faulty strategies and poor game ­to­ game tactics. His team’s unsophisticated, simplistic scheme of football was outsmarted and outmaneuvered week after week. Although physically they had the capability to hurt their opponents when they hit them, all too often they weren’t able to get close enough to do any damage.

The key point is that at least three elements must be present to build a winning team: talent; strategies and tactics; and conditioning and execution. As such, the head coach must not focus solely on one factor to the exclusion of the other two.

• Be Ethical

You must have a strong value system. Your values serve as your moral compass. Morally sound values engender respect from others and enhance the likelihood that your decisions and your behavior will reflect high principles.

Your values also help to determine what things you choose to pay attention to and how hard you will work at them. In that regard, the welfare of the organization and the well­-being of the players and your assistants must be among your preeminent concerns.

You must have the character to abide by a morally sound code of conduct regardless of the circumstances. In that regard, you must exhibit integrity in all of your dealings with others. Furthermore, you should believe that it is important that your team wins in a manner that is a credit to the organization.

• Be Flexible

You must have the ability to respond and adapt to changing circumstances. While consistency is important, if the situation changes, you must change with it.

One of the most important areas of coaching in which flexibility is essential involves the need to give your team the tools to win. Within the specific framework of your system, you must be bold, creative and willing to take risks when necessary.

For example, in the 1960s, John Ralston, who was the head coach at Stanford, learned a pointed lesson in the value of flexibility. Although John had his teams play with great intensity, Stanford usually found itself out-manned by schools with faster, more athletic players.

Stanford simply had to do everything right during the game in order to have a chance to win. One bad break could wreck any chances that John’s team had to win.

During the same period that John was at Stanford, USC, under the direction of the renowned John McKay, fielded one of the best teams in the nation, year in and year out. Even though John would implore the Cardinal players to play with more intensity when Stanford was competing against USC, the reality of the situation was simply that the Trojans had more and better players.

Even though the scores of these contests were usually relatively close after three quarters, Stanford often would end up losing by a substantial margin. Upon examination, Stanford’s approach to playing USC and other nationally ranked teams had at least one inherent flaw.

John’s offensive system was basically too limited and too conservative. All factors considered, it played right into the hands of opponents that had superior talent.

Over the years, John and his outstanding staff of assistants – who, over time, included individuals like Mike White, Jim Mora, Dick Vermeil, Bob Gambold, Rod Rust, Leon McLaughlin and Jack Christiansen, began to learn what it would take to compete against the USCs of the game. To be competitive, Stanford needed to install an NFL-­type system of offense (a step that was prompted by Stanford’s Athletic Director at the time, Chuck Taylor).

The philosophical underpinning of the proposed system was passing proficiency. Ultimately, the arrival of All-­American (later to be a Heisman Trophy winner) Jim Plunkett and a battery of sure­-handed receivers like Randy Vataha broke USC’s stranglehold on Stanford’s gridiron fortunes.

This situation illustrates two key points. First, athletes must be given the tools that best suit them and will give them their best chance to succeed. Second, the coach must be willing to change what he is doing if it obviously is destined to fail and if a feasible alternative exists.

• Believe in Yourself

You must have confidence in yourself and your system. It is also important that you sell your program to your players. They must believe in you in order for them to be able to make the sacrifices that will be required of them.

Everyone in the organization (e.g., your staff, the players, the athletic trainers, the team managers, etc.) must believe that your plan for success will be effective if it is carried out as directed. They must also feel that you have their best interests at heart.

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