Nick Saban, Scrum Master: On Winners and Winning

My friend JC Smiley from Code Connector may be the most voraciously curious person I know. Every day he wakes up early and posts at least one question in the Code Connector Slack channel. Something to get people thinking, to seek out experienced opinions, and share common ideas among new learners. His two questions today:

1. How do you keep track of your wins and what type of wins do you keep track of?

2. What does this mean to you and any advice for aspiring developers: “Don’t confuse Success with Greatness”?

The combination of these questions made me think of Nick Saban, head coach of The University of Alabama football team, “The Crimson Tide”. At this point, it’s inarguable that Saban is the best college football coach of — well, choose your domain.

There are plenty of good videos on YouTube of Nick talking about his philosophy for players, the game, practice. Rather than quoting him directly, I will paraphrase his philosophy.

Winning isn’t something that happens during a play- but that play is important. Heroics do not create wins, but preparation allows heroics that pay off. Don’t practice until you get it right. Practice until you can’t get it wrong.

Saban is known for what he calls simply “The Process”. The Process is winning. Winning is The Process. Don’t look at the scoreboard. Don’t look at the clock. Don’t look at the fans. Look at how your ankle is planted. Look at your opponent’s hips, look at his eyes. Remember the play you learned. Use the muscles you built in the gym.

Every failure, every flaw, every weakness is observed and folded back into The Process. Is there a problem in diet? A nutritionist is added to the staff. Are there doubts, mental blocks? A sports psychologist becomes part of The Process. If a piece becomes part of The Process, it applies to everyone. It’s holistic. It’s not a single herculean effort during one play, it’s an all-encompassing platform, a foundry, a factory that creates wins.

The product for Toyota isn’t a car. The product for Toyota is the factory that produces a perfect car every 93 seconds. The factory for Nick Saban is The Process, and it is continual. Individual players come and go. They are inputs. They matter— Saban cares about them as individuals, and one of the Outcomes of The Process is the NFL career options players have before them. Check Alabama’s record for NFL draft picks. But the Outcomes of the process are wins. The outcomes of individuals players are winning plays, broken down into winning moves, learned in winning practice. “Winner” is not a title belt that you earn and keep. Every trophy commemorates a point in time, the culmination of winning as performance art, in the moment, repeatedly.

When Nick Saban worked for New England Patriot’s head coach Bill Belichick, he says they didn’t have motivational posters and various signs everywhere. They had one sign.

“Do your job”

That’s it. Know specifically what your job is. The Process will spell it out explicitly. Every component. Every move. Every calorie. Every deadlift. Execute what you learn.

Winning is a thing you do. If you want to keep winning, you have to keep doing the thing that wins. Winning is not who you are. It’s not a title, a role, a birthright, an inheritance. If The Crimson Tide won the National Championship last year, that’s not you, new recruit. That’s not even the same team. At least 25% of the team will be new this year. That constitutes a different team. Your star running back is out due to a leg injury, and you take his place. New team. You inherit nothing from the former team. You inherit nothing from the last touchdown.

Each and every play has a lifecycle of its own. What is likely the longest play in college football history was barely a minute. Most are over in seconds. Once over, nothing remains. Status buys you nothing. Trophies from the past give you no advantage. You have to win each and every second, every muscle twitch, every reflex burned into your memory, every time. Then let it go. And “do” winning again, in the next second, in the new lifecycle.

Arguably the most embarrassing moment of Coach Saban’s college career was the loss to in-state rival Auburn University with one second left on the clock. Tied, Alabama could have gone into overtime, and surely beat Auburn. Saban argued the clock status of the final play, to be granted the one remaining second on the clock. With the opportunity to snap the ball, Alabama was set for a field goal which could clench the game, preventing the need for overtime.

This is where things went wrong. The Alabama players began believing they were “Winners”. Thinking the options were a successful goal kick, or a missed kick leading to a still-tied overtime chance, the players became complacent. A lone Auburn player, hardly noticed, caught this missed goal, and ran the entire field to score the winning touchdown against Alabama. The complacent Alabama players could not move fast enough once the threat became clear. Too fast, too unexpected. Caught flat footed, the team lacked the one or two seconds of running time to stop the return.

Stephen Covey paraphrases Will Durant, paraphrasing Aristotle. “We are what we repeatedly do. Success therefore, is not an act, but a habit”. It’s also not a status.

It’s a Process.

Published by theAgileCouch

A place to relax and unwind with some Agile Coaching thoughts.

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