Alabama football coach Nick Saban was interviewed on 60 Minutes. (“mediocre people don’t like high achievers and high achievers don’t like mediocre people,” he said)
They asked him about the time his center and quarterback got in a shoving match, in the middle of the field, while Alabama was blowing out Notre Dame on primetime TV.
It was the fourth quarter and Alabama had the ball with a huge lead. They practically couldn’t lose. But there was some miscommunication and a busted play.
On the way to the huddle, Alabama’s quarterback said something to the center. We don’t know what. Maybe it was horrible. The center turned and shoved the quarterback like a practice dummy.
No fight broke out. That was the end of it. Saban’s squad immediately got back down to the business of destroying their opponent. It didn’t matter, though. The media had a story.
You rarely see this—key members of a league’s overwhelmingly dominant team in a shoving match with each other; while winning big!
Was Saban too zealous? Too hard on his players? It’s just a game, coach!
But in the interview, Saban, with hardly concealed satisfaction, said it just went to show that his players had bought into his “process.”
Saban changed college football the way Billy Beane changed baseball. Just ask the Astros.
Saban’s “process” for winning football games couldn’t be simpler.
It demands that his players focus not on the result they want (victories), but each step in the process of getting to that result.
The “process” says that if you want to win championships, focus on games. If you want to win games, focus on well-executed plays. If you want well-executed plays, focus on well-executed tasks. If you want well-executed tasks, focus on practice. If you want good practice, focus on sleep. If you want good sleep, focus on diet and exercise, etc., etc., etc.
Everything is drilled down to its center.
Forget About The Score
Saban tells his players to ignore the scoreboard.
In theory his players had no idea they led by several touchdowns.
Whether they knew or not isn’t the point. They acted like they didn’t. It’s like being born again after each down.
He trains his players to never stop pushing themselves towards excellence, even when down; especially when down; which of course, they hardly ever are.
They were running that play like the season depended on it; neither desperately nor lackadaisically, but like pros; the best they could. Every time.
The Best Lesson’s Are Outside The Classroom
Victory doesn’t depend on anything outside myself. Victory is being in a state of constant improvement and growth. Wins just happen to be a byproduct of this.
If you find what you love and focus on improving at that thing, a little bit every day, you can’t fail.
And by not failing, I don’t necessarily mean winning. Winning, in sport, is just some arbitrary result in a temperature controlled environment.
Competitive sport, especially football, may seem like simulated warfare, but it isn’t. For one simple reason: On a battlefield there is no boundary line. The boundary is always pushed and tested.
The average everyday life, in fact, is much more similar to a battle. The rules are constantly changing. The game we play at any given moment is subject to total change.
Victory in life is not identical with victory in sport. Finding what you love and doing that everyday will not necessarily make you rich according to conventional standards. Maybe it will, but there are no guarantees.
But that isn’t what’s important. That isn’t the life lesson Saban teaches his players. He teaches them self-reliance; to ignore the scoreboard; a million factors affect the scoreboard; that is out of your control.
Zero time is spent thinking about the past, which may or may not have been a success, or the future, where success becomes less and less likely the more it draws your focus away from the present. A championship season is broken down into a million separate efforts.
The late Wayne Dyer said that to achieve big things we must think small; from his teachings on the Tao.
Practice What You Preach
Coach follows his own advice. Saban famously sets aside 24 hours to enjoy championships. He says you need to have a short memory when bad things, as well as good things, happen.
Then, it’s back to work.
“Let My People Go Surfing” is Yvon Chouinard’s business biography. Yvon founded Patagonia, the billion dollar outdoor outfitting and clothing company, in a tin workshop in the 60s. He started handcrafting metal rings for climbers to walk up mountain walls like spiders.
In the book he talks about Zen Archery.
The shooter doesn’t focus on the target. He focuses on pulling the arrow out of the quiver, and breathing; then placing the arrow in the bow, and breathing; then squeezing the arrow, and breathing; then pulling the string back, and breathing, etc., etc., etc.
If you do this you can’t help but hit the bulls-eye, he said.
Then why is it so hard? Why don’t I do this?
Maybe we don’t really want the results we say we want, is one obvious answer. Fear of success.
But usually we’re just unaware. The process is so simple it’s easy, not to forget, but to forget about.
It so insignificant in appearance we overlook it with our mind’s eye.
You can’t buy it or feel it or look at it. It’s just the way things are.
Somehow Nick Saban gets a whole squad of 21-year-old men to do this.
Does this make Nick Saban the Zen master of football? Of course it does.
Follow The Process And Ignore The Weather
When you have a home, bad weather doesn’t bother you too much.
If it gets lousy outside, you can head home.
This is what it feels like to know your purpose. You are never homeless.
Sometimes we invite others along on life’s journey. Whether they join or not you are unaffected.
You are already completed. Lucky is he or she that can roll this into a career.
Saban’s doesn’t allow his players to blame the opponent, or crazy bad luck, when they lose. Saban is famous for this.
There was a miracle play one day, and Auburn won, impossibly, at the end of the game. The craziest play in football history. Afterwards Saban didn’t blame bad luck. He blamed himself and his team.
Not because it would help them that night. It made the pain worse.
But next time. Next time.
Like A Turtle With His House On His Back
People who can find their own personal center will never be homeless—or imprisoned. Some prisoners rot. Some write books, find God, and live in fullness.
Your center is not man-made. It is not fabricated by your mind. It’s what you care about. This isn’t easy to discover.
Yvon ran Patagonia for 35 years before he could answer the question “why” he did business.
He finally found it. It was to serve as an example to other successful corporations about environmental sustainability and humane work environments.
He had to find his philosophy. He did that by persevering. He kept asking questions.
Your center is the thing that underlies the man-made invention of what we “do” with “why” we do it.
I don’t know whether Nick and Yvon have met. But if they did I think they’d be speaking the same language.