by Pete Carroll
December 30, 2016
I'm fascinated by coaches and their philosophies, because I think the great ones have a lot of stuffed in life figured out. Great coaches have to know how to communicate with, teach, motivate, and lead people, while creating a tight-knit culture and performing under pressure.
Pete Carroll's Win Forever was exactly what I was looking for. Pete explained how he came to realize the importance of knowing yourself and being able to communicate your philosophy to others. He outlines and explains his philosophy, which can be summed up as, "If you want to win forever, always compete." Competition has nothing to do with other people and everything to do with striving to be your very best at everything you do. It's a great book for not just coaches, but leaders of any kind - and you don't necessarily have to follow football to enjoy it!
This book is a perfect example of "the transformational potential of sport, not only in terms of performance but also in terms of how those experiences can drive you to be the best human being you can be." It's now ranked among my favorite books. Here are some of my (very long list which is basically half the book) highlights.
- At some point, I realized, I was going to have to stop just collecting pieces and develop a philosophy of my own.
It is a supremely confident athlete who will have the best chance to perform up to his or her potential.
- I have always felt it is my duty to show my players exactly how they can develop their confidence.
- So, in the fall of 2000, I forced myself to go through the process of nailing it down, and it was the discipline of working at it that made it happen. By December I finally had a clear, organized template of my core values, my philosophy, and—most important—my overarching vision for what I wanted to stand for as a person, a coach, and a competitor.
- We would never accept having a poor practice or taking a day off. There would be no choices. For us to do things better than they have ever been done before, I believed that we had to practice at the highest level, the most competitive level.
My opponents are the people who offer me the opportunity to succeed. The tougher my opponents, the more they present me with an opportunity to live up to my full potential and play my best.
- It is my belief that how we practice makes just as important a statement about who we are as how we play the games. How we practice defines who we are.
- The passion and the excitement that coaches bring to the field will transfer directly to the players and will allow you to create a competitive practice environment, not to mention a fun one. I declared forevermore that in my coaching career, we would practice with more energy and more excitement than anyone else in football.
We sought to instill a way of looking at not just football but everything in life as a series of opportunities to become the best versions of ourselves—not according to anyone else’s definition of success but according to the one we set for ourselves.
If our vision was to “do things better than they have ever been done before,” we knew we would have to support that with a structure—not just an intellectual or conceptual structure but a consistent and clearly expressed set of expectations. These expectations had to be specific and concise enough to be enforceable, but they also needed to be broad enough to work as a flexible teaching tool in a wide variety of situations.
Rule 1. Always Protect the Team. Rule 2. No Whining, No Complaining, No Excuses. Rule 3. Be Early.
- ...when someone failed to execute, it may have been because he did not fully understand his responsibility. As coaches, we wanted to make the impression that everything counted and sometimes experiencing a loss created the best opportunity for that.
- The third and final rule in our program, “Be Early,” was all about being organized and showing respect. At USC, we wanted our players in meetings before they started, and more important, we wanted them there with their playbooks open and minds ready to learn. To be early, you must have your priorities in order. You have to be organized to the point where you have a plan and can execute it effectively. Part of teaching players to execute on the field is teaching them to execute off the field as well.
- Limiting ourselves to three rules was a very conscious choice. The scope they cover is broad and is enough to encompass any issue or indiscretion that might arise. It started with a player’s conscience, dealt with his language and self-talk, and ended with the discipline and respect it took to do things right. Just like any other organization, a team needs rules and guidelines.
If I want them to coach to their full potential, I have to not only allow them to be authentically themselves but insist upon it.
We discussed how they were coaching outside their personalities and how that would weaken them in the long run.
The other critical factor we look for when hiring new coaches is their willingness and ability to grow. Leadership development is critical in any organization.
You need a head coach who has the ultimate authority and responsibility, but his job is a lot more fun and the team is a lot stronger if he has other smart, capable leaders around him. And it is his job to develop them.
When everyone understands the vision, the goals, and the overall system, they don’t need the top boss always telling them what to do. They can figure it out for themselves.
- Invariably, the coaches who exuded the most passion and sincerity had the best results.
- Whether in football or in business, there is so much more room for personal style and expression than many people realize. Whatever the context, not taking advantage of that may be a huge missed opportunity to involve people on a deeper, more competitive, and ultimately higher-performing level. How can an organization expect to maximize its overall potential if its people up and down the ladder don’t have the chance to contribute in a way that taps into their ability as individuals? What if managers and bosses thought of themselves as coaches instead? What if leaders in other professions saw their jobs not just in terms of getting the most production out of their people, but in terms of teaching their workers to become the best they can be?
In Win Forever terms, you really can’t be a leader if you’re not a great teacher.
- I have seen firsthand so many situations where the coach and his athlete just couldn’t communicate and the relationship faltered. To me, failure to communicate is unacceptable for a parent, a coach, or a leader. It is easy to get frustrated when we see someone we are responsible for fail to make progress, and especially frustrating when we see a lack of effort. As parents, it is our responsibility to find avenues to communicate with our children, and it’s the same for a coach or leader. We are the ones in charge, and we must accept the accountability associated with that. We are the ones with something to communicate, so it is up to us to figure out how to communicate it effectively to the person we want to learn it. As parents and coaches, it is up to us to compete to find ways to connect with our children and players.
Every player in our program is a unique individual from a specific background, and before we can effectively reach and connect with him we must develop a relationship. Then we must formulate an approach that will enable the teaching and learning process. Therefore, one of the coaching mantras around our program at USC and now in Seattle is to “learn your learner.”
We can glean a wealth of information by paying close attention to the actions, mannerisms, and traits of our players. By taking note of the clothes they wear, the hairstyles they choose, their personal interests, and the people they choose to hang out with, we get mountains of information.
It’s a challenge to understand the people you’re dealing with so that you can approach them in the most effective possible way—a way that allows them to operate and perform at their very best. But it’s a battle you need to wage if you are serious about helping people be the best that they can be. That’s why I work so hard to instill in my coaching staff the importance of learning your learner. A teacher, coach, or manager who knows his learner is able to accurately communicate in a manner that best suits that learner, and the more effectively a leader can communicate his or her expectations, the better the results are going to be.
He taught me that if you learn to become a good watcher and listener, you’ll be rewarded with a wealth of information that you can use to compete more successfully. I learned from him that the best teachers, coaches, and leaders are often the best observers.
The indelible lesson was that everything counts. I’ve never forgotten it.
His keen insight into human behavior taught me the importance of not drawing a line between the places where you compete and the places where you don’t. Because really, that line doesn’t exist: You’re either competing at everything or you’re not.
Sometimes, when confronted with a problem, simply taking the time to assess the situation will often determine the best response.
...players will all make mistakes and that in the window of a few seconds after a particular mistake, we make the choice between yelling at the player or helping him learn from his missed assignment. It is in those few seconds that coaches can have the most impact. Resisting the impulse to respond in a negative way is one of the biggest challenges coaches face.
It’s hard enough to perform at your best with everything fully functioning and in focus. My players didn’t need me making it harder.
...since then I have tried my best to make sure that all my communication is measured and calculated precisely to maximize the moment.
“If self-confidence is so important, why would we ever want to approach someone in a manner that might disrupt or shatter it?”
The major coaching point here is the power of language and communication skills. It is important to only use language that facilitates the message and promotes the desired performance.
I was competing to learn my learners in hopes of becoming a better teacher. If you really care about helping people maximize their potential, then you must try to uncover who they are and what they are all about.
- ...all aspiring champions—from young guys like Mark and Carson to legends like Jerry Rice—need coaching to help them reach their potential. I believe the greatest competitors of our time own a deep-down desire to be the best.
...we believe that if you want to help someone be the best he can be, you have to learn as much as possible about what makes him tick.
...everything a player does is an opportunity for us to learn something about him. I’m reminded of Coach Grant’s belief that to be a successful coach you need to be a great observer and a great listener.
We want to develop an environment that fosters learning and develops confidence.
When game day comes along, we want to be fully prepared. We don’t want to be worried about anything. We just want to cut loose, let it rip, and be ourselves. Having a routine can be very powerful in this regard. If you compete day in and day out to excel at something in a systematic way, you can’t help but improve.
...we began each practice day with a team meeting. There, I always attempted to set the focus and tone for the day, always with enthusiasm. I was simply demonstrating the energy I wished to see from the coaches and players as we approached practice that day.
By beginning each meeting with highlights, we energized the atmosphere, got the juices flowing, and had some fun jump-starting the day.
As a leader, I don’t see any benefit in maintaining a reserve or keeping a distance, the way some other coaches did when I was growing up. I wanted our players to feel my enthusiasm and the coaching staff’s enthusiasm and get geared up for the day. I wanted them to know that we cared and that the task ahead in practice was as much a chance for them to shine as any conference game. We spared no effort to make sure that our guys approached every practice as an opportunity and a challenge.
Once practice began, everyone was expected to operate at full throttle. I wanted to practice at game speed. We would never allow for anything but full speed and full effort in games, and I wanted us to practice exactly like we played. I believe when you give athletes a chance to perform at varying levels of intensity, you offer an invitation for varying levels of performance.
One of the ways we would heighten the atmosphere of competition was by making sure our players were matched up against the teammates who would challenge them the most. It’s one thing for coaches to talk about how we expect players to compete, but it’s another to put them in actual situations where they must compete. Our goal was for our players to face tougher opposition on our practice field than they would encounter in games.
- What you want to do on the practice field, [Anson Dorrance] wrote, is to create a “competitive cauldron” where the players are constantly in a game-like state, competing for even the smallest wins. Instead of just doing drills, you keep score as much as possible. You make it so somebody wins and somebody loses.
When I’m looking at prospects, the most important things I’m looking for are competitive will and love of the game.
We needed something additional on top of that, something that would translate into an uncommonly competitive performer.
This isn’t just a football thing—it’s a dynamic that leaders have to learn to manage in any organization that recruits the best to work alongside the best. Not only were we watching out for the younger players and nurturing their confidence, but we also needed to continually support and challenge the veterans.
- We wanted the learning environment to always be alive and engaging, and we wanted our learners to arrive each day anticipating what might happen next. We did things just to keep it fresh. Part of our job as teachers is to entertain and surprise our students. Remember, the idea is to keep them fascinated with what’s going on, so they keep coming back, wondering what will happen next.
With all that pressure on them, they were confident, poised, and excited to play the game. Noticeably, they were playful and very comfortable even as game time drew near. Why? It wasn’t because they took the moment for granted or because they felt for one second that victory was somehow assured. It was because no group could have worked harder to be ready for that moment or put more of themselves into the effort than our players.
A head coach’s primary objective is to orchestrate the overall mentality of his team. Great teams commonly display an air of confidence that separates them from others. They have earned the right to be confident through their hard work and success.
In my time as a coach I’ve learned that possibly the greatest detractor from high performance is fear: fear that you are not prepared, fear that you are in over your head, fear that you are not worthy, and ultimately, fear of failure. If you can eliminate that fear—not through arrogance or just wishing difficulties away, but through hard work and preparation—you will put yourself in an incredibly powerful position to take on the challenges you face.
Ideally, we want to create an atmosphere or a culture where our players can perform in the absence of fear. It is my job to orchestrate this “knowing we are going to win” mentality. Achieving that means finding ways to prove to players that they can rely on themselves and their teammates to perform at the highest level in the face of any challenge—even losing.
We never dragged the past along with us, because the past is not a place where we can compete. I think it is in part because we refused to do that in victory that we were so successful in moving on from a defeat. Instead, we focused on recapturing the essence of who we knew ourselves to be and on controlling what was directly in front of us, and then hit the practice field with the intention of getting better the very next day. We never allowed the disappointment of losing to diminish the attitude and energy we needed to bring every day.
The best performers, whether athletes, entertainers, or anybody else trying to do anything well, are the ones who aren’t trying to win by playing someone else’s game. Each person is made up of a unique combination of strengths, weaknesses, abilities, and talents, and any one of us can only truly maximize our potential in the context of that individual makeup. That’s why it doesn’t make sense to think about competition in the context of any one opponent: If you are really in a Win Forever mindset, the only comparison that matters is yourself. Your goal should be to maximize your potential and your performance as a permanent way of being, rather than just thinking in terms of individual victories.
I want to be someone who competes just as hard to be a best friend, loving husband, caring parent, and active community member as I do to be an excellent football coach.
“How many of you could stand up right now and share your philosophy with us in twenty-five words or less?”
All the things I have talked about in this book ultimately are just different expressions of the simple, basic life goal of being able to know yourself and define your philosophy in a way that is true to who you are.
The discipline comes when you consistently stay in touch with your vision. To help you do this, you may develop habits and reminders. Saying grace or daily prayers may keep you in touch with your spirituality; leaving reminder notes on your mirror can help keep you focused on your goals. Regardless of what the habit is, simple reminders can be powerful.
When I speak to young men and women coming out of high school or college who are just beginning to learn about themselves, I give them all the same advice: No matter what the task, what the job, compete to make yourself valuable at whatever you’re doing. This work ethic is what makes it highly probable that good things will happen to you. Your first job experiences may not be what you’ve dreamed about, but there is intrinsic value in a job well done, and you will be recognized for that. Your real value comes from being dependable and resourceful, and someone is bound to notice. Know that you are always preparing for your very next job.
The better we understand ourselves, the more informed we become about where it makes sense for us to focus our energies. That’s why I encourage people to spend some time writing down words or phrases that describe their personality traits, values, dreams, goals, and more. I frequently challenge people to write down their personal philosophy as well, or at least give it a try. It sounds like pretty basic stuff, but in reality it is anything but an easy process. If that process interests you then dig in and get ready to compete to find your truth—and don’t be discouraged if it takes longer than you expected. Listen to your heart, trust your intuition, and allow yourself to be fascinated by the adventure of finding the real you. It’s the journey to discover your personal truth that will make all the difference.