As we close in on both the college and NFL playoffs I’m always curious and excited to listen, watch, and evaluate the different organizational approaches to the competition. There are many paths to take to the championship destination. The team’s navigational approach is as different as the head coaches’ personalities and management styles. All of the coaches certainly have a prescribed process in mind to address the mental, physical, and emotional aspects of preparation.
I have experienced a number of different approaches as a member of a coaching staff leading into these one and done playoff formats in the NFL.
A Stay the Course Philosophy
My very first year coaching in the NFL was with the Dallas Cowboys in 1992 with Jimmy Johnson as the head coach. We were 13-3 during the regular season and had a tremendously talented football team. Jimmy Johnson utilized the hardnosed, physical approach. As we made our march through the playoffs we changed nothing. We practiced in the same physical fashion and kept our meeting schedule intact.
As we started preparation for the Super Bowl I was expecting changes to the physicality of practice and lengthy meeting schedule. No changes were made. The Super Bowl practices were as physical as ever even with the risk of key players being injured.
Looking back, I see the most success occurred when little was changed from the process that produced the most productive results in the first place. Psychologically, a team that believes they have worked harder and prepared more diligently has the mental and emotional edge to overcome the highs and lows of a playoff or championship game. Teams facing early setbacks in those games who have stayed the course have a belief the momentum will swing in their favor because of the superior preparation. The conditioning and mental toughness acquired in the preparation process will pay off as the game wears on and those factors become more apparent.
The Burn Out Theory
I have also experienced the other side of the coin firsthand. Often times coaches will cut back on the physicality of the process lamenting the reason is to prevent injury. They will also pull back on meeting and preparation time citing the burn out theory and wanting their team fresh.
I’m not a big believer in that method. Although it has been effective on occasion it can create a confidence issue. When your preached process has been cut short in any area and adversity strikes early and the team falls behind, it is human nature to wonder if enough time and effort were put into the process to be champions. That uncertainty leads to panic and a lack of confidence to turn the tide.
The belief in preparation and the process will produce champions!