The simple, yet rarely executed, formula for winning
Process. Process. Process. You have probably heard it thrown around in the last several years when it comes to sports teams and their approach to success. It’s a “buzz word” that a lot of well-known coaches refer to all the time. Recently, I had the opportunity to hear one of these coaches, former Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith, talk about this idea of process. What he said blew me away.
Coach Smith was speaking with author Jon Gordon about their new book You Win in the Locker Room First. It’s a book on centered around the ideas of leadership, culture and building a winning team. As the two of them spoke, Coach Smith was very open up about his time with the Falcons, where he helped lead the organization to unprecedented success in his first five seasons. Everything culminated in 2012 when the team went 13-3 in the regular season and came within one play of going to the Super Bowl. After that moment, a loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, Coach Smith says the organization, himself included, shifted their focus. Their focused shifted from an emphasis on getting better each day to a mindset of winning the Super Bowl. That’s also the moment when the bottom fell out for Coach Smith and the team. Over the next two seasons, the Falcons went 10-22, and Mike Smith was fired from his head coaching position.
When Coach Smith was asked about that shift in focus, here’s what he had to say: “I think what happens is is many times when you’re close to having the success that everybody’s looking for – the Super Bowl – sometimes you forget about the process that you’ve gone through to get you there and you focus on the results instead of focusing on the process that you go through that has helped you and made you successful in previous years.”
Think about that for a minute. He’s basically saying that his team’s Super Bowl focus led to their downfall. Sounds crazy, right? I’m sure many of you may be thinking “So, you’re telling me, I shouldn’t want to win or my team shouldn’t be focused on winning championships?!?”
The answer is yes … and no. The desire to win is important; but if that is all that mattered, more people would win. If you polled players across the NBA from all 30 teams before the season and asked what their goal for the year was, most would probably say, “win a championship”. However, the reality is this: in the last 25 years, only 10 different teams have won an NBA Championship. Dive even deeper into those numbers, and you see that a mere four franchises have combined to win 25 of those 35 titles (Lakers-10, Bulls-6, Spurs-5, Celtics-4).
So, is it really about the goal or the outcome? History would say it’s more about the process, but what does that even mean? The process can be defined many ways, but let’s define it as this—the process is the action of becoming the best version of yourself that you can become. It’s about doing your best every day. Play (or work) a team? If so, then the process is about becoming the best possible team that you can be. It’s doing your job—playing defense, being a great teammate, sharing the ball, listening to your coach, being a great assistant coach—every single time. When entire teams—both players and coaches—take on this mindset of being process and growth-focused, the results seem to follow.
I love what former Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt (eight-time NCAA Champion) once said to her team. After the Lady Vols won the NCAA Championship in 1996, she felt that her team was complacent and it led to some early season losses the next season. They weren’t giving their best effort and had been badly beaten twice on their home court. So prior to their game against #2 Old Dominion, she held a five-hour meeting with her team. Tennessee still lost the game; however, Coach Summitt entered the locker room after the game and said,
“Get your heads up. If you give effort like this all the time, if you fight like this, I’m telling you, I promise you, we’ll be there in March.”
Two months after that game, they were the national champions. This was a coach that was married to the process of getting better and getting her team to understand that you can be a winner and not win sometimes.
Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens echoes a similar process-based thinking:
We emphasize the process and the process of growth a lot more than the result. We do think the results take care of themselves if you emphasize growth, if you emphasize getting better every single day.
Desiring, even visualizing, a result is a part of achieving. It’s just the starting point, however. Once you decide what you want, you must then devise a plan and put all your energy and effort into the process of executing that plan.
I encourage all of you reading this—players, coaches, parents, etc.—to begin by establishing goals, dreams and a vision for your future. Then once you have those in place, implement these three ideas for a process based approach to life:
- Have daily commitments. Identify the things that will move you (or your team) in the direction of the bigger vision.
- Implement accountability. When you are accountable to someone else or something bigger than you, the desired results are more likely.
- Execute with an undying passion. Anyone can be passionate when life is easy, but if you only stay committed on days you feel like it, you’re doomed for disappointment. Don’t allow your dreams to die on those days.
Who knows, if you focus on the process, you might find that who you become is more rewarding than the outcome.
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