The Art of Coaching With Belichick & Saban

You are in the business of unleashing the vast potential of the teams and organizations that you lead.

“Mediocre people don't like high achievers, and high achievers don't like mediocre people.” — Nick Saban

HBO’s recent documentary, Belichick & Saban: The Art of Coaching, intimately spotlights the four-decade-long friendship between two of the greatest coaches in sports history, Patriots Bill Belichick and The University of Alabama’s Nick Saban. Both men are of Croatian descent, both are close friends, and both worked their way up the football ladder to become head coaches. We learned the meticulous details of their careers, starting from a grassroots level and the menial jobs they took to develop their craft. Belichick and Saban fell in love with the work, the process, the challenges, and the interaction with making others perform at a higher level of excellence. 

Even though both coaches are widely successful, they are vastly different in their approach. Just look at Belichick’s staff meeting as opposed to Saban’s. Belichick has few coaches and a small tight group. Whereas Saban’s meeting is overflowing and standing room only. Belichick likes lean, and fewer people to manage. Saban does not mind leading a large group. Either way is not right, or wrong. It’s their unique way of coaching and leading. And that is the essence of the story we can all learn. Their similarities in results, competitive stamina, and heritage are real. Their approach is different yet authentic to their personalities. Belichick never gets emotional or angry. He is even keel. Saban is volatile and emotionally charged. They are not trying to be anything other than who they are at the core.

Coach Belichick is the “Chief Figure It Out Officer of the Patriots.” He defines the jobs of others as well as himself. He completely understands his role, which allows him to listen intently to people who present problems, then ponders potential solutions. Belichick must listen keenly, hearing everything because, in the role he has assigned for himself, he never can be wrong with a decision.

Coach Saban’s role is to educate, to make the players reach new heights in their evolution as players and people. He understands everyone he coaches was the “best of the best” at their prior schools; therefore, he must drive them harder than ever before. Saban tells his team: “Your talent is your greatest nemesis, especially when it comes to your mindset. You young guys who have always been the most talented on your team and now you have to pay attention to detail and compete with people and don’t really know how to. So you can learn how. It’s a choice. It’s a decision that everyone can make. Don’t let your talent be your nemesis.”

The Top 10 Learning Tools from Belichick & Saban: The Art of Coaching:

  1. Define your role as the Leader. Understand precisely what the team needs every single day. 

  2. Don’t use technology to create short cuts in learning. Get your hands dirty, learn the basics. 

  3. Define the jobs of everyone in complete detail. Over define, make sure everyone on the team understands their specific role. 

  4. Build “your” program, don’t steal assistants from others. Spend time training people. It’s easier to train than re-train. 

  5. Learn different ways to do things. Be open to new ideas, not all ideas. How you incorporate the idea is as important as the idea itself. 

  6. Understand why you win and why you lose. Don’t ever think fundamentals don’t matter. 

  7. No independent contractors. Everyone needs to sing in the same choir. Make sure no one is subversive from within.

  8. Review every aspect of the game, before the game. Play the game out in detail before the game, practice those details and never assume anything on game day.

  9. Strive for more each day—from everyone. You cannot let anyone get comfortable.

  10. Love your job—the work matters more than the perks. Love the process, not the results. Embrace starting over every single year.

Realize the last thing you are is merely a coach. Your work is about changing minds and transforming lives. You are in the business of unleashing the vast potential of the teams and organizations that you lead.

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