Tag: Sports

The Metagame: How Bill Belichick and Warren Buffett Play a Different Game

The metagame is playing a different game than your competitors. A game they can't play.

The metagame is a strategy that involves understanding the structural or unconscious reasons that things are the way they are. This is the strategy that Warren Buffett and Bill Belichick use to create an advantage. It's what smart managers like Ken Iverson do to get the best out of people.

There is an interesting section in an obscure poker book called The Raiser's Edge that explains the concept of a metagame:

The metagame is this psychological game that exists among players, involving adjustments – adjustments based on how an opponent is likely to interpret a given set of actions. Better players adjust their strategies and styles to those of particular opponents, always analyzing how the opponents are playing in terms of how the opponents believe they're playing.

Maintaining a well-balanced strategy, while deciphering your opponents' strategies, is the key to the metagame. If you comprehend the concept of the metagame, accurately perceive the flow of your table and then tournament, and stay alerted to and aware of current strategy trends, you'll be able to successfully mix up your play when considering your image and that of your opponents. In return, your game will be highly unpredictable and difficult to read, which should be your ultimate goal.

Warren Buffett and Bill Belichick both use the metagame to create an advantage that others have a hard time matching.

Let's look at Buffett first.

Buffett is widely considered to be the best investor in the world. The company he controls, Berkshire Hathaway, often purchases companies that are public and makes them (effectively) private. For better or worse, public companies have certain environmental constraints. There are numbers to meet (or manage, depending on how you look at it). Expectations to meet. Shareholders who want different things.

The environmental impact of being public often nudges companies toward a path away from their best long-term interest. The timelines of CEOs and shareholders are often not the same.

For example, even if the investment made long-term sense, established companies would have a hard time increasing investment in research and development without an immediate impact (as this reduces earnings.) They'd also have a hard time building inventory (as this increases the amount of the capital required to operate the business).

This divide creates an interesting scenario where public companies can be at a long-term disadvantage to private companies. Private companies can do things that public companies can't do because of the perceived (or real) environmental norms.

This is where Buffett comes in. He can encourage the CEO of the companies he acquires to take another path. They can take a longer-term view. They can make investments without penalty that won't pay off for years. They can increase inventory. They can run the company without the worry of meeting quarterly expectations. Because they can take advantage of the environmental factors that public companies are under, private companies can't easily be copied in this sense.

This isn't limited to finance and investments. It relates to everything. Bill Belichick, perhaps the best coach in NFL history, uses the same strategy. He plays a different game.

Here's an example. Last year Belichick traded away one of the team's most gifted athletes (Jamie Collins) in the first part of the season. While Belichick never came out publicly to say the reasons Collins was traded, he effectively traded one of the teams best players for nothing. Very few coaches would have traded away a star for nothing. Belichick, was playing a version of metagame. He was able to do something that was for the good of the team that would be controversial in the media. A strategy that almost no other coach could get away with.

The ancient Romans employed the same strategy. They were excellent at hand-to-hand combat but lacked the have the naval capabilities of Carthage. So they played a different game … one that played to their strengths and used the enemies strengths against them.

Now you can argue that Buffett and Belichick can do things no other person can. You can argue these are Hall-Of-Famers that get more leeway. But interestingly, that's the point. Part of their greatness comes from identifying the constraints of others and capitalizing on those structural disadvantages, just like the Romans did.

In any system where there are norms, there are strengths and weaknesses to those norms. If you follow the norms of the system, the results you get are likely to be the norm. When you play a different game, a metagame, you have the opportunity to outperform.

Inside a Miracle: The 1980 U.S. Hockey Team

Few people know the details about one of the greatest stories in sports history. A classic David versus Goliath story that happened at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid when the U.S. Olympic Hockey team played the Soviets.

While the U.S. team had won the gold at the Squaw Valley Olympics in 1960, they hadn't done much since then. The only notable showing was 5th place at the 1976 games. The Soviets, on the other hand, came into the 1980 Olympics having won 12 of the previous 15 world championships and 4 Olympic gold medals in a row. The Soviet record since Squaw Valley was 27-1-1.

In fact, the Soviets were so good, that in 1979 there was no NHL all-star game. Instead they just invited the Soviets to play a three-game series called the Challenge Cup. The U.S.S.R crushed the best players in the NHL 6-0 in the deciding game.

The Soviets beating the U.S. hockey team at the 1980 Olympics was as close to a sure thing as you could imagine, or so it seemed. Only things didn't play out the way either team expected.

In his book, 99: Stories of the Game, the legendary Wayne Gretzky tells the incredible story of what transpired.

“In the United States,” Gretzky writes, “the goal was to build a team that, while not having much chance of winning, would at least not embarrass the country.”

Herb Brooks was hired as coach. If there was one guy in the program who wasn't playing to avoid embarrassment, it was Brooks.

Eighty of the best college players were invited to Colorado Springs in July of 1979 to compete for a roster spot (remember at the time the Olympic games were for amateurs). Although it wasn't so much a competition as formality. Brooks had won three NCAA championships coaching Minnesota, so he pretty much knew the 23 man roster he wanted.

A bit of leadership …

Brooks took one of the assistant coaches aside and said “A lot of these guys hate each other, and the only way I can think to make them a team is for all of them to hate me. You're going to have to keep all the pieces together and be the guy they can lean on, because they're not going to be able to lean on me. I'm going to be the same to all of them. I'm going to be tough on all of them.”

In a warm up game before the Olympics at Madison Square Garden, team USA lost to the Russians 10-3. The players were in awe of the opponent.

Brooks has spent a lot of time in Russia learning some of their systems. Herb discovered that when the Russians played hockey, they didn't shoot the puck unless they thought they could score, and so although it might look as if they had fewer than ten shots on goal, they were shots that counted. …

[I]t was all about puck possession. The Russian team didn't have to work as hard in defense because they had the puck so often. When a lot of people watch hockey, they don't seem to focus on that. A big part of my game (Gretzky) was the forecheck—chasing a defenseman down, lifting his stick, and taking the puck. If you take the puck off a defenseman or player in his own end, you don't have as many players to beat in order to score or to make a play.

An unexpected bit of ego and overconfidence …

The first medal-round game featured the Soviets and Americans. The game was played at 5 p.m. but didn't air on ABC until 8 p.m. “One of the most memorable moments in American sports history would be watched by most Americans three hours after it happened,” Gretzky tells us.

In the locker room just ahead of the game, Herb Brooks gave the most inspirational speech of his life. He told the guys, “You were born to be a player. You were meant to be here. The moment is yours.”

The players skated onto the ice and looked up. The arena was packed. People were waving American flags everywhere. In the first minutes, the Americans surprised the Soviets with how fast and emotionally they played. Still the Soviets scored first. Then the unexpected happened.

Buzz Schneider took a slapshot and beat the legendary Soviet goaltender Vladislav Tretiak, tying the game. The Soviets quickly scored again and it looked like the first period would end that way when Dave Christian picked up the puck in his own zone with only five seconds left. Rather than play till the whistle, a lesson we all learn at one point or another and one that was drilled into me by my high-school football coach, the Soviets had let up thinking the period was over. Christian shot the puck up ice, Mark Johnson chased it down, deked Tretiak, and scored with only one second left. Tie game.

In the second period, Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov pulled a surprise move. He replaced Tretiak—a guy known as one of the best goalies of all time—with his backup, Vladimir Myshkin. I've (Gretzky) had the opportunity to sit down with Tretiak and hear his opinion about it. Tretiak was the biggest star in Russia—and maybe still is, thanks to what he did in '72 as a twenty-year-old goalie—and I think it used to drive Tikhonov crazy. He wanted to show everyone that his coaching was the reason they were winning the Olympics, not Tretiak's goaltending. And to this day, Tretiak thinks that's why he was pulled.

“Don't change a thing. Don't change a thing because they've changed goalies. Don't change a thing. Play the same way,” Brooks was heard telling his team.

A lucky bounce …

In the third period, the Soviets looked dominant again. Then, on a rush, a shot from Dave Silk slipped through a Soviet defenceman's skate right onto Mark Johnson's stick. Before Myshkin could move, it was in the net and the score was tied (3-3). A minute later, the American captain, Mike Eruzione, scored.

Now the Americans were leading, just ten minutes away from a shot at a gold medal. Brooks kept walking up and down the bench saying, “Play your game. Play your game.” He repeated it a thousand times at least.

Jimmy Craig (the American goaltender) was in the zone. He wasn't going to get scored on. When a goalie is in that kind of zone, especially in the playoffs, his ability to anticipate the shot is as good as the rest of his skill set. And Craig wasn't alone—the whole team was flying out there. When you go into a series without the sense of entitlement the Russians had, it gives you the intensity you need to get to that extra level.

The gamed ended 4-3 for the U.S. The Americans swarmed the ice. They could hardly believe it—they had to keep telling themselves, “We beat them. We. Beat. Them.”

It was the first game the Soviets had lost at the Olympics in 12 years.

There are several lessons one can take away from this story—Brooks' leadership to make the team hate him more than each other; Tikhonov's ego pulling the legendary Tretiak to show the world how amazing he was; and the importance of playing to the whistle come to mind. Perhaps the most important lesson of all is that when the conditions are right, a group of “average people” can come together and get non-average results.

99: Stories of the Game goes on to tell 98 other stories about the game of hockey.

Why We Choke

The book Bounce by Matthew Syed is an interesting look at the science of success, filled with stories and interviews of some of the most recognized names in sport.

While Syed focuses the majority of the book on what it takes to excel in sport, or anything for that matter, there is a really interesting chapter on why we choke.

For those of you familiar with the Farnam Street mental models, you’ll recall the concept of inversion. If we want to know how to succeed, we also need to know how to avoid failure.

Why We Choke

Syed himself choked in one of the most important games of his career.

He had made it to Sydney Olympics in 2000 and it was the first time he had been a medal hopeful. He was 29 at the time and already a decorated table tennis player.

He was at the top of his game and was filled with confidence – so why did he choke?

Well to understand that let's first look at what happened to him that day.

Franz stroked the ball into play – a light and gentle forehand topspin. It was not a difficult stroke to return, not a stroke I would normally have had any trouble pouncing upon, and yet I was strangely late on it, my feet stuck in their original position, my racket jabbing at the ball in a way that was totally unfamiliar. My return missed the table by more than two feet.

I shook out my hand, sensing that something was wrong and hoping it would rectify itself. But things got worse. Each time my opponent played a stroke, I found my body doing things that bore no relation to anything I had learned over the last twenty years of playing table tennis: my feet were sluggish, my movements alien, my touch barely existent.

I was trying as hard as I could; I yearned for victory more intensely than in any match i had ever played; and yet it was if I had regressed to the time when I was a beginner.

So why would an elite athlete suddenly play like a beginner?

It comes down to the two ways your mind functions when completing tasks; it uses explicit and implicit monitoring. A novice will use much more conscious or explicit monitoring as they are learning, trying to focus, and trying to remember. An expert has put in the time and gotten to the point where there is a switch to the unconscious or implicit mind. Syed explains:

… the prefrontal cortex is activated when a novice is learning a skill, but that control of the stroke switches over time to areas such as the basal ganglia, which is partly responsible for touch and feel.

This migration from the explicit to the implicit system of the brain has two crucial advantages. First, it enables the expert player to integrate the various parts of a complex skill into one fluent whole …, something that would be impossible at a conscious level because there are too many interconnecting variables for the conscious mind to handle. And second, it frees up attention to focus on higher-level aspects of the skill such as tactics and strategy.

This transition between brain systems can be most easily understood by thinking about what happens when you learn to drive a car. When you start out, you have to focus intently in order to move the gearshift while keeping the steering wheel in the right place, pushing on the clutch, and keeping an eye on the road. In fact, at the beginning these tasks are so difficult to execute simultaneously that the instructor starts you off in a parking lot and helps you slowly to integrate the various elements.

After a few years of driving your car you don’t think much at all about all the elements that are coming together to help guide you down the road. In fact, you are so comfortable with the act that you can sip coffee and sing along to the song on the radio while doing a task that, at one point, was very difficult for you to master. But what happens if something occurred to suddenly shift you from implicit back to explicit, from the unconscious back to the conscious?

This situation has been re-created by Robert Gray, a psychologist at Arizona State University. He took a group of outstanding intercollegiate baseball players and asked them to swing at a moving ball while listening for a randomly presented tone to judge whether the tone was high or low in frequency. As expected, the tone-listening task had no detrimental effect on the efficiency of their swings… Why? Because baseball hitters have automated their shot-making.

But when hitters were asked to indicate whether their bat was moving up or down at the instant the tone sounded, their performance levels plummeted. Why? Because this time the secondary task forced them to direct their attention toward the swing itself. They were consciously monitoring a stroke that was supposed to be automatic. Explicit monitoring was vying with implicit execution.

Their problem was not a lack of focus, but too much focus. Conscious monitoring had disrupted the smooth workings of the implicit system. The sequencing and timing of the different motor responses were fragmented, just as they would be with a novice. They were, effectively, beginners again.

So choking is a form of psychological reversion.

A complex task that you were able to do unconsciously suddenly comes into sharp focus and the complexity of it is really too much for your conscious brain to handle. And, now that your conscious brain is wrapped up in trying to figure out the nuance of this thing you used to know, you can forget about any higher level thinking. In an instant, your switch in focus has turned you from an expert back into a beginner.

Syed explains in more detail:

Consider what happens when executing a simple task, like keeping a cup of coffee upright under pressure – say, because you are walking across a very expensive carpet. In these circumstances, explicit attention is just what you need. By focusing on keeping the cup vertical, you are far less likely to spill the contents because of inadvertence or a lack of concentration. On simple tasks, the tendency to slow down and take conscious control confers huge advantages.

But precisely the opposite applies when executing a complex task. When an expert hits a moving table tennis ball or strikes a fade on a golf shot, any tendency to direct attention toward the mechanics of the shot is likely to be catastrophic because there are too many interconnecting variables for the conscious mind to handle (this is another example of combinatorial explosion).

Choking, then, is a kind of neural glitch that occurs when the brain switches to a system of explicit monitoring in circumstances when it ought to stick to the implicit system. It is not something the performer does intentionally; it just happens. And once the explicit system has kicked in (as anyone who has been afflicted by choking will tell you), it is damned difficult to switch out of.

So how do we overcome choking and stop the explicit system from taking over?

Considering that choking only ever occurs in highly pressurized circumstances, what better way than to convince oneself that a career-defining contest doesn’t really matter? After all, if the performer does not feel any pressure, there is no pressure – and the conscious mind will not attempt to wrestle control from the implicit system.

In the end Syed worked with sports psychologist Mark Bawden to help him overcome his issues with choking. They came up with strategies to lessen the pressure of big matches.

I worked with Bawden for many years after the Olympic Games in Sydney to ward off choking. My method was to think about all the things that are so much more important than sport: health, family, relationships, and so on. During my prematch routine, I would spend a few minutes in a deeply relaxed state, filling my mind with these thoughts, finishing with an affirmation…: ‘It’s only table tennis!’ By the time I reached the court, my beliefs had altered: the match was no longer the be-all and end-all.

This is a good strategy for the next time you have an important meeting/interview/presentation, counter-intuitively tell yourself it’s not that big of a deal. Remind yourself of all the things that are more important and maybe even calm yourself with some stoic negative thinking. Be confident and try not to overthink.

Billy Beane on Making Better Decisions, Challenging Entrenched Thinking, and Avoiding Biases

Moneyball Billy Beane

Billy Beane was put in the spotlight when Brad Pitt played him in the movie rendition of Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.

Sports fans, however, knew long before Moneyball that Beane was special. He's the guy largely credited with taking a low budget team and turning them around by challenging the fundamental notions of a sport that had been around 150 years.

In a fascinating interview given on stage at the RSA conference in April 2015, Beane offered advice on how to make good decisions by challenging organizational norms, effectively using data, and avoiding biases. 

When asked about pushing through entrenched thinking, Beane replied:

I sort of represented that entrenched thinking in some respect, because I was the guy who came up in the business – a business that was 150 years old – as a former player. Quite frankly, I had a great mentor, a gentleman who didn't come up in the industry, in Sandy Alderson.

When I hired, I made sure I looked outside at somebody who didn't have the experience bias with my first, and maybe even one of the best hires I ever had was Paul DePodesta, who was a Harvard Econ major, didn't play sports, and really, was able to come in and look at things with an eye that wasn't biased.

We also took ideas from people outside the industry, guys like Bill James and Sean Cook and applied them.

On how biases creep into our thought process no matter how old we are or in what industry we operate, Beane commented on taking the emotion out of the decision making process and making it more rational.

Your own experiences, particularly in sports, where that experience may also be tied to an emotion as well, you tend to say, in football or soccer, in soccer there's a goal, and not all goals are created in terms of how you emotionally react to them. Baseball's a little bit the same way. So you kind of have to take a blind eye and look at things from the start and not make assumptions.

For us, we ultimately wanted to take all the emotion out of our decision making, and that came, many times, with your own experience.

One way to do that is to let data help you make decisions.

But data is everywhere and cheap. How can we leverage data analytics and extract meaningful information? On this Beane advocates an approach that makes sure you have cognitive diversity in the room – in other words, people that wouldn't normally be there.

[T]he book was really based on public information, as I said. Bill James had been writing for years, but because they didn't come up in the industry, it really was never applied. Again, sports is very emotional. Very much, you have to come pass the eye test. What we wanted to do was make sure our eyes weren't fooling us.

As far as today, the game and sports has changed dramatically. In fact, looking at the book now, it feels like you're watching an episode of “The Flintstones” a little bit when you see some of this stuff. The only thing that I haven't changed is making sure that I bring in guys that normally wouldn't be in this room. The advantage I have is I have access to intellectual capital that normally would be in this room, but want to work for a sports team.

We have access to data, everything … was being measured, thrown into this huge vat of data, and it's up to my staff to sift through what has relevance and which doesn't as it applies to predicting player performance.

One of the keys to looking at data is to bring different lenses to it to gain insight. You also need to put processes and systems in place with respective feedback loops to make sure you're not a sucker—that is, you can distinguish between luck and skill.

You're constantly evaluating. Sometimes, even when you have success, there's an assumption that that success was based on your process. Actually, you're always analyzing your process, making sure that the reason you weren't correct wasn't through serendipity, but the reason was because you have a good process and you're doing things properly.

It's challenging because the business of sports has become very, very intelligent. Baseball teams, football teams, basketball teams, they're all using this, and hiring, once again, guys that normally would probably be in this room.

The world is always changing as its a dynamic system. Your processes need to be adaptive. You can't have static processes in a dynamic world or you will go extinct.

[T]here's so many variables in sports, too. We try and quantify things that you don't think you can quantify, things that people…Once again, when you talk about challenging assumptions, things that people assume can't be quantified.

You try and quantify them so, at least, you're creating a process that, more than anything, when you are right or wrong, you can at least go back and look and see why you were right or wrong, similar to a mathematical equation.

Beane found a way to challenge assumptions and in so doing gain insight that he had the courage (and authority) to put into practice. How did he change the way things were done?

Well, sometimes you don't. Early on in our process, we lost employees because there certainly wasn't a belief. Now, understand, when we started out we had a great platform. We were challenged from revenue standpoint, so it was an opportunity in some sense, and we really had no other way to operate.

Through the course of doing things this way, we certainly lost people, but in the same sense, another year later we would gain two more people who were interested in going down this road. For us, it was rational. It made sense, and we really had no other choice.

Billy Beane

But, as Keynes so aptly put it “Worldly wisdom teaches us that it is better for the reputation to fail conventionally than to succeed unconventionally.” And that path was not a linear story to success. There were moments when he doubted himself and operating in a cut-throat industry probably didn't make things easier. All eyes were on him. Was there a pressure to go back to the way things were always done?

Unfortunately, probably for some A's fans. They probably doubted me more than I (did). I think the one thing about the process, it was like a math equation. At least we knew why we were doing something. Our other option, to us, didn't make much sense. Certainly, you're hoping you're going in the right direction, and the assumption is that you are. We felt like that was the best road that we could travel.

I think, if anything, we certainly didn't fear failure, because we felt like going a traditional path was certainly the surest of failure, based on our revenues and the payroll that we were on. We had a lot of autonomy, too. Autonomy within, we were given a budget. The only limitations we had in terms of our intellectual curiosity was really making sure we stayed in the budget our ownership gave us. “Listen, hey, do what you want to do, but make sure you stay within the lines a little bit.”

But again, the fear…We knew going down another subjective path, we were certain to fail. We weren't going to consistently put something together that was on a year by year basis. The fear of going that route, there was greater fear going that route than going an objective route.

As a leader it was Beane's job to make sure the strategy they were using to find under-rated players was embedded throughout the organization.

At times it was challenging, because we hired some really…I was a former baseball player, and a lot of guys who had come up in the business, the guys we were bringing in were guys with PhDs in behavioral economics and Harvard masters in statistics, and things like that. Bridging that gap initially was challenging because most, certainly a baseball player like myself, my default position isn't to run a regression log.

We operate in a world with tremendous amounts of data and information but we're not challenging the platform that we're starting with to the extent we should be.

Even with a very young and progressive group of thinkers that are around me,  with a little bit of experience, you will always start at a platform that you assume to be true based on previous success. We always have to analyze our foundation because very quickly a culture and a tradition of doing things can get ingrained in a very short period of time. If you assume from a false platform that you're correct, you can go really awry. For us, it is constantly…Also, not being wrapped up in your own hubris with success and understanding that even with an objective based decision making, you are not going to be right 100 percent of the time.


What Can One of The Great Coaches of All Time Teach You About Leadership?

Bill Belichick

History will judge Bill Belichick as one of the greatest coaches ever. Not just in the NFL, where he coaches the New England Patriots, but in all of sports. He's also incredibly smart.

In his keynote address at the “Sports Medicine and the NFL: The Playbook for 2013” symposium Belichick offered a rare glimpse into his thoughts on mental toughness and leadership.

Mental toughness

In the end, our ability to perform under pressure is critical. In that light, it really comes down to two things. No. 1, the team process, all of us being able to work together and perform productively in the way that we need to do to win. We use the term ‘mental toughness’ a lot, and to me that term means doing the right thing for the team when things aren’t right for you — maybe a guy that’s not getting the playing time he hoped for, maybe he isn’t getting as many opportunities to do whatever it is he’d like to do. We all have to give up a little bit of something in this sport, and mental toughness is going out there and doing what’s best for the team even though everything isn’t going exactly the way you want it to. That’s what defines mental toughness in my mind.

Balancing the need for individual performance in a team sport

We’ve all heard the saying ‘there’s no I in team’ but in my mind I think there is a balance on that. There is an ‘I’ in ‘win’ and that stands for individual performance. Without strong individual performances from all members of the team, again regardless of what that person’s role in the game is – whether it’s the head trainer, the head coach, the offensive play-caller, the left defensive end — the individual performance of each of those people is what determines whether we can win the game. We can all stand around in the locker room and hold hands and chant ‘Team! Team! Team!’ all day and that isn’t going to do anything. We have to go out there and individually perform. There is a balance there.

… Sometimes it becomes a fine line between doing what’s best for the team and your individual performance. The way we try to handle that, or manage it, is that your individual performance is critical for us to win, and your mental toughness is doing what’s best for the team in every situation. So being solid and doing your job, and if you’re prepared and everybody around you knows that you are prepared and they can count on you, and you’re dependable to go out and do your job, then it makes it a lot easier for the person beside you to go out and do theirs. So if I’m playing right tackle and if I know the right guard is prepared – he’s studied, he’s dependable, he’s going to do everything he can to do the right thing, well, I’m just going out there and doing my job, I’m not thinking about whether he’s going to be here, or be there, and if we call this is he going to get it or not get it?


“I get asked about this a lot, the leadership part of a team and how it develops. Can you build chemistry? Can you build leadership? How do you make guys into leaders and that kind of thing?

What I’ve always told our team, and what I thoroughly believe in, is that every member of our team – players, coaches, support staff and so forth – is a shareholder. They have a share in the team. Are they all exactly equal? Of course not, but they’re all shareholders. Every member of the team has an opportunity to show positive leadership or negative leadership. That’s really what it comes to. The question for that person is ‘How are they going to do that? How are they going to control that?’ Positive leadership, in my mind, comes from two things: No. 1, doing your job. If you don’t do your job, I don’t see how you can give any leadership. A lot of people who aren’t very good at doing their job, and who try to give leadership, are just looked at as ‘Look, buddy, why don’t you just do your job? Why don’t we start with that instead of trying to tell everybody else what to do?’ So No. 1 [is] do your job. No. 2 [is] put the team first. If those two things are in place, then that person is going to give positive leadership to the team.

Leadership comes in all shapes and sizes

I can say through almost 40 years of NFL experience that leadership comes in a lot of shapes and sizes. I’ve had players who were very vocal that were great leaders. I’ve had players who were vocal that weren’t great leaders. We’ve had other players that would never say a word. Troy Brown. He is never going to say a word. He’s just going to go out there, do his job, and do it the best he could and do what’s in the best interest of the team. He would never be one to stand up before a game and give some big team speech. That just wasn’t his style. But nobody had more leadership than Troy Brown did. So it’s not about giving a team speech, it’s not about having some big presentation or anything. Leadership is about doing your job and putting the team first. When Troy Brown played for us, he returned kicks, he covered kicks, he caught a lot of passes in the slot, he blocked and when we needed him in some very critical situations he went over and played defense against some very good teams and very good players. Was it always perfect? No, but he competed as hard as he could. He did the very best he could for the team and that’s all you could ask for; it didn’t matter what it was. Here is an example of a guy who was as good of a leader as I’ve ever coached who said probably less than any player of his stature that I’ve ever coached. So it’s not about volume or who’s the most talkative guy. It’s the guy who does his job and puts the best interests of the team and organization in the lead.

Either you're going to make changes or they're going to change you …

One of the things that I deal with, and I’m sure many of you do too, is just a volume of people. We have 53 players, and then guys on the practice squad, guys on injured reserve. So before you know it, you’re well into the 60s, sometimes 70 players. It’s impossible to deal with every one of those guys on an individual basis on a daily basis. You pick your spots with guys here and there, but you still have to connect with the whole team. One way is to stand there and address the team on a daily basis, which I definitely do. But another important way of connecting with your team in terms of leadership is your captains. As it relates to whatever organization you have, you have other people responsible for other people below you, and I’ve always felt that having the right people as captains was critical. We let the team vote on that, and I would say that most of the time, in the 90th percentile, that the team would vote for the same people that I would. But I would say that when the team is not voting for the people that you’d think are the right people, then you probably have problems all the way through your team. If you don’t have a good team, and they’re voting guys into leadership positions, you know you have problems all the way through. So you have to make changes. Either you’re going to make changes or they’re going to change you – one or the other.


If you have a solid group working for you all the way through, those captains will be the right people because your team is made up of the right people. So my communication with that group of people on a weekly basis or bi-weekly basis, the captains, is important to the overall communication of the team. They represent everybody – the offense, the defense, special teams, linemen, skill groups, and there are a couple guys on the younger side, a couple guys on the older side. So some of it’s football-related, some of it’s not football-related. It’s a good way for me to get a good pulse of the team but also to hear their message, and in some cases, deliver my message to them because it’s going to carry some weight [with other players] when it comes from them. It’s been a very good way for me to help manage the team and develop leadership. Once those guys are in those positions, they’re not just out there to walk out there for the toss of the coin; that’s really the least of their responsibilities. Their job really comes more to setting an example, showing leadership, and most importantly communicating one way or the other – whether it’s from the players to me or from me to the players – what we need to get done. …

Bringing people together

“It's hard when you have a large group of people, and all of them have their own individual interests, that you collectively have to try to bring everybody together to see it through, as much as you can, one set of eyes — one vision — is challenging on a lot of levels. In the end, I would say the biggest key to it is the communication and having people that have a passion for the same thing you're trying to do.”

(These comments were sourced from ESPN Boston)