“The Bottom Line”

Posted by jlubans on January 20, 2021

Caption: One of several interceptions during the end of the 2020 college football season.

This past year, the University of Oklahoma’s football team went from last in defense in their league to the best defense in their league.
In the past decade they’ve been notable for an aerial offense run by quarterbacks hurling long distance passes caught by sprinting and soaring receivers.
This year, one sports writer marveled apostatically: ”Is OU’s defense better than its offense?”
How did this reversal happen?
Well, a new Defensive Coordinator (Alex Grinch), helped, along with the leadership of his boss, head coach Lincoln Riley.
The Sooners, as the OU team is known, play at an elite level. All of the coaches are fluent in the best and latest techniques and strategies for playing football, not to mention the nutrition and strengthening routines prescribed for each player. Their objective is to prepare each player to be the best he can possibly be.
Techniques and strategies are inculcated daily.
But, what appears to have made the greatest difference for these players was Grinch’s stress on playing every “snap” of the ball in practice just like they would be expected to play during the game.
In other words, the urgency, the intensity of game day (Saturday) is something to be emulated during practice drills (Monday-Friday).
This mindset, pushed daily by the coach, evolved over the season, and steadily the defense was holding opponents to low scores, much lower than in previous years.
Toward season’s end, there was one word to describe OUs defense: dominant.
What does this have to do with the workplace?
Well, in the workplace we are always puzzling about how best to motivate the troops.
Some coaches rely on yelling, butt kicking, and locker room exhortation. Businesses may use a softer, kinder approach, but it’s still pretty much the same external push to make someone do something.
Alas, these are short term solutions and always need renewal: louder yelling, escalating verbal threats and abuse and more extreme exhortation.
Many players resent being yelled at and tune out. The yelling, however subdued, often is only one way: the coach tells you what to do, what you did wrong, and how you have to improve. Eventually, the berated tune out.
So, then how do you motivate players to achieve? Or do you?
At the OU level of the sport, these players are already motivated.
Unlike many traditional organizations, there are no “lifers” on a football team.
These players want guidance; not a kick in the ass.
They have already bought in. They want opportunity.
They want to improve. They want to be shown how to improve.
They want to be challenged; but in do-able ways.
Now, keep in mind, football teams are large organizations, easily over 100 players composed of a defensive eleven, an offensive eleven, and special teams, along with a cadre of “red shirt” players who practice alongside starters but do not play in games, as yet.
And, there are second and third team platoons (22 players each).
Traditionally, the second and third “stringers” – the “bench warmers” - wait for the “starter” to graduate or become injured; then they get to step in and “step up” and show their stuff.
Due to the virus, many starters wound up in quarantine and their understudies got to play. Some coaches had to rotate players from the 2nd and 3rd teams into the game day plan.
OU appeared to have done this as well as anyone, adding exceptional depth – due to all that talent waiting in the wings - for playing an hour-long game (a televised football game takes about 3 hours).
By the 4th quarter – the last 15 minutes - a team rotating out defenders vs a team that does not is far fresher and stronger.
Fatigue results in errors, often very costly ones, such as interceptions.
As illustrated, the fresher player sprints past the tired opponent and snags the ball: a takeaway!
And there’s a key point: the player (not the coach) makes the interception. The empowered player’s being at the right place at the right time has to come from inside the player.
At post-game press conferences, I am always interested in what Mr. Grinch has to say, but I am even more interested in what his players say.
More than once, the coach used a catch phrase to explain how he inculcates urgency and a winning attitude, the term, “playing to the bottom line”.
Here’s how 2 players explain what the “bottom line “means to them:
“Straining to the ball, playing together, being physical.”
“Striving to the ball, play hard, make those plays, and make those plays present themselves.”
They’ve jumbled the coach’s phrase “playing to the bottom line” but does it matter?
There’s implied urgency (strain, strive) in how each defines the term and how they will themselves to play each snap of the ball and “make those plays present themselves”!
How do organizations achieve this level of urgency?
Do they even want urgency anywhere near them? Well, is that not something we should want in every organization? An inculcated desire to be the best every day.
What is the bottom line for you? For your organization? What’s the ball you strive toward?
Not just in football, how do you get each worker (or most workers) to play to the bottom line? In an epidemic, what does that look like in state government? Is it possible to generate such a mind set in a bureaucracy?
Yes, if you have courageous leadership and a team with a majority of willing and capable followers.

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© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021

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