Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Don Shula - Everyone's A Coach

Perfection: the 17-0 1972 Dolphins
The NFL Network just did a great piece on Don Shula, the NFL's winningest coach with 347 wins, Don Shula on the 40th anniversary of the 1973 Super Bowl that capped off the 1972 perfect season.  One of the biggest thrills of my coaching career was from my second year in 2002 when we played at St. Thomas Aquinas and I went up in the booth and saw Don Shula and got to shake his hand.  Here are some of the notes from Shula's book with Ken Blanchard, Everyone's a Coach: Five Business Secrets for High Performance Coaching which I highly recommend.  I haven't looked at these notes in years, and I forgot how good the content was.


  • When I took over the Dolphins in 1970, the press wanted to know what my three- or five-year plan was.  I told them my plan was day-to-day.
  • We had four workouts a day during my first Dolphins training camp.  The players complained, but then stopped after we won a few pre-season games.  They attributed the turnaround to the hard work they’d done.  The things they complained the most about, they later credited for the change in the football team.
  • KB: Don made me realize that if you’re going to compete today and be the best, you have to push yourself and others—hard.
  • If you allow sloppy practice and don’t push your team to continually improve, sloppiness becomes a habit.
  • The best way to continue to improve is to practice hard all the time.
  • Mean Joe Greene: “You have to respect Coach Shula’s thirty years of excellence.  That’s no accident.  You’re a fool if you think so.” 
  • The five secrets of effective coaching can be organized into a simple acronym: C.O.A.C.H.

  • Conviction-Driven
    • Effective leaders stand for something
  • Overlearning
    • Effective leaders help their teams achieve practice perfection
  • Audible-Ready
    • Effective leaders, and the people and teams they coach, are ready to change their game plan when the situation demands it.
  • Consistency
    • Effective leaders are predictable in their response to performance
  • Honesty-Based
    • Effective Leaders have high integrity and are clear and straightforward in their interactions with others.

  1. Conviction-Driven
  • My coaching beliefs in a nutshell are these:
    • Keep winning and losing in perspective
    • Lead by example
    • Go for respect over popularity
    • Value character as well as ability
    • Work hard but enjoy what you do
  • “Without vision, the people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18)
  • Max DePree, on what the leader’s role was in terms of vision: “You have to act like a third-grade teacher.  You have to repeat the vision over and over again until people get it right.”
  • You need to develop a clear vision of perfection in your own mind.  Know what a perfect practice or weight workout should look like.  Go watch how the best teams do it to know what it is supposed to look like.
  • I’m not a real pleasant person after losing a football game, but I’d be a lot worse if I didn’t realize something far bigger than football exists.
  • Norman Vincent Peale always believed that faith leads to positive thinking and patience.  When things aren’t going right, patience is an energized belief that things will eventually go your way.  As a result, you don’t give up and start to cheat or lose control or begin to take uncalled-for risks to get the results you want right now.  While Don Shula does not consider himself a patient man, his faith does not let adversity consume him or let his ego take over.
  • “Success is not forever, and failure isn’t fatal.”—Don Shula’s favorite saying
  • You just can’t afford to let yourself become overconfident through victory or consumed by failure.  It tends to divert attention from the business at hand—preparing for the next game.
  • One of the marks of real success in life is to believe that there’s a reason for everything.  We can’t control every event, but we can control our response to it.  We need to transform bad events into opportunities to learn.
  • Dean Smith: “If you make every game a life-and-death proposition…you’ll be dead a lot.”
  • Respect comes from players recognizing that your actions are motivated not by your ego, but by your desire to have them be the best.  Players don’t have to like you to respect you.  If what you’re after is being liked, that’s going to dictate how hard you’ll push.  As soon as that happens, there goes your effectiveness and your respect.
  • As long as you have credibility, you have leadership.
  • If ever you make a mistake or don’t make the right call, and you don’t acknowledge that it was your mistake, that’ll eat away at your credibility.
  • Some coaches are described as player’s coaches, they want their team to love them.  Don doesn’t care if they like him.  That is not his job.  His concern is that players be their best.
  • If you worry too much about being liked, you might back off from decisions that would push people to be their best.
  • I don’t know any other way, but to lead by example.  My example is in things like my high standards of performance, my attention to detail, and—above all—how hard I work.  In these respects, I never ask my players to do more than I am willing to do.
  • One of the critical leadership issues in our country today is lack of respect and credibility.  The rule is, “Don’t ask people to do what you’re unwilling to do.”
  • If you miss your assignment and hurt your team, you can’t ask to do it over.  In life and in football, you don’t get two chances.

  1. Overlearning
  • The essence of coaching is the attention to details and the monitoring of results.  This is what Shula calls overlearning.  His overlearning system is:
1.     To limit the number of goals and things players work on,
2.     Eliminating players’ practice errors,
3.     Making players master assignments,
4.     Continuous improvement. 
  • Don Shula believes in practice perfection.  Perfection only happens when the mechanics are automatic, so I insist on overlearning.  Overlearning means that the players are so well-prepared that they thrive on pressure.  They have the skill and confidence to make the big play.
  • A blown play is caused by a player thinking too hard about what he was supposed to do.  He’s still wondering, when he should just react.  The players must operate on autopilot.  Overlearning lets your players operate on autopilot.
  • Goal setting is overrated.  What’s often more important than these goals is the follow-up—the attention to detail, demand for practice perfection, and all the things that separate the teams that win from the teams that don’t.
  • It seems the American way is to set goals, file them away, and then look back at them months later and wonder why they didn’t get accomplished.
  • Goals begin the accomplishment process.  But it’s the coaching—observing and monitoring, day in and day out—that makes the critical difference.
  • “The destination is marvelous, but the real joy is the journey.”—Bob Small
  • “Football is a game of errors.  The team that makes the fewest errors in a game usually wins.”—Paul Brown
  • Our goal each and every week as we prepare to play the next opponent is to cut down on practice errors.  Affirming and redirecting is where we outstrip the competition.  I think every mistake should be noticed and corrected on the spot.  There’s no such thing as a small error or flaw that can be overlooked.
  • An event isn’t over until after you’ve learned from it.  People in organizations today should develop a fascination with what doesn’t work.
  • KB: My five-step plan for coaching people is:
1.    Tell people what you want them to do
2.    Show them what good performance looks like
3.    Let them do it
4.    Observe their performance
5.    Praise progress and/or redirect
  • Step 4 is the most important: to observe is to catch them doing things right, or redirect their efforts.
  • The Miami Herald’s Dave Barry once labeled this as a nightmare scenario: You’re in the express checkout lane, limit ten items.  You have eleven items.  Running the cash register is Don Shula.
  1. Audible-Ready
  • Audibles are well thought out and choreographed ahead of time.  Shula is always asking, “What if…?” so that he is prepared for any contingency.
  • Have a gameplan of what your back-up QB can do.
  • “Shula listens to advice, then makes a decision and moves forward to implement it, without looking back.  The coaches who burn themselves out are the ones who are always second-guessing themselves.  The players respect a coach who’s not wishy-washy.”—Joe Greene
  • Shula has always been able to adjust well because the moment when the need arose was not the first time he’d thought about it.
 Consistency
  • If performance is going well, Shula is ready to praise.  If the team or a player isn’t living up to his high expectations, he’s ready to redirect or reprimand.  Shula behaves the same way in similar circumstances.  It’s not the mood he’s in but people’s performance that dictates his response.
  • If you are consistent, your team will soon learn what your standards are and perform accordingly.
  • Correcting and redirecting performance is strategically important— it’s where we outstrip the competition.  Some coaches will let little things go.  Right there is where the difference is made.  It doesn’t matter how many times we’ve done it or how late it is or how tired the players are.  We’ll do it until we get it right.
  • No matter what the reason, you can’t let poor performance go unnoticed—even from a superstar.  The same goes for good performance.  Never let your mood determine how you respond to a person.
  • There are four kinds of consequences that can follow a person’s performance:
1.    A positive consequence- if praise is given for a correct action, the person is likely to repeat the action.
2.    Redirection- if performance is stopped and the correct procedure is shown, the person is likely to repeat the correct procedure.
3.    A negative consequence- if a reprimand or punishment is given for an incorrect action, the person is likely to avoid repeating the incorrect action.
4.    No response- nothing is said or done following the action.  This is the worst response.  Good actions that receive no recognition are likely to be discarded, and bad actions will continue unchanged.
  • 25 percent of what impacts performance comes from setting goals, and 75 percent comes from what happens after goals are set.
  • One thing I never want to be accused of is not noticing.
  • In an organization, the most frequent response that employees receive about their performance is no response.
  • “The key to developing people is to catch them doing something right.”—Ken Blanchard
  • I like to recognize our players in front of their peers.  I have the entire team view the game film that focuses on the special teams.  It makes the special teams players feel they are an important part of the team when a star like Dan Marino says, “Hey, that was a great hit!”
  • When our staff is teaching something new in training camp, we give the players a lot of support and are more patient.  Later, when the season starts, we expect more; therefore we praise less.
  • KB: “People often ask me, ‘What is the one most significant thing you’ve learned about managing and motivating others?  I tell them that, without question, it’s the concept of catching people doing something right.’”
  • Managers often think that the way to motivate associates is with money and promotions.  The highest incentives found, in study after study, had to do with praise and recognition.
  • If I see somebody doing something casually that I don’t think should be done casually, I don’t hesitate to correct it on the spot.  I can’t let this creep into my football.
  • When I get upset with a player or the team, it is always focused on performance.  Respect for my players is a given.
  • I try to fit my feedback to a player’s personality.  Bob Griese was a very quiet, thoughtful person.  He did not respond well to emotional reprimands.  It was better to take him aside and talk to him quietly and in private.  Dan Marino is an emotional player and has to be treated in a completely different way.
  • Redirecting is the way to correct a mistake when an individual or team has not yet learned to do what you want them to do.  It is incorrect to punish when someone is learning something.  When a learner makes a mistake, be sure the person knows that the behavior was incorrect, but take the blame upon yourself (“Maybe I didn’t make it clear enough”) and go back and give redirection.
  • A reprimand is an example of a negative consequence.  Use a reprimand only when an individual or team has already proven that they can do it, but they aren’t doing it correctly now.  Use a reprimand when the problem is a lack of effort.
  • After delivering a reprimand, it’s important for people to understand that you still value them.  Make sure they know that you are upset because you expect more from him (“You’re better than that!).

5.  Honesty-Based

  • Effective leaders are clear and straightforward in their interactions with others.
  • “I had a tough decision to make before the 1972 Super Bowl of whether to start Earl Morrall or Bob Griese, who had just come back from injury.  I chose to start Griese and had to tell Morrall.  Softening a blow is not one of my gifts.  I approached things in a straightforward manner—I sat down and looked him in the eye and said, ‘This is what I think.  You may not agree with it.  But this is the way I feel, and this is why I am doing it.  I know it’s tough to swallow, but I just want you to try to understand what I’m thinking and what my purpose is.’”  The decision hurt Morrall, but he appreciated the way I handled it.
  • In a competitive environment, ethical considerations are often the first to be abandoned.  The reason this doesn’t work is that the number characteristic people are looking for in a leader is integrity.  Integrity is the only way to be successful in the long-term.
  • Dealing with others in a leadership role will test your character, especially if your role is a visible one.  You should expect the pressures and be ready for them.
  • There is often a big gap or difference between what managers say they stand for and how they actually treat people.  Gaps are also a problem in our personal lives.  We say our families and our health are important, but we don’t invest enough time into our families and exercising as we should.  All of us must find ways of bridging the gaps between what we say and what we do.
  • Feedback is the breakfast of champions, but it can only be given effectively in an environment where people aren’t uptight and feel like they always have to defend themselves.  Humor can help to keep the environment from being too tense so feedback can be effective.
  • The real difference in coaching is not about talent.  Or personality.  Or pride.  Or ambition.  It’s about you believing in someone.  And then doing whatever it takes to help that person be his or her very best.

Also, tremendous article on Shula from MMQB's Jenny Vrentas here.

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