Recently on the “Mike and Mike” ESPN morning show, Mark Schlereth, a former NFL player, said when he played for the Washington Redskins, Coach Joe Gibbs had two mantras:
• Lose “yourself”; and
• Great talent makes plays the first three quarters; great character makes plays in the fourth quarter.
In my forty-four years of coaching, I found both of these statements to be absolutely true. In fact, I wish I had been aware of them when I was coaching. I certainly would have quoted Coach Gibbs to our players.
The very best teams have players who do what Coach Gibbs preached – they lose “themselves.” In abandoning ego, their total mind-set is on the team and they will do anything they can to help the team win.
Through the years we had players who probably should have been starting, but, for the sake of the team, they agreed to come off the bench. They were complete team players and they were so valuable to us because when we were sluggish, they could enter the game and immediately pick up our tempo.
We also found that character was critical in building a team, so to the best of our ability, we recruited character. Not only would character make plays in the fourth quarter, it could very well be the key ingredient to making or breaking a season. I never coached an undefeated basketball team. Almost every season I coached, our team went through some rough periods, some stretches of losing.
Teams that do not have people of character go south when the losing comes. Players start pointing fingers at everyone – coaches and teammates alike. But teams with character fight through the tough times and overcome the obstacles.
Mike Ditka said it well when describing his Chicago Bears Super Bowl championship team. He said they definitely had characters on that team, but they also had character.
Coach John Wooden of UCLA fame also said it well when he stated that great teams have players who sacrifice their individual glory for team glory.
Is it not the same in any business or any organization? Leaders, like coaches, want to develop people who lose themselves for the sake of the entire organization. These people are people of character.
Coach Gibbs’ two mantras go hand-in-hand. Players with character do lose themselves into the team concept.