Archives For football

Steel Curtain

MH3 —  January 24, 2017

The curtain came down quickly and ferociously on my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday night. Unfortunately, the Black & Yellow have badly tarnished their infamous reputation of having a ferocious Steel Curtain defence for much of the past forty years. Sunday, it looked like a shower curtain.

In a world where we often make far too many comparisons between sports and business, this unhappy fan needs to drag you through one more analogy therapy session. It’s because I can’t really understand what happened when I evaluate the loss through my sports-loving eyes. The fan in me actually thought we were going to win, by ten points no less!

So the business thinker in me needs to take over. I heard a question on ESPN Radio this morning that resonated. Why don’t more teams copy what the New England Patriots have done for the past two decades? How come they alone are re-writing the record books at a furious pace? How come the most hated sixth-round draft pick ever has the chance to be one of the most successful QBs in history? (Please don’t name him the most successful QB of all time because of the potential for five Super Bowl wins. Bart Starr won five NFL titles and Otto Graham won seven professional football titles.) But win, lose or draw Super Bowl LI, the Pats are still amazing for what they have accomplished.

To provide you with the most objective comparison I can, I am going to evaluate the success of the Pats organization with that of my Steelers from one moment in time. Sunday Night. It will be a debilitating exercise for me but one from which I think I can provide myself with daily reminders about what it takes to be successful. And, of course, because I love threes. Mh3 is going to serve this up in three digestible courses.

Purpose

I didn’t know whether to label this one pain or purpose. My Steelers looked disinterested from winning the game until the end. I could have also named this one passion. Passion, for me, is the most powerful word in business. It’s the one trait that can overcome all other shortcomings in a candidate or within a culture. If you are talented and also passionate than you are going to be a star. If your organization is loaded with talent and passion, watch out for competition. So why did I use the word purpose? Why did I consider the word pain? Because I think that the Pats have been playing with a purpose all season, caused by immense and unjust pain that is fuelling their passion. All of this can be accredited to one man, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who spent two years chasing down Tom Brady to punish him for Deflategate. The Pats shouldn’t be mad at the commissioner, the rest of the league should be. He has fuelled their already mighty fire and increased it to torch mode. This team is on a mission from Goodell to win that Lombardi Trophy and make him say nice things about them post-game in Houston. Want to get yourself fired up? Want to get your organization fired up? I am convinced that pain, desperation and anguish will always bring out the strongest character in human beings, much more than the pursuit of happiness. Scientifically, I challenge you to examine the origins of the best songs, the innovations created during wars and the philosophy produced by depravation. Pain creates purpose. Add a little, or a lot, to your next planning meeting and watch the idea fireworks explode!

Preparation

Did you hear the joke about the NFL team who had full contact practices the week of their conference championship game? If this was 1987 or 1967 that would be no joke. But in 2017? It is true. The New England Patriots had full pad, tackle to the ground practices leading up to the championship game. This team’s preparation has been legendary for years. If you haven’t read the story about them practicing against Seattle’s goal line pass (remember the Super Bowl interception?) in the pre-season that year, you must! But it’s true. The Pats staff was so upset about fumbles and missed tackles in their previous playoff game, they moved aside the tackling dummies and pylons, and told their stars to go at it. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Steelers were learning how to use Facebook, holding pep rallies and planning their wardrobe for Houston. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating but preparation is the key to anything. If you want to have a great meeting with your boss, prepare! Think about what questions they will ask you. Try to understand what challenges are on their plate for the week. Technology is amazing but it still cannot make up for old fashioned blood, sweat and more sweat if you want to win a piece of new business, sign a new sponsor, get that internship or out hustle the other guy or gal.  If you watched this game you felt like the Steelers had never even heard of Chris Hogan. Otherwise, they may have come within 15 yards of him at some point. The Steelers didn’t prepare hard enough. This in’t just a coaching issue. Everything you read from the Pats locker room is that the team prepares so incredibly well because their leader on the field (Tommy Brady) works so hard. In your organization, who is that de facto on-field leader who raises the bar for everybody else? Neither motivational speeches or butt kickings can match the powerful presence of a standard bearer. Every organization needs one. Who is your Tom Brady?

Poise

New England came out at the beginning of the first and third quarters smacking the Steelers right in the mouth. It took the life out of the Steelers. You could see it on the sidelines. You could see it in the eyes of the coaches. You could see it in the eyes of the players. The result was a Steelers team that lost their confidence, completely abandoned their mojo and played without poise. At the end of the first half they decided not to use their timeouts, happy to escape down “only” 17-9. What? You are in a championship game! Every possession, every yard, every point is huge, yet the coaches decided to run and hide. In business, we all face adversity. That isn’t the cause of problems. Problems start when you lose your poise. When you doubt yourself, your capabilities, your organization, your team. No business, organization, charity, government or community group has many days on the calendar where challenges aren’t flooding in. Building your ship to withstand the worst challenges is the best organizational design theory in the world. As a leader, it is even more important for you to keep your poise because the world is watching. I love Mike Tomlin, because he is my team’s coach. But I can’t say i loved how he withered in the looming shadow of Bill Belichick’s hoody.

I know these ramblings may make little sense to you, but they will help me swallow my pride and watch the Super Bowl. More importantly, they validate to me that sport imitates life and there can be something to be learned from any disappointment. Even a slip in the shower with the mouldy curtain providing your only defence!

 

 

Sleepless in Seattle

MH3 —  February 3, 2014

Why in the name of Jim Zorn does everyone think the Super Bowl game was boring?

A safety on the first play from scrimmage?
A pick-six interception return by an obscure linebacker soon to be Super Bowl MVP?
A drum solo by Bruno Mars?
A gritty TD reception by an undrafted free agent?

I thought it was a great spectacle, albeit not a close game.

The highlights, big plays, and momentum-changing moments beautifully illustrated the true storyline behind the game. This game wasn’t about Manning vs Sherman; prolific offence vs dominating defence; skiers vs sippers. It was about Passion vs Precision.

The Precision was Peyton Manning and John Fox and the Denver Broncos’ attempt to out-think, out-plan, and out-scheme Seattle. Instead they were knocked out by the passion of the Seahawks.

That passion oozes out daily through the energy and emotion of Seattle head coach Pete Carroll. Maybe it was the decade in the California sun, but this 62-year-old man looks and acts 42. Once cast off from the NFL coaching ranks as too soft and too caring, his return to the league has been clearly categorized as triumphant with this Lombardi Trophy win.

Carroll honed his approach at USC and created a college football powerhouse with the Trojans. He didn’t change a thing when he returned to the No Fun League. Instead, what he has done is showcase the power of having a purpose, instilling confidence in your charges, and understanding that passion will always win out over system.

Carroll’s will to win is every bit as strong as the namesake on the Super Bowl trophy. It would be a disservice to suggest that Seattle doesn’t have complex schemes and systems. Of course they do. But more than that, they have a culture, a program, and a sense of team that goes far beyond any X’s and O’s.

Fearmonger

MH3 —  January 19, 2014

This morning, while taking my son to his freestyle skiing competition, I drove past one of my former rivals from my high school football days.

Predictably, he groaned as I began to tell him about every game we played against this school. Not again, he begged, and I begrudgingly retreated into silence. But silence can often prove to be a blessing, as it allowed me to think about my worst game against this rival.

It was the year I finally won the starting QB position. We travelled to this school for a season opener that we should have won. Instead I let the team down, played a tentative game, messed up my play calls, and cost us a victory.

Why? I was afraid. Panicked I would screw up. Frightened to lose my role. In the end, my fear-induced ineptitude swiftly cost me my QB job. This was my first experience realizing that if you think about something too much, it will come true.

There is no greater enemy in the arena or the boardroom than fear. Nothing frustrates me more than when I hear one of my employees is afraid of screwing up or even worse, afraid of me. I once had a client tell me I scared them.

Creating an environment devoid of fear has been a relentless objective of mine for several years. The only thing I want people to be concerned about is not trying. Not giving their all. Mistakes will happen. Initiatives may fail. Pitches may be lost. But trying and giving it our all is the true victory. Not trying is failure. I think I am most upset with people when they won’t try. The effort is as important as the result.

It’s a lesson we need to apply away from work as well. If you have kids who play sports, you have no doubt been a part of some great seasons and some crummy seasons. Odds are high that during the crummy seasons, your child and her teammates competed in a culture of fear. Usually created by a well-meaning coach who thinks she is installing a system, but doesn’t realize she’s installing a Pavlovian condition.

Maybe she is as afraid of losing as I was? Maybe she too had the same experience when she was 15? Maybe she too will drive past an arena from her youth, where fear got the better of her one game, and realize that fear doesn’t breed success.

Green Cup

MH3 —  November 27, 2013

The confetti had barely landed on the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ Grey Cup Parade when the “dynasty” talk started.

If it wasn’t for a couple of excruciating losses in 2009 & 2010, the Riders would be sporting four Cup titles in the last seven seasons. Even winning two in that span puts them ahead of many of their rivals.

But off the field, the green Riders are a green dynasty. It’s estimated they will sell close to $10 million in merchandise this year; more than all other CFL teams combined…unless the Argos release the highly coveted limited edition Rob Ford XXXXL #12 jersey he has been modelling. It’s even more than most of the Canadian NHL teams, minus obvious exceptions like Toronto and Montreal. The Grey Cup Festival week and game generated $123 million for the local economy, which happens to be a part of what is now Canada’s richest province!

Brent Butt joked at one Grey Cup event that Saskatchewan loves football so much because the province is shaped like a football field. I might suggest the economics might also generate some of that affection!

But there is a key lesson in all this excitement. Like Darian Durant, it wasn’t so long ago that the province was trying to wave its team goodbye. They were lovable, yet losers. They were adored, but unsupported.

Magically, the team turned to community ownership and in a dramatic oversimplification, you could say the rest is history. But it’s true; community ownership has built this green machine. Over the Grey Cup weekend, Commissioner Mark Cohon talked about a 10th team for Atlantic Canada becoming a reality. The community ownership idea being eyed as the key business model.

Nothing makes more sense to me, for the CFL, than to see the Atlantic Schooners become a reality. The very real fan club by the same name would probably agree. A 10th team would do wonders for the league.

But I wonder if more teams shouldn’t look at this model. Sport building community. Community building sport. This past May we themed our sponsorship conference “Building Community.” Guess where we held it?

Saskatchewan. Home of the Green Cup!

The Grass IS Greener

MH3 —  November 20, 2013

This isn’t an “I am Canadian” ad, but Mr. MH3 has watched CFL football almost everywhere in this country.

But the word ‘almost’ wasn’t inadvertently placed in my opening sentence. Incomprehensibly, impossibly, inexcusably, I have never watched a game in the purest home of Canadian football, and also the home of one of my favourite prime ministers. For a Torontonian, I have been to Regina, Saskatchewan more than most, I’m sure. This is trip number 10, I think. Although one of them was during Craven, so maybe that should really count for at least 2.5 trips on its own! But it’s still the only current CFL city that for some reason I’ve never watched a game in. Actually I’ve watched the Riders play when I’ve been in Regina. But I was at a sports bar and the team was in Hamilton, so that doesn’t count.

As I’m bumpily (too bumpily by the way Captain Crunch, if you can hear me up in the cockpit) strutting on gilded wings towards the Regina airport through the evening sky tonight, it’s dawned on me: Grey Cup 101 will be my first Riders home game ever. Holy Horseshoes in my gitch, Luck is my middle name. And no, Dumb isn’t my first.

Rider Pride here I come. You’ll probably be happy to hear, I AM a Riders fan!! Big time. Favourite CFL team of all time. I already put in a deposit for future season tickets. Can’t wait to do a boys weekend trip for a game. Hopefully Russ Jackson, Condredge Holloway, Tom Clements, J.C. Watts or one of our other legendary former quarterbacks will inspire our current pivot’s play.

Yep, it’s true. I’m an Eastern Rider man. Sorry 306, me loving the Red and Black.

But now I’m troubled. Speaking of Red and Black, the new Ottawa team won’t be a Rider brand. So maybe I should become a Western Rider man. I have to admit this is troubling.

Truthfully, I’m not sure who I’m going to cheer for. The Ticats played all year at my alma mater, Moo U, and I’m a big Hank Burris fan and in awe of Kent Awestin. (Oh come on, of course I know it’s Austin). On the other hand Double D and Double C faced some pretty long odds to steal home field advantage for the Coupe final being hosted by the entire province of Saskatchewan. I’m pretty stoked for the football-crazy atmosphere that’s erupting when we are wheels down.

Saskatchewan so loves its football. I was in Calgary, with the 13th man, a couple of years ago and the Red Mile was definitely dyed green that weekend. Oh, I’m sorry. Is there a provincial law against the number 13 in your fair province? How silly of me to forget.

So I will start there. Let’s cheer for coaches on both teams who can count to twelve. Twelve is symbolic of what makes our Canadian game so amazing. Twelve players. Endless motion. Three downs. 110 yards. One optically bigger ball (according to some soothsayer named Lysko that used to be seen north of the 49th).

If you’ve never been to a Grey Cup, the emotion of what my iPad is sharing with you probably doesn’t mean much. This will be number 14 or 15 for me. I really should do an accurate count. I’m not just a groupie; I’m the groupie club President. Grey Cup week has few event peers when cast as a canvas for what our great country portrays.

Hey Canada, park your Ford frenzy for a week (please tell me you liked my pun…Ford…) and smell the greener grass.

Kicking Game

MH3 —  November 13, 2013

I think every year I could write an emotionally charged blog when my football season ends.

If we finished with a championship win (circa 2005 & 2009), then the storyline might be about how my players overcame the odds or how they developed as a team.

If we finished with a playoff loss (insert the other 18 years of volunteer football coaching here…unfortunately), then I could pursue plot lines of valiant effort, or perhaps how I underperformed as a coach, or a wait-till-next year rallying cry.

This year, following our quarter-final upset loss last week, I could highlight being out-coached, a team that was overconfident despite fielding only 21-22 players versus 45 for our opponent, mistakes by me in the kicking game, key injuries to some of our best receivers, and mistakes by my team…also in the kicking game. Did I mention a team that fields only 21-22 players versus 45 for our opponent?

After the game, I was particularly obsessed by my errors in the Kicking Game, but was reminded by a knowledgeable parent of one of my players that one play doesn’t win or lose a game. He’s right, though I only half believe him today….

Admittedly, I’m a sore loser. I’ve been looking inward, very very deeply, over the last few days. Realizing that at 48, it really is time for me to grow up. Thankfully, I think I’ve stumbled over the reason why I feel this way.

It’s not the losing that really kicks. Because losing suggests I’m jealous of the winners. I’m not. They deserved to win. What hurts isn’t the loss of the game, it’s the loss of purpose.

When the season is on, everyone on a team has a common purpose. A brotherhood. A galvanizing force. When the season ends, the suddenness of that loss destroys that purpose. It’s the ending of the mission that hurts. Failure isn’t what creates fear, it’s the end of the journey and what that entails.

This is the true Kicking Game moral. It applies to sports, business, a husband and wife saving for their first house, a person trying to lose weight, someone facing a grave disease. The journey, the mission, the effort is the reward. The outcome is important; in most of my examples there is much more at stake than winning a silly high school football game. But even winning a championship results in the silence of the post-season the next day.

Fortunately, and unfortunately, I’ve recovered faster than ever from this loss. I’ve got a ton of missions to sink myself into. Work, clients, helping my wife and kids fulfill their dreams, mentoring my staff, supporting a sick colleague. Given what’s going on in this world, from devastating typhoons to ridiculous mayors, there is so much for us all to become a part of. Having a mission can be so powerful. So instead of waiting for next season to get my kicks, I’m going to tackle everything else in my life like I do my beloved Lawrence Park Panthers. As a volunteer, a leader, a committed partner.

That will give me lots of kicks!

Out of Bounds

MH3 —  October 16, 2013

Last week, my high school football team was involved in a game-ending incident.

Some people called it a brawl. Others called it a fight. Some called it unnecessary roughness. I call it unnecessary.

On the surface, our player started it by manhandling an opponent out of bounds on a play that was completely on the other side of the field. At first I was quite angry. Later, after watching film, it was clear that both players were the villains and they had been going at it for most of the game.

The scuffle that ensued resulted in many more players joining in and candidly my players were outnumbered and out-slugged. At one point it escalated to a scary tipping point, but players and coaches stopped it.

It was touch and go for a moment.

There were some bumps and bruises. This week, suspensions are being laid down. But there is more significant damage than that. I am concerned about how two players could get so mad at each other during a game, a simple game, that they want to fight. They need to respect the sport, the opportunity they are given, and embrace it. Yes, teenage egos can be fragile and tempers even more shaky, but football is a game of hitting, until the whistle blows.

Then it’s time to dust yourself off and help your opponent up. And leave it at that.

I love this game too much to let one scary incident chase me away. But looking at film of the episode does send chills up my spine, as one of my players is kicked in the back. Thankfully, all involved cooled down and the two squads shook hands before parting.

It was in the handshake line that my faith in the game was restored. You need to know the referees did not want us shaking hands. But myself and the opposing coach made it happen. It became more than a handshake. Player after player on their team apologized to me for what transpired, complimented us on a good game though we lost by three TDs, and several even opened up for hugs that meant the world to me. Not only for me, but for many of our players.

Thankfully, the spotlight shifted to the midfield armistice, far from the out-of-bounds area we had bloodied only minutes earlier. Here we embraced our tormentors and rejected the previous senselessness. This was, after all, just a high school football game.

Lights Out

MH3 —  October 9, 2013

My young high school football charges, the Lawrence Park Panthers, got to play a Friday Night Lights game last week and it was special.

It’s only the second time I’ve had the experience to coach in an outdoor night game and it’s now so clear to me that the Americans have this Friday Night thing figured out. It’s an awesome experience.

Usually we play in the middle of a weekday afternoon with tiny crowds, no supporters, and little media. Our Friday night game saw a noisy crowd, lots of parents finally seeing their children play, friends from school out in droves, and Rogers TV filming our every move for broadcast that weekend.

Beyond the tangible differences, the entire atmosphere was different. The stadium lights illuminated both teams’ uniforms and helmets, casting the players in a glow that made them seem much more “big time.” Those same lights glanced off the kids’ helmets, creating a light-show tango of visual effects. The spiraling ball, set against the pitch black sky, looked like a heat-seeking missile, speedily tracking its way to its target. Every tick of the score clock communicated a tense reminder of the gravity of the moment, as the teams worked their way up and down the battlefield.

In the end my team lost 28–21 to an opponent with many more players and much more size. But losing is not why I entitled this story “Lights Out.” No, I called it “Lights Out” as a tribute to my team. To my surprise, we are much better than I imagined possible in the first weeks of training camp. Friday night demonstrated to me how much better. We have a team that can play “Lights Out”. It all starts with a dynamic offence led by my star senior quarterback who is as good a runner, passer, and leader as I have ever had. His on-field talents are only rivaled by his off-field maturity and egoless personality.

Around him I have a cadre of receivers who can catch, run, and score. To protect them I have a line that is small in size, but large in fight, heart, and grit. On defence we are also short-handed player-wise and size-wise, but we make up for it with speed, smarts, and systems.

Losing sucks. I could recite every loss that I have had from 20 years of coaching. But where defeat can be a coach’s morass, potential is our elixir.

This team has all the potential in the world. Stay tuned as weekly we will take on teams with more players, more size, more everything. But as long as we play “Lights Out”, every game is going to feel like the excitement of Friday Night Lights.

 

Squeaker

MH3 —  October 2, 2013

At the conclusion of the “small d” drama of the past weeks, I led my young high school football charges into their first league game with equal amounts of confidence and trepidation.

You’ll recall that we had been dealing with potentially cutting a player, which bizarrely would have been my first such act in twenty years of volunteer coaching. But the potential victim has made an about face that has continued to spin from partially complete to almost full circle. The consistent effort and upbeat attitude he displays in practice now, is born-again-Christian-like in its transfiguration.

Back to the game.

The equal parts confidence and trepidation was how I was feeling. Having scouted our opponents and reviewed our smash of them in 2012, I was confident. Maybe over-confident. On the flip side of the pregame coin toss coin, I was nervous. We are not nearly as good as 2012 and our opponent had improved significantly. They opened their season tying their 2012 division champions, who had also crushed them last season.

Because our game has more spoilers than the last episode of Breaking Bad, I will tell you right now we won 13-6. Yet I have been upset about it ever since the final whistle.

It’s a classic coaching line to say we should have won by more, but I feel that way. Yet herein lies the problem. I am still listening to the side of my brain that was not only confident about the game, but now I am realizing was over-confident. How do I shake that?

There was no validity in my overconfidence. While historically we have played this opponent pretty evenly, they do have the edge in victories, are really really well coached and at kickoff they had many more players, much more size, and consequently way more depth than we did. The worst part is, we weren’t ready to play.

We came out flat. We flubbed an easy touchdown pass. Throughout the game we had at least four other TDs we should have secured. Our defence gave up garbage yardage and our special teams couldn’t get twelve men on the field without me calling timeout. When we did line up a full kick unit, we let their returners race past us.

I suddenly realized I hadn’t coached with enough urgency in practice that week.

Yet we won. We won because we have some real studs at certain positions, significantly linebacker and quarterback. We won because my assistant coaches have all played this game at a high level. We won because, well because we had enough guys make plays at the right time.

But it came down to a late drive by our opponent to inside our 20, featuring a last play of the game pass into their receiver’s hands, that we magically broke-up with a devastating hit by one of our DBs. We squeaked by.

Lesson learned. We have five games left on our schedule. Three will be very tough, and the other two on paper look easier. Time for me to stop looking on paper. Time for me to prepare for every game with the utmost fear. A fear that propelled the young man who I almost cut, to change his work habits. Time for me to eat my own cooking.

Hanger On

MH3 —  September 22, 2013

Well, he made it.

At least for a few more days or maybe just a few hours. I was convinced that last week he would finally be severed by the axe of dismissal.

You met this week’s subject in my last posting, “First Cut”. The honour of being the first person I ever cut, from my lofty volunteer coaching position, was in his sweaty palms. Some of my readers thought I was actually trying to give him a warning, an opportunity to right his floundering ship.

He entered the week on Animal House level triple secret probation. One misstep and he was eligible for obliteration. The expression “on thin ice” wasn’t even closely appropriate. This kid was in my deep freeze.

I entered the week ready to pounce. Waiting for that stumble. Not surprisingly he managed to stumble not once, but twice. Shockingly he somehow still evaded my weaponry.

Clearly if he had read my blog, he sure didn’t take it to heart. He had fake injuries, misplaced equipment, an alleged sore back, followed by emergency breathing issues, and I am sure he lost his homework as well, but fortunately didn’t tell me.

Can’t say I was all that kind about his sticking around. I yelled at him. I lectured him. Kicked him out of team meetings. Sent him home early. Pulled him aside for stern lectures. Made him run lap after lap. Undoubtedly I tested every fibre of his spirit.

To say he passed the test wouldn’t be true. BUT…he did put in two good practices, out of five. His first and second good nights of the year. So while my core players give me a consistent five out of five great practices every week, his 40% success rate was relatively miraculous.

So, for now, I am letting him stay. Clearly there is something about this team he wants, needs, or likes. Perhaps a combination of all three.

I’m seeing some life in his eyes. I am seeing a small flicker of recognition on his face. There is a slight lift to his shoulders.

He hasn’t received a full pardon. But he might have achieved much more.