There’s not much I do more of than think about ultimate and things directly related to ultimate. Even when I’m doing non-ultimate things, I’m always thinking about how I can apply my experiences to ultimate. People often catch me zoned out, staring into space. They tell me I have “a look” when I’m thinking about ultimate. If you’re reading this, you can probably relate on some level. (Side thought: I’ve been vibing on Get Horizontal’s #theultimatelife motto.)
When I talked to Elliot about being a part of The Grind, he told me this column’s goal was not just to talk about skills and strategy, but also to share experiences. As it turns out, even while watching the Super Bowl, with 40 people in my living room, my experience was one that led back to ultimate.
The following are a few observations from the game that, to me, had direct correlations to things I see in our sport.
After every major sporting championship, the winning head coach gets praised for his or her style. “Maybe I should run my team like they do,” ultimate athletes and coaches think to themselves. They think about being team-oriented like Pop, or emulating Carroll’s enthusiasm and energy. “I should be more like that. My team should be more like that.”
But the truth is that we don’t see the full picture of what makes these people successful. We need to understand that great leaders know themselves and play to their strengths as a person. We shouldn’t simply copy or emulate someone else because “it worked for them.” We need to really study them in order to understand why that approach works for them. We need to look past the surface.
Take the stern demeanors of coaches like Bill Belichick, Bruce Bochy, and Pat Summitt, for example. The ultimate puts a lot of value on overt positivity, which is great, but it can make coaches whose style is all about walking softly and carrying a big stick less relatable. Their successes, though, are just as valid.
Ultimate/leadership takeaway: Their style is theirs, and your style is yours. Use your personality strengths to create and inform your own coaching identity and philosophy. Don’t just copy someone else’s leadership style. Study others, decide what will and won’t work for you and your team. Always be evolving and trying to get better.
Modeling and spreading energy
Leaders lead by example, and not just with actions on the field. People watch how leaders carry themselves. We saw great examples of this during the Super Bowl. Both quarterbacks were generally even-keeled, they didn’t get too high or low after positive or negative events during the game. This conveys confidence, mental strength, and focus, all of which rub off on teammates.
The Seahawks’ coach, Pete Carroll, was his high-energy, effusive self, and if I were a player on his sideline, I’d be feeding on that positive energy and feeling confident. The Patriots’ Coach, Bill Belichick, one the other hand, looked consistently focused and driven, conveying “we’ve prepared for this, let’s do our job,” and I’d be motivated by that too. Modeling their own focus and hard work is a way for leaders to make a meaningful impact on their team.
Ultimate/leadership takeaway: You have significant influence on your team with the way you do things, not just the words you use. As coaches and leaders we always need to be aware of the messages we send (both positive and negative) with our body language and energy AT ALL TIMES.
Richard Sherman (Seahawks) and Darrell Revis (Patriots) are arguably two of the best defensive backs in the NFL. It should come as no surprise that their names were barely mentioned during the Super Bowl for things they did on the field. This was likely a direct result of offensive game-planning to minimize their effect, and not throw in their direction.
Ultimate/leadership takeaway: To minimize turnovers, it’s smart not to test great defensive playmakers, especially on deep shots. Great offenses are effective at understanding the right and wrong decisions to make, and that includes the situational match-ups you do and do not throw to.
Sports. It happens
Two great teams go in, one wins and one loses. Simple as that. How did Sockeye lose to Rhino in pre-quarters? How did Revolver lose to GOAT? How did Machine lose to Ring? WHAT HAPPENED?! The answer is: sports. Two talented teams enter the match, things go better for one team than the other, one team wins, the other loses.
Great leaders know this, and that’s why their post-game loss speeches often say, “you have to give them credit, they played well.” That’s what happened in the Super Bowl: the game could have gone either way, right up until the last few plays of the game. That’s sports.
Ultimate/leadership takeaway: Sports happens. Even when you prepare and play your best, the other team might play better that day. This is a part of being an athlete and a leader.
Drawing conclusions after the season
In mainstream sports, it’s not uncommon for coaches to get fired promptly after bad seasons. We shouldn’t be surprised by this because when the stakes are so high and there’s so much money involved, people often demand action whether it’s warranted or not. That said, I’ve also seen teams in ultimate overreact to their final season loss, drawing too many connections between that specific loss and the overall success or value of their season. I’ve heard the loss linger in the conversations that shape the next season, phrases like “we lost to ____ because we didn’t ____.” While the statement might be true about that specific game, it should be taken in context with all of the other successes and failures during the season. It’s also important to remember, as mentioned before, that sports happens.
Ultimate/leadership takeaway: In order to properly prepare for the next season, we should be careful not to overvalue the results of one game or define our season based on the final 2 hours of game-play in your season. Great leaders are constantly evaluating success and areas for improvement along the way, and can identify benchmarks and signs of growth. After the season, look at the body of work, not just the last game. Build on your successes.
Beware of the hype and media!
Sports and entertainment are primarily fueled by advertising. Brands want as much exposure as possible. To keep brands happy and coming back for more, the media seeks to maximize exposure and engagement. To do this, the media highlights and gives more exposure to “click-worthy” subjects and content. Controversy is often very click-worthy and that’s why the media feasts on things like #deflategate, or what led to the Seahawks’ decision to throw the pass that was intercepted and ended the game.
Ultimate/leadership takeaway: Don’t get caught up in the media hype, or the hype about one specific play or decision. Great leaders don’t waste their time over-analyzing just one play, they understand how that play fits in context. They know their priorities. They focus their energy in the right place at the right time. They know the small, process-based elements that put their teams in position to achieve success.