Updated: May 16, 2021
"Don't think about winning the SEC Championship. Don't think about the national championship. Think about what you needed to do in this drill, on this play, at this moment. That's the process: Let's think about what we can do today, the task at hand."
— Nick Saban
Games are not won - PLAYS, POSSESSIONS, PITCHES are won. Whoever wins the most plays normally wins the game.
We talk about winning the next play A LOT in our program at North Forney. Each play has a history of its own and do not worry about anything that happened in the past or what could happen in the future; just win now.
In our first game this season, we were at the Cowboys' unbelievable practice facility, a 12,000 seat indoor stadium called 'The Star', playing #2 ranked Frisco Lone Star. We were 14 point underdogs entering the game and knew it would be a tough 'W,' but I also knew it would harden us and help us get ready for the elite teams in our district.
We got off to a great start and were up 21-3 in the second quarter.
Then, like always, when you are playing an elite team, adversity struck.
We threw a "pick 6" (interception returned for a touchdown) to cut the lead to 21-10. On the first play of the next possession, amazingly, we threw ANOTHER "pick 6" to make it 21-17.
Now we were in a dogfight.
Later in the same quarter, more adversity struck; our senior starting quarterback, Jacob Acuna, who had been our guy since his sophomore year, twisted his ankle and was out for the game. Our offense is 'hair on fire' uptempo style that throws it about half the time. Our backup quarterback, Landon Heath, had played in exactly zero varsity games to this point.
None of this bothered us. We won the game 34-31 and got our season off to a terrific start.
Our sideline did not panic. There was not complaining after either interception. Our high school principal, who was on the sideline helping with covid protocol, told me the next day he was so impressed our team did not seem to be affected by anything, 'they just played the next play, there was no panic or long faces.'
He was 100% correct. We did not do anything but play the next play. This doesn't happen by accident; you must coach it just like you do your favorite run play or pass play.
Let's do some math. The average game is three hours (180 minutes)
The average play is four seconds (13.3 minutes of playing time)
This means there are 167 minutes that our athletes have to think, process, lament, whatever. They have lots of time to look at the scoreboard and think back to a big touchdown we gave up an hour ago or worry about it happening again. Their 17-year old brains can lead them astray in a hurry.
Almost every sport is made up just like this. In a four-hour round of golf, the golfer is only swinging his club for around four minutes. There is so much time between pitches in baseball that every player can become an expert at eating sunflower seeds without using their hands. In the average MLB game, there are 18-minutes of play in a 3-hour game.
You better be coaching what their brains should be doing with all this extra time. If you don't, human nature will take over, and they will focus on the past or the future.
Every play has a history of its' own.
Our team at North Forney can recite this verbatim; 'You don't win games, you win PLAYS.'
Coach Saban's process thinking began in 1998 when he was at Michigan State. The Spartans were not a confident team. They were 4-4 on the season and about to face top-ranked Ohio State. He went and asked Michigan State University psychiatry professor Lionel Rosen, who he had befriended, to give him some help with how to get them thinking they could pull off the upset.
Rosen told Saban to have his players concentrate only on winning the play, take a rest between plays, then do it all over again. There would be no focus at all on the scoreboard or the results.
The game against Ohio State started terribly. With 10 minutes left in the third quarter, the Buckeyes were beating the Spartans 24-9. But the players and coaches remained calm. They pulled off the upset 25-24, and the rest is history. Coach Saban continued to use Lionel Rosen as a consultant even after he left Michigan State.
You must view the time from the end of a play to the beginning of the next play, just critical as the play itself. Ask your team this question, "what matters most; the scoreboard or the next play?" Be ready not to get the answer you want, but you will quickly change their mindset once you start teaching 'win the next play'.
What they are thinking during the 167 minutes (or more) must be coached.
In the next blog, I will discuss specific tactics for teaching a 'win this play' mentality.