Thriving Under Any Circumstances

When I was in Minnesota, Denny Green had been a big proponent of creating what I call “artificial adversity,” making things tougher on the players than they had to be. He believed this was an essential foundation for handling the turbulence of a season or game. As coaches and as players, he wanted us all to be comfortable enough without routine to know what to expect and when. When we would have an upcoming Monday night game—and thereby an extra day available to practice and plan the game—he often gave us that extra day off or had us work on something that turned our attention away from our opponent.

“After all,” he reasoned, “if the coaches and players start to think that we need an extra day to prepare for a big game, what happens when we hit the playoffs and only have the usual number of days or, worse yet, a short week?” If players got too comfortable in their routine, what would happen when that routine was disrupted? “Players might begin to wonder, ‘Can we win a big game without an extra day?’ They wouldn’t be able to win under any circumstances.” He told them that, of course, we could if we were these two things.

We could if we were efficient and disciplined.

During my first head coaching job in Tampa, during training camp, we were headed to Jacksonville for a morning scrimmage with the Jaguars. Taking a lesson from Denny Green’s playbook, I told my assistant coach Herm Edwards I wanted to disrupt the schedule and bus our guys to Jacksonville.

“Herm, the guys might think that we’re just looking to save some money by driving up there” —the Glazers we still trying to shed the frugal reputation the team had gotten from the prior owner— “so I’ll need your help. I want everyone to understand that I think it’ll be good to disrupt their schedules.”

“I think that’s smart.”

“Good. We’ll leave at five o’clock.”

“Five? You don’t want to meet at the hotel that night? Just get up there, have dinner at the hotel, and then do bed checks?”

“I mean five in the morning. We’ll have a wake-up call at four, leave at five, roll in there, and scrimmage with Jacksonville.”

Herm didn’t mind. He usually gets up at 4:30 anyway. But the players hated it. We emerged from the buses a little on the groggy side, just as I thought we would, and were destroyed by the Jaguars during the first practice of the morning. We were beaten physically and mentally. We got a little better in the afternoon. I told our players that I liked our improvement, but we could have done much better. The players couldn’t believe it. They thought they had done well—under the circumstances. But that was my point. We couldn’t let circumstances matter. If things got unusually tough, for whatever reason, we still had to function and get the job done. No excuses, no explanations.

As a team, we got some lasting benefit from that experience. For the next several years, when we’d get into crunch time in a game, I’d occasionally hear a player call out, “Come on, guys! It’s time for a five o’clock bus ride!” Whatever it takes.

Are you letting your circumstances keep you from getting things done? Be efficient and disciplined in the little things and you will overcome.

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