A Little About Leadership From Pete Carroll: Lessons from the Coach of the Super Bowl XLVIII Champions

Unless you’ve been living under a rock since February, you’re well aware that the outcome of this year’s Super Bowl XLVIII was not pretty. The Seattle Seahawks steamrolled the Denver Peytons Broncos 43-8, leading to a host of useless debates about Peyton Manning’s legacy, if teams should build around a stout defense or conventional pocket passer, and whether or not Bruno Mars is the most electric musician to ever perform on the world’s biggest stage (hint: yes).
One topic that you may have heard little about is whether or not Pete Carroll’s coaching (see: leadership) style is effective. Did you know that in an ESPN.com poll from last year asking 320 NFL players “Which head coach would you most like to play for?”, Carroll took the vote in a landslide?! Twenty-three percent of players said they wanted to be led by Seattle’s commander in chief, with Mike Tomlin coming in second with 14% of the vote. In comparison, Patriots coach Bill Belichick, arguably the greatest coach in NFL history, came in 5th place with a paltry 7% of the vote. Yes, the same Bill Belichick with 3 Super Bowl wins. Keep in mind, Carroll was the runaway winner even before his team took New York City by storm and flew back to the home of the 12th man with the Lombardi Trophy.

Carrol after the Big Game

Carroll after the Big Game

How can this be, you ask? There are more than a few reasons why Carroll has been so successful during his second run as an NFL coach. The following quotes were taken directly from his interviews with NFL Network and ESPN within 30 minutes of the most important night of his professional life. I’ll do my best to put each quote into context, and explain how his unique leadership philosophy can be adapted by coaches and leaders to improve their effectiveness. Coach can teach us all a few things about leadership, developing a team, and how the #WinForever philosophy took this team to the mountaintop just four short years after his arrival in the Emerald City.

Show Them How Much You Care

“We count on a different relationship with our players. We try to take care of the whole person, love these guys up, see who they can become, and help them get there. In helping them every way we can, we ask them to do everything to the hilt…it’s not about the draft picks, it’s about the players. You find that everyone elevates and you don’t have to worry about the game.”

I love this quote for a number of reasons besides just the obvious “they won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” rhetoric. As leaders, it’s not news to learn that your athletes will be more focused, motivated, and inspired if they know you are genuinely invested in their well-being and happiness. Notice the language that Carroll uses here, words like “whole person”, “love”, “they can become”, and help them”. He’s genuinely invested in their life, family, and personal potential because he knows that doing so will inspire his players to work harder in every single aspect of their game, which ultimately helps the entire team get better. How much better could your squads perform during training if every athlete increased his or her productivity by just five percent? The bigger question is how much time are you willing to invest in “The Whole Person” to reap the rewards of that five percent? Another thing to think about…cohesion is usually positively correlated with team performance, right? So, if you can get your athletes to perform better and improve morale just by demonstrating that they are more than a person with a uniform, does that make it worth the time?

Know Who You Are

We develop our language and philosophy- we are commonly consistent. We have the language and we already know what we need and want. We show them how much we respect them, and they do it willingly. Believe in the process and keep consistent language, so when we get here, it is normal.”

One thing we can deduce from the way Carroll’s players talk about their leader is that he is an extremely effective communicator. Part of the reason his leadership style is so effective is because he is an expert at keeping things consistent and transparent. His players know his coaching philosophy, have bought into the language he uses to talk about the game and his team, and appreciate consistency in his message. How consistent are you in your message? Does your team have a language all your own or someway to separate you from every other team in your league? More importantly, have you taken the time to discuss your leadership philosophy with the athletes on your team? If they don’t know how you want to lead them, how are they supposed to know how to follow?

Make Training Purposeful

You have to create a vision for the kid, talk the vision, and coach them with that thought in mind. We have Compete Wednesday, Turnover Thursday, and No Repeat Friday. It’s the same thing we’ve don’t for 13 years. Believe in the process….so when we get [to the Super Bowl], it is normal”

Ask anyone who knows him, and they’ll tell you that Carroll is an innovator. He is constantly evolving, looking for the next gadget- physical or psychological- to get his team better every day. His coaching philosophy, “WinForever”, is based on the concept that his players will get better every single day. In theory, that sound great, but the real genius is HOW he makes that happen. One of the strategies he has to make that happen are to give each practice a purpose- something small and defined that his players can focus on each day. Imagine ONLY focusing on generating turnovers, every Thursday, for 6 straight months. How much better and aware, of generating turnovers are his players than the rest of the league?

A brief look at the game film from Sunday should provide a clear answer. The Seahawks generated FOUR turnovers, while the only Bronco turnovers occurred after each player had gone to sleep, tossing and turning after getting wrangled for three straight hours. Attend a Seahawks practice on a Thursday, and the “One Thing” is turnovers. What’s your “One Thing” at the practice, at the gym, and at film sessions? Becoming an expert in one aspect of a performance can have a long-lasting impact on the entire performance. Challenge your athletes = to come up with their “One Thing” and notice how quickly their performances become better and more consistent.

For more information about how Carroll has redefined what it means to develop a team, put the person’s self-worth and respect ahead of all else, and become the most sought after NFL leader of men, check out the links below. As you’ll notice, the first article was written in August, 8 months before the Seahawks were crowned champions. If his leadership style works for NFL players, surely we can learn some valuable lessons about how to motivate, inspire, and work better with our athletes and teams.





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