“Practice tomorrow – 4:00”

Tom Murphy was a legendary coach at Hamilton College, where I went, for over 20 years. After games, he did something that I had never seen before. Actually, he didn’t do something is more like it. He didn’t speak to the team.

He never said a word to the team after a game. Didn’t even come into the locker room. Once the game ended and the teams shook hands, he went into his office, got his stuff and left. The team always went into the locker room and never saw him until the next day.

He always just wrote on the board what time practice was the next day. He put that up there at halftime, after the team went back out onto the floor. That was the only message he ever gave to his team after a game.

As a freshman in college I thought it was odd. I thought a lot of the things he did were a little different, and I didn’t really understand them. But over time, and as I got into coaching, I understood why he did that.

The emotion of a game doesn’t wear off once you get the result. In fact, the result probably heightens the level of emotion. Win and you probably feel better than you should just because you got the right result. Lose and it’s easy to pick apart a million different things that your team should have done better. It’s really not a great time to evaluate or make decisions.

Really what Murph was doing was taking the emotions out of his next decision. And that next decision was an important one – what is the message you want to send after the game you just played? That decision will likely shape your mentality for the rest of the week until you play another game, certainly having an impact on how you play in that next game. Is that a decision you want to make with the emotion of an intense game still fresh? Probably not.

I’ve learned that a big part of effective leadership is to remove the emotion from your decisions. A lot easier said than done, I get that. Athletics are played in high-intensity environments and there is a lot riding on the results. By nature they are emotional, and you want them to be emotional. You want it to really matter to your team.

But when you are making decisions, you want to take the emotion out of the decision as much as possible. I don’t mean that you don’t use feel or trust your gut. Great leaders are not robots. But you want to make sure that your feel and your gut instinct are influenced by the facts, by what’s really going to help get the right result, as opposed to any positive or negative emotions.

It’s one of the reasons why I think Bill Belichick is so successful – but also maybe why he is hard to play for an might not have great relationships with his players beyond the investment they make in winning. He never seems to make decisions with any emotion. He’ll cut one of the most popular players or play undrafted guys ahead of seasoned veterans simply because he thinks it’s best for the team. For the most part, emotion plays zero role in his decisions.

I’ve looked back on games where I know I’ve played certain guys based on emotion – how I felt about them. I’ve put players in games because I wanted them to be successful because they meant a lot to me, and they gave me everything they had – only to look back and realize it wasn’t what was best for the team. I’ve also had to fight holding a grudge against a guy who maybe made some mistakes and pissed me off, so I didn’t want to put him in the game because I felt he didn’t deserve it. Well, like Prop Joe said in The Wire, “Deserve ain’t got nuthin’ to do with it.” If you aren’t playing a certain guy because you are mad at him, or you don’t like him (we’ve all been there), you are letting emotion effect the decisions that are important to your team.

As I’ve gotten more experienced as a coach I’m more aware of my emotions, and I can feel the way they affect my decision-making. And it’s not just negative emotions. Feeling great about your team or certain players can lead to the wrong decisions just as easily. You really have to look inward and be intentionally self-aware, to evaluate your decisions and how you were feeling at the time.

You can’t remove emotion from the equation and coach like a droid. The intensity of what we do, along with the connections and relationships you want to develop with your players, that all requires emotion. But being emotion-less (almost impossible) and being aware of your emotions when you are making decisions are two different things. The less emotion involved when you are making your decisions will simply lead to better choices. Try and avoid making decisions in a highly emotional state.

Sometimes, when the emotions are running high, all they need to know is what time practice is the next day.

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