I’m excited to be publishing my book “Entitled To Nothing – An Uncommon Approach to Leadership,” in December. Here is a short excerpt from the book:
Changing a Losing Mentality
One thing that gnawed at me that first season was the way we played on the road. We looked like a different team in someone else’s gym, and I attributed it to our mentality. It was a glaring example of the need for improvement in our mental approach.
When we went up to Keene State to play our first league game that year, they really impressed me. We were down by 1 point at halftime, 49-48, and we had played really well. We couldn’t sustain it in the second half, and we lost the game by 15. They one of the best teams in the league and they’d end up winning it. We had given them our best shot, and they handled us pretty well.
Fast forward six weeks when Keene came to RIC for the re-match. I was worried about the game, even though we were playing well at the time. I thought Keene was better than us. But the ball went up and we handled them pretty easily, controlling the game from start to finish. We played well, but the game didn’t have near the same level of intensity as our first meeting up at Keene. They were a different team on the road then they were at home.
I realized after that game our team was very similar. We were a different team on the road. We just didn’t have the same edge. We traveled the day of the game, and for league games we rode with the women’s team. That meant leaving in the morning on a Saturday, spending somewhere between 1-3 hours on a bus, and arriving around 11:30 (the women would play at 1:00) for a game that didn’t start until 3:00. It could be a long day, especially for the longer trips in the league (although trust me I’m not complaining – try the bus trips at the University of Maine on for size).
What I realized was that most teams – the Anchormen included – were different on the road. And I didn’t think the bus rides had much to do with it. It was a mentality. It felt like we were supposed to lose on the road, because we thought it was really hard. Losing on the road felt acceptable in our league, and in our program. I hated that mentality. It was a concrete example of the mentality change I wanted to see in that first off-season.
Luckily, I had the perfect scenario to use to try and change it. That spring I had talked to a good friend, Jeff Ruland, who was the head coach at Iona College in New York, about playing them in an exhibition game. I thought it would be a great opportunity for our program to play a division I team, and it would force us to prepare at a high level. It was also a road game to start our season, one that I could use to help change our mentality.
After we signed to play the game, I talked to our team about opening with an exhibition game at Iona the next year. They were naturally excited to play a division I team. But I made sure to tell them very clearly something they would hear in some version quite often that spring. We weren’t going down there to play an exhibition. We were going down there to win the game.
My basic message that day was this: I would not have scheduled the game if I didn’t think we were good enough to win it. But our mentality when we get on the bus has to change. We aren’t going down there to give them a good fight or help them get a workout in before their season starts. We are going down there to win the game. We have to establish a new mentality in this program. When we get on the bus, no matter where we go, we get on the bus expecting to win the game. Everything we do in practice every day prepares us to win tough games against good teams on the road. We are going to prepare that way, and when we get on the bus we expect to win. No other mentality is acceptable.
From that moment on, I never used the term “on the road” with my team again. We often made too big of a deal out of playing on the road, to the point where it became self-fulfilling. We talked a lot about how hard it was to win on the road, and we started to believe it. I never used phrases like “especially on the road” in a scouting report. If we are doing our job as a program, the way we practice every day is preparing us to handle tough crowds, great teams and bad breaks from the officials. We are preparing to win on the road. We didn’t need to talk about it. It’s not like when we played at home, I showed up feeling like the game would be easy. Winning is hard anywhere. Convincing your guys that winning on the road is harder just gives them a subconscious excuse to use as a crutch. I wanted to eliminate that in our mentality.
As a leader I wanted to be honest, but I also had to be careful about giving my team a convenient excuse. The more you talk about how hard something is going to be, the more they come to believe it. We are all preparing for the difficult challenges we will face as a team every day. Your team needs to hear how prepared they are, not how difficult things will be. Avoid planting the seeds of defeatist mentality. It can be very subtle, but also very powerful.
All spring we talked about going to Iona and winning. The way we prepared would create a mentality that when we got on the bus, we expected to win. That was going to be the new standard in our program.
In my 9 years at RIC we were 84-38 on the road. My first year we were 6-8. After that first off-season, and our intentional change in mentality, we were 78-30.