Nick Saban: Building Character, 100 Hour Workweeks & Domination

In Case Studies, Make It
nick saban championship

Learn the common trait Nick Saban and Ray Allen share, why he spends 100 hours/week preparing for games, and how getting kids to eat vegetables and good coaching are related.

Intro- Nick Saban

Wikipedia | Alabama Football Twitter | Book: How Good Do You Want To Be?

Nick Saban is a 6-time National Championship winning football coach. In order, he’s served as head coach at Alabama, LSU, Michigan State, and Toledo.

He won the 2003 NCAA championship with LSU and has won 5 of the past 8 titles (2010, 2012, 2013, 2016, 2018) since taking over Alabama in 2007.

Saban has also served as the head coach of the Miami Dolphins and as a coordinator with the Cleveland Browns under Bill Belichick.

nick saban abama

Habits

Here are some of Nick Saban’s key habits that have led to his remarkable success coaching football:

Relentless Focus On Dominating The Opponent

Consider: If you never, ever slow down, your opponent can never catch you.

Above everything else he preaches, Saban strives to instill an attitude of physical and psychological dominance in his athletes and program as a whole.

Dominating your opponent can mean a few things. It starts by winning the physical battle. No matter what the score is, the physical dominance doesn’t end until after the final whistle blows.

It also includes things like mental toughness, being meticulous about small details, and being well prepared.

Why

Because Alabama has a 97-1 record when entering the 4th quarter with a double-digit lead. Emphasizing dominance offers advantages that lead to victory.

Think about how many teams over the years have walked into games against Alabama thinking, “We’re toast if they are leading once the 4th quarter starts“.

Opposing coaches surely build their game plans around not falling behind early. Many surely panic once they do, and for good reason.

History shows that once Saban’s team gets ahead, there’s- realistically- not much of a chance you’ll catch him.

And that’s a psychological advantage he has on every opponent he faces.

“Dominance may emerge from the physical, but becomes a psychological weapon.”

Saban’s only loss when leading by 10+ entering the 4th? The 2017 National Championship game against Clemson.

How

Here are some examples of how Nick Saban emphasizes dominating the opponent:

#1. “When I talk to our players about dominance, I remind them that little physical cues can affect their level of dominance. For example, unless a player is severely hurt during a game, I always encourage the guys never to stay on the ground after a play.”

#2. “We also tell our players and coaches never to show frustration when they make mistakes. It sends a message that the opposition is getting to them.”

#3. “Even if they still have a legitimate shot at victory, the idea that their best shot was brushed aside can be mentally devastating.”

Conclusion

When you dominate your opponent entirely, it’s difficult (if not impossible) for them to come back.

This excerpt from The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene affirms Saban’s beliefs about domination. Law #15 states that you must crush your enemy totally. Consider:

“The remnants of an enemy can become active like those of a disease or fire. Hence, these should be exterminated completely. One should never ignore an enemy, knowing him to be weak. He becomes dangerous in due course, like the spark of fire in a haystack.”

And teams like the 2016 Atlanta Falcons know all too well what happens when you don’t.

nick saban kirby smart

Consistency & Work Ethic

Consider: How efficient and effective are you?

None of Nick Saban’s accomplishments are the result of chance. He is open about the amount of work and sacrifices it takes to succeed as a college football coach.

While this isn’t surprising, his detailed explanation of how he prepares for an opponent might be a wakeup call to those that talk a big game.

100 Hour Workweeks

Here is Nick Saban’s description of his workweek:

“Here’s a typical game week at LSU for me and my staff:

  • Sunday 11am-10pm
  • Monday 6:30am-10pm
  • Tuesday 7:30am-10pm
  • Wednesday 7:30am-7pm (recruiting calls at night)
  • Thursday 7:30am-7pm”

 We spend an additional 20-30 hours over the course of Friday and Saturday watching film with the players, watching film as a staff, meeting with our position players, and so on.

All told, we probably devote 100 hours a week to preparing for a Saturday game.”

Assuming Saban’s team plays 12 games in 3 months, that’s 50 days (~1200 hours) worth of preparation in just 90 calendar days.

This doesn’t include any offseason recruiting, preseason, or championship game preparation.

And we can safely assume, based on Saban’s record, that his team will play more than 12 games in a season.

Despite 100 hour workweeks, Nick places a high premium on being efficient, effective, and resting.

Sky-high ambitions or not, it’s a refreshing and humbling reminder to us all to make our time count.

“Considering that we cannot physically or mentally work 24 hours a day, the hours we put in are enough to allow us to be efficient and effective. If we stayed past midnight on most nights, as some staffs do, fatigue would set in and affect our work.

Maybe it’s not 100 hours, but how effective is your 20, 40, or 60-hour workweek? Are you focused on the right things?

nick saban memes

A Teacher’s Mentality

Great coaches and outstanding professionals should, at their root, view themselves as teachers. As John Wooden said, “I believe that once you’re done helping young people, your time on this earth is done“.

While Nick Saban is credited with being tough-nosed, relentless, and a tireless worker, he speaks at length about being a great teacher, too.

“Early on in my career, I thought ranting and raving about a dropped pass was good coaching- it wasn’t. Helping the player, teaching him the proper technique, is good coaching.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in your professional title. You’re a salesman, an athlete, a consultant, a manager. But you should also be a teacher.

When you pair your title with being a great teacher, you position yourself as a leader and authority figure.

The easiest way to never be forgotten by someone is to teach them something- a skill, self-discipline, accountability, or a valuable life lesson.

Now more than ever, great teachers in all fields are necessary. Generation Z won’t do what you ask them to blindly or in good faith. “My way or the highway” is a dead concept.

You must make a choice to adapt or stick to your guns.

Educate, or become cynical.

Empathize, or get a little older in your heart each day and say things like, “That’s not the way we did it!”.

At least you’ll have your pride. But also know that you won’t be a leader or garner respect from future athletes, doctors, lawyers, and other professionals.

 

saban sec championship

Quirks

Think of Nick Saban’s quirks as the “spice” that makes his style and brand of success unique.

Not Being Wired To Accept Success

Coach Saban turned some heads when he introduced his 24-hour rule after winning his latest championship.

He, his players, and his coaches all had 24 hours to celebrate the victory. After that, it was time to move on. Time to begin the process all over again.

That stance rubs some people the wrong way. If you can’t celebrate your hard work and successes, why bother?

If it were up to Saban, he wouldn’t celebrate at all. He admits to not enjoying the success as much as he enjoys the process. Winning is secondary to putting in the work, growing, and improving his craft.

“Believe it or not, some people are not wired to accept success. They don’t really enjoy it; they are more content going back to work than reveling in success.”

ray allen players tribune

In A Letter To My Younger Self, 2018 NBA hall of fame inductee Ray Allen shares a similar sentiment:

“The championships are almost secondary to the feeling you’ll get from waking up every morning and putting in the work. The championships are like when you were sitting in class at UConn with your shirt and tie on. They’re just the culmination.”

Perhaps a component of being a consistent world-class performer is to love the journey more than the destination.

Analogies & Metaphors

Consider: Too much of the same thing fosters complacency.

How has Saban kept a prestigious program like Alabama so consistently successful? How does he get athletes to buy into a long-term vision while maintaining a daily sense of urgency?

With a clear mission statement in place, which Saban calls his program’s “road map”, he uses the power of analogy and metaphor to slightly alter the delivery of his core principles each week.

“In a team setting of course, I set the tone for the week or the game, using anecdotes, memories, or inspirational tales to paint a picture of where we are going that week. I have always felt it is important to send out the message at the start of the week and reinforce it as we move throughout the week.

I try to find a different theme or angle for each week, though a constant underlying message is always there.”

Think of this approach as a coach’s version of feeding vegetables to a young child.

Sometimes, you have to mix them into a fruit smoothie. Maybe some weeks you cut them into dinosaur shapes to make them fun and interesting.

Whatever you do, you must find a way to get the result you’re looking for. The kids have to get their vegetables in and the athletes must prepare and perform to their potential.

Fresh words, creative approaches, and clear communication will help you make that happen.

And surely, it’s not always fun and games. There are always weeks where parents tell their kids, You’re not leaving the dinner table until every vegetable on that plate is gone.”

I’d imagine Saban has weeks like that while coaching at Alabama, too.

Key Quote From Nick Saban On Making It

nick saban quote

Nick Saban, Applied

Here’s one specific strategy from Nick Saban you can apply to work, sport, and life.

Work

Strategy: Use humor to motivate and put things into perspective.

In Drive by Daniel Pink, he details how, at our core, people are self-motivated to do good work.

He lays out 3 ingredients for discovering intrinsic motivation- autonomy, purpose, and mastery. This makes sense. Independent, purpose-driven people with long-term goals are, typically, self-motivated.

Another ingredient for motivation? Humor.

“Humor can go a long way in motivating people and helping people keep things in perspective. It can relieve anxiety and open the door for team members to have fun, which in turn can produce the desired results.”

In a high stakes environment, Nick Saban uses jokes to help his players and staff stop taking themselves so seriously and focus on the task at hand.

Do the same with your colleagues and subordinates. They will appreciate your tact and describe you to others as someone who “gets it”.

Sport

Strategy: Create a nightmare for your opponent.

“When we step onto the field, we want to so greatly dominate our opponents in every phase of the game that they walk off the field at the end saying to themselves, “I never want to play LSU again.”

The short and long-term psychological advantages of creating a nightmare for your opponent speak to Nick Saban’s winning record and perception of always fielding hard-nosed, tough Alabama teams.

What questions do you ask yourself when preparing to face an opponent?

Make sure your questions are quantifiable and controllable by you. Never pose questions that put someone else in control or one that can’t be measured.

Life

Strategy: Never judge other people’s motivations.

“As coaches and leaders, we are not to judge motivations.

The truth is, we all have different reasons for doing what we do. Two people might work the same job or be in love and not have one thing in common that keeps then showing up each day.

But they show up- and that’s what matters. Despite the tendency of humans to judge, make an effort to focus on the fact that they showed up that day instead. Notice and appreciate their consistency.

You position yourself as an indispensable husband, wife, friend or leader by simply understanding- and not judging- how other people motivate themselves. People in your life will feel understood, and won’t be afraid to come to you for advice.

“The world’s top competitors in sport and business all share that common trait. Something inside gets them going and keeps them there.”


Like this “Make It” Case Study? Check out Bill Burr: “Making It”, Pissing People Off & Being Yourself. And to never miss an article, subscribe to the Monday Morning Newsletter!

 

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