Live in the Now: The Psychology of Nick Saban’s “Process”

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Nick Saban is arguably one of the most successful college football coach of all time. With an NCAA coaching record of 218–62–1, Saban not only knows how to win but knows how to win consistently, regardless of what team he is coaching. He led the Louisiana State University Tigers to the BCS National Championship in 2003 and the Alabama Crimson Tide to BCS and AP national championships in 2009, 2011, 2012, and College Football Playoff championships in 2015 and 2017. He became the first coach in college football history to win a national championship with two different FBS schools since the inception of the AP Poll in 1936. He recently earned his sixth national championship victory as the head coach of Alabama, solidifying his place as one of the greatest coaches in college football history.

“The Wizard Dude”

Prior to his success at LSU, Nick served as the head coach of the struggling Michigan State Spartans. Prior to Saban’s arrival in 1995, MSU did not have a winning season since 1990. The program was in shambles and the players were out of control. Saban’s coaching style mildly improved the Spartans, but it was not until 1998 that the breakthrough happened.

At the time, Saban was attempting to incorporate psychology into his coaching style.  As such, Saban befriended Dr. Lionel “Lonny” Rosen, a Michigan State University psychiatry professor. Dr. Rosen would show up to practices and observe what was happening there. His appearance (which resembled Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings) caused the players and staff to refer to him as “The Wizard Dude.” Despite this nickname, Dr. Rosen was a brilliant psychologist who ultimately provided Saban with the knowledge and guidance that he was looking for.

The Process

In November of 1998, MSU was gearing up to play the #1 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes. MSU was a clear underdog in this matchup. Saban went to Dr. Rosen for guidance on how to overcome these odds and emerge as the surprise winner. Dr. Rosen taught MSU a form of step-by-step thinking developed by cognitive therapy pioneer Aaron Beck. “Rosen emphasized that the average play in the football game lasted about seven seconds,” Burke writes in his book Saban: the Making of a Coach. “The players would concentrate only on winning those seconds, take a rest between plays, then do it all over again. There would be no focus at all on the scoreboard or on the end results.” The team would live in the now and not focus on past or future results.

Ultimately, MSU had a slow start to the game. They were trailing 24-9 in the third quarter. A comeback seemed impossible, but Saban stuck to his new formula and refused to focus on the scoreboard. He wanted to win the plays, not the game. Ohio State became confident that the game was won, while MSU worked harder to win the individual plays. The result? MSU orchestrated a stunning comeback and beat the Buckeyes 28-24, stunning the nation. The year after that, the 1999 Spartans finished 10-2 – the best record in nearly thirty years.

This new way of thinking was coined “The Process” by Saban. He has carried this psychological principle around with him to every school and has had success ever since. His next coaching position after 1999 was at LSU, where he eventually led them to a national championship. The rest is history.

Using the Process to win at business

It’s easy to see that there are parallels between football and the world of business, especially for those who work in sales. If you imagine every month or year as a ‘game’, and every quota as the ‘scoreboard’, you will start to see that winning or losing the month or year is very comparable to winning or losing a football game. It’s easy for executives to look at the big picture and celebrate a good month/year, or become frustrated when it appears that a quota will be missed. Taking the “Process” and applying it to business, we are reminded that we should not be focusing on the year, the month, or even the day. Rather, we should focus on each and every sales call or sales opportunity as an individual event. If we focus on winning the opportunity in front of us while ignoring the month or year, we will be more prone to succeed.

Nick Saban found that keeping an eye on the past or future either creates anxiety or dangerous comfort. He spends as little time as possible caught in the emotion of a win or a loss and focuses on how to improve in the present moment. This allows for him to get out of losing streaks easily but also allows for him to maintain consistent success year after year. As a business person, emulating the “Process” will give you the same chances of getting out of sales slumps and will help you develop your career to be one of constant success.

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Author: Jason Karaman

Hello! I’m a marketing, sales, and customer service author, blogger and doer. I live in the South Carolina Lowcountry with my wife. I enjoy reading, writing, hiking, kayaking, and all things beach. For media inquiries, send an email to JasonKaraman@ExpertCaller.com

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