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Attitude and Professionalism

   by Al McMordie - 08/08/2005

College athletics features a wide variety of enthusiasm. Back slapping and shouting by both players and coaches is common, as the guys doing the grunt work (the players) are kids roughly aged 18-22. A part of college coaching that’s common is tapping into this emotion to help motivate and drive the athletes.

This isn’t as important a factor in the pros, however. You’ll often find successful college football coaches that are a big bust when attempting to move up to the pros, and part of the problem can be that they treat professional athletes like kids. This often doesn’t work for a variety of reasons, such as salaries and maturity. How would Bobby Knight’s screaming work on pro players if he ever jumped to the NBA? It would be a disaster for the performance of the team, the players and Knight. Most successful pro coaches in any sport know how to treat athletes like adults.

Keep this in mind as you look through newspapers reading up on the NFL preseason, or in interviews with players and coaches. I thought of this recently when reading some of the reports out of the New England Patriots camp. Bill Belichick spoke this past week about some sloppy areas that he had seen, like too many penalties. He also spoke about the task at hand – to play well this season, not to talk about last year. “We’re not the defending champions,â€쳌 he’s fond of saying. “This is a new year; he haven’t won anything yet.â€쳌

That attitude – no nonsense, dripping with serious and professionalism – is a factor that has helped teams like the Patriots, or the NBA's San Antonio Spurs, become so successful the last few years. Other NFL coaches, too, are like this, including Bill Parcells and Bill Cowher. I bring this up because I read an article about the Minnesota Vikings training camp and found some very different comments reflecting a contrasting type of attitude. One coach jokingly said, “We kicked the air’s butt today, I don’t think air will ever beat us,â€쳌 he said after the offense went through drills against no defenders. “If we get healthy,â€쳌 said an offensive linemen, “our offensive line can get four yards on anybody.â€쳌 And a defensive back boasted, “I bring being a leader, being a playmaker.â€쳌

Certainly, athletes are prone to make such boastful comments, but I've always found these comments a bit off-putting when a team has never won anything. It may not seem like much, but you don’t hear Pats’ QB Tom Brady boasting, “I’m a leader. I’ve been Super Bowl MVP twice and I’m a huge reason we’ve been successful.â€쳌 Think about it: What have the Vikings won? The last two seasons they got off to great starts, then folded badly in the second half of both seasons. They only made the playoffs a year ago by backing in.

What players say, how they act and conduct themselves starts at the top. Witness the professionalism of Southern Cal under Pete Carroll, or the Patriots under Belichick. Notice how some players talk about how they’re going to be successful, while the truly successful teams keep their mouths shut and get it done on the field. Good luck as always...Al McMordie.

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