A Lesson from
Clemson Football’s Dabo Swinney
via Mike Deegan:
"Life Lessons Learned Through Sports"
National Champion and the current 2nd ranked Clemson Tigers lost
27-24 to the Syracuse Orangemen. Many people would call this a
"devastating loss." The likelihood of Clemson having the opportunity
to defend their title is unlikely. In addition, we must remember
that major college football is a business. The Clemson football
program is valued at close to a billion dollars. The pressure of
winning every week, pleasing a fan base with unrealistic
expectations, and dealing with administration has to be daunting for
the Tigers Head Coach Dabo Swinney. That is why his immediate
reaction to the set-back was incredible. First, during the post-game
encounter with the Orange’s Dino Babers you could see him say, "I’m
so happy for you." If that wasn’t enough, Dabo went into the
Syracuse locker room and congratulated the Orange players. We can
learn a lot about the character of a person in high-leverage
situations. Coach Dabo answered the bell.
Dabo provided us with a great example of how
to display class in a loss. Many coaches and leaders, myself
included, will be forced to analyze their behavior following a
set-back. With that being said, I’d like to explore deeper what it
takes to be gracious in defeat. In my opinion, this wasn’t an "in
the moment" response by Coach Dabo; instead, this response was from
years of internal work. Anyone can muster up an "eyes down"
congratulation handshake but genuine happiness is different. Here
are a few things to consider.
- Maturity – Leadership Coach Rod Olson
says, "immaturity at its core, is only thinking about yourself
all the time." Maturity would require just the opposite,
thinking about others. If we are so wrapped up in ourselves, it
is impossible for us to appreciate the joy and happiness others
are experiencing. Dabo displayed amazing maturity by being able
to recognize a special moment for a coaching colleague. He was
able to pause and reflect that Coach Babers and the Orange have
been through a lot over the last several years. That their win
against Clemson was a accumulation of hard work, sacrifice, and
set-backs. Dabo had the maturity to think of others in that
Competition – Somewhere along the line
we have been taught that competing requires an adversarial
relationship. It’s either I win, or I lose. The Latin definition
of competition is, "to strive together." Brett Ledbetter from,
What Drives Winning, challenges us to view competition as a
partnership. Just like a boxer cannot get better without a great
sparring partner, a team cannot reach their pinnacle without
elite competition. Clemson’s sparring partner, Syracuse won on
Friday night. Why wouldn’t you be happy for someone you have
trained with over the years?
Self-Worth – From everything I have
read, Dabo is a person of faith. He knows that wins and
championships do not define his existence. If you check the
Clemson fan message boards, you can be sure that some fans are
FURIOUS with Dabo." Did you see him hugging the other coach?"
"He didn’t even care we lost." "Instead of congratulating the
other team he should have been screaming at his team." Coach
Swinney "gets it." He knows that a loss (or a win for that
matter) is nothing more than an opportunity to learn. Why make
it more than it really is?
Presence – In high-leverage moments it
is easy to let your mind race. "There goes the hopes of a
title." "I let everyone down." "What will my boss think." "I’m
going to get fired." Dabo could have let all his thoughts about
the future impact his present decision making. Instead of
projecting into the future, he had the ability to stay present
which allowed him to authentically enjoy the special moment for
Coach Babers and the Orange. As I write this, my guess is Dabo
is now on to the next present moment task, whether that is
having breakfast with his wife, breaking down film or connecting
with an athlete.
Can you be better when things don’t go your
way? Can you be better in defeat? Most people will see this as a
lack of competitive spirit or toughness. Let’s be better than that.
Dabo Swinney is the coach of a National Champion; his graciousness
in defeat does not make him "less of a man" or less of a competitor.
It just means he’s a human who has an amazing ability to enjoy the
success of others. What a great gift.