Coaching Insights from Jason Garrett of the Dallas Cowboys

“None of us need help to be mediocre.” – Jason Garrett

The NFL season kicks off in just over a week, and one of my favourite sports sites has been providing a great window into the seldom-seen (in detail) world of professional coaching.  I’ve been a long-time reader of Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback column over at SI.com, and the column recently expanded into an entire website with a team of writers and reporters.  As part of the launch ramp-up, some of the coverage has focused on coaching in the NFL.

Back in July, they posted the entire 35 minute opening address delivered by Dallas Cowboys‘ head coach, Jason Garrett.  The site’s editor-in-chief, Peter King, writes that, “To the best of my knowledge, I don’t believe a head coach’s full training-camp speech, the words and video, has ever seen the light of day…until now.”

Garrett

I’ve developed a bit of a fascination with coaching, so I took a special interest in this video.

Garrett begins by saying, “Life is about opportunity; life is about creating opportunities and taking advantage of opportunities.  That’s what it is in all walks of life, and it’s no different in the National Football League.”  He returns to this message, of creating and seizing opportunities, at least three times, and the entirety of his speech underscores what it takes to make the most of the opportunity with which the 90 players in the room are presented.  One could argue that this is the central theme of the speech.

“Life is about opportunity; life is about creating opportunities and taking advantage of opportunities.” – Jason Garrett

Next, Garrett recalls an Apple commercial from the late 90s: The Crazy Ones.

Crazy Ones

Garrett repeats on some key points from the ad: that to change the world you need to think differently be bold enough to believe in yourself, and have a strong enough commitment to act.

After establishing the importance of creating and seizing opportunities, he touches on the importance of passion.  If you were to die tomorrow, would people say that you lived your life with passion?  As Garrett tells it, the right attitude, a single-minded focus, and filtering out the noise will let you be your best regardless of the circumstances.  He implores the members of his squad to establish an identity to be the best version of themselves, and then to do the same collectively.

Next, Garrett does something very important: he sets expectations.  Too many times in life, the cause of a failure is simply that there was never any agreement about expectations, so you get a situation in which one party thinks an outcome is delivered, and the other disagrees.  I admire the clarity which which Garrett addresses expectations and will endeavour to do the same in my own activities.

First, he asks, “What can you expect from us as coaches?”  Members of the Cowboys can expect that the coaches will:

  1. Make decisions based on what’s in the best interests of the team
  2. Establish and maintain the highest standards for approach and performance
  3. Demand discipline
  4. Create competition
  5. Control the message
  6. Create an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect

I took a personal interest in the second point, and Garrett spent a few minutes on this one.  He talks about how the coaches he’s hated in life were the guys who told him that he was great, that he was doing a hell of a job, because they allowed him to be mediocre.  In contrast, the guys he loved were on him every day; it was hard, but it made him better.  He tells his players to demand to be made better, saying, “None of us need help to be mediocre.  You’ve been to the Pro Bowl eight times?  You’re getting your ass coached!”

“None of us need help to be mediocre.” – Jason Garrett

After describing what expectations the players should have of the coaches, he moves on to the expectations that are placed upon the players:

  1. Do everything the right way
  2. Commit to learning and believing in our system of football
  3. Be great teammates
  4. Handle adversity and get stronger
  5. Be on time and ready to go
  6. Treat people and facilities with respect
  7. Make every rep count
  8. Be your best: mental, physical, emotional
  9. Hustle and compete
  10. Know your job and do your job

For me, #7 and #9 really stood out.  Bounce really drove home the importance of feedback and purposeful practice, and practice obviously plays a crucial role in the success of failure of a football player and team.  Garrett talks about how even if a player isn’t directly participating in a drill, he can be mentally participating and learning, which will make him all the more prepared when his time comes.  It got me wondering if I really make the most of every opportunity to learn?  While I’m at a soccer practice, am I watching while other guys complete the drills?  If I’m listening to a presentation, am I also staying keenly aware of the style and habits of the presenter?

While making point #9, he said, “…it takes no talent to hustle and no talent to compete”.  How very true.  All of us, regardless of talent level can always give our best effort and can always stand up an compete.  Backing down is a conscious choice, whether we admit it or not.

“It takes no talent to hustle and no talent to compete.” – Jason Garrett

In the next “section”, Garrett describes the importance of accountability, dependability, professionalism, leadership, attitude, and camaraderie.  He gives his players both specific direction and general guidelines for a range of topics, from talking to the media (“be respectful, brief, boring and humble”) to how to stand out (“distinguish yourself with your play, not with what you say”), to the importance of sharing success (“when we have success, give other people credit”) and accepting accountability (“if things don’t go well, be accountable”).

Garrett closes with some housekeeping items before the players are sent on their way.

In 35 minutes, Garrett has created a theme of creating and seizing opportunities, discussed the importance of passion and commitment to achieving success, clearly shown what the players can expect of coaches and what the coaches expect of the players, touched on a number of general subjects, and provided some quick instruction about the rest of the day’s activities.  No one in the room should be left wondering what’s expected of them.  No one should be unsure about what’s coming next.  No one should doubt the integrity of the coaches and other leaders.  And no one should take for granted the incredible opportunity that they all have.  35 minutes?  I’d say that’s a pretty good use of time.

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Posted in Everything, Leadership, Management, Sports
2 comments on “Coaching Insights from Jason Garrett of the Dallas Cowboys
  1. […] Coaching insights from Jason Garrett of the Dallas Cowboys […]

  2. […] few days ago I wrote about a 35-minute video of Jason Garrett‘s opening training camp speech to the Dallas Cowboys, and […]

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