On handling defeat: 5 lessons from Alabama's post game interview.

Disclaimer: I’m relatively new to the college football scene but have been following several games closely this year. My views could reflect my limited knowledge but I hope you’ll see the big picture of my points.

If you are even remotely interested in studying greatness in American sports, you should consider looking at Alabama’s college football team.

Led by an incredible coach Nick Saban, they stand as a great example of excellence through dedication and consistency. They won 6 national championships under his leadership but last night lost to Clemson (another great team) in the most important game of their season. The defending champions were stripped of their title and it must have crushed their hearts. Yet it was quite fascinating to watch the Bama’s post-game interview and see how they took questions from the media with grace.

I can’t imagine what it would feel like to be to the coach and leader of such a team with sky-high expectations and lose in the finals. The media and your fan base obsess over everything you do, analyse every micro decision you make and write scathing articles like this on you. “Nick Saban's Alabama has never experienced a whupping like this”.

No doubt that Clemson by all means was the better team last night. They dominated Bama by not letting them score at least one point in the 2nd half and ended the game with a one-sided score of 44-16.

But there were many lessons from the interview that I thought were worth reflecting on to understanding how the greats think and act.

  1. “One game doesn’t define who you are.”

    It’s hard to digest this in the moment of loss but having a champion-mindset is remembering that your identity is bigger than just one game. The balance to keep your composure in the face of a dramatic win or loss is a great asset for a leader and Nick demonstrates that very well. Most people are not proud of the good work they did for months and pin everything on a game or a day. and instead focus on clean record until last night so if you look at the entire season stats. A lot of people when they fail publicly forget this. Daniel Kahneman in his famous book “Thinking Fast and Slow’ says: “We are prone to overestimate how much we understand about the world and to underestimate the role of chance in events.” 

  2. “Take extreme ownership (players and the coach).”

    There are probably not many sports that are as team-oriented as football is. It was fascinating to see all the 3 people on stage (the coach, the quarter back and the defensive back) repeatedly take ownership of the mistakes and the final outcome. Each of them spoke with a sense of responsibility and accountability to themselves and their fellow players. Nobody complained about anything. Nobody passed the buck to anyone else. You can tell they regard a “shared responsibility” as an ingrained characteristic of being a Bama player.

  3. “Give credit where it is due.”

    Another refreshing section of the interview was watching Nick authentically recognize and appreciate the opposing team’s quarterback Trevor Lawrence. He didn’t mince words nor he took away spotlight from the young player. He fully acknowledged what a great talent he is!

  4. “Sometimes we learn more through a loss.”

    This was my favorite part of the coach’s comments towards the end. He says “Sometimes we learn more through a loss and you see that we have work to do.” Keeping your chin up in the face of defeat is hard. It’s easy to be deeply disappointed. Failure is frustrating but it wouldn’t be if you are keen to look for lessons.

  5. “Thank you for all that you do.”

    Another amazing display of grace was the way Nick ended the meeting by thanking the press for their role in shaping these athletes’ future along with that of the university’s constructively. I have never seen anyone pause for a moment to thank media in situations like this. The press is often viewed as harsh critics and they generally are but very few leaders I know acknowledge the positive role of the reporters. It was a great lesson!

These are my take-aways from the interview. Watch the full video on Youtube here.

What do you think? Were you rooting for any specific team? What are some lessons from last night? Drop a line and share your thoughts.