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Nick Saban on the Power of Motivation

It is important that you utilize the power of motivation in your life to not only have success in the recruiting process but in order to constantly seek excellence. Nick Saban has achieved enormous success in part because he understands  motivation and how to use it for his teams.

Saban is the head football coach at the University of Alabama. On January 7th his program goes for their third national championship in four years when they play Notre Dame.

In 2004 I emceed a luncheon where he delivered a powerful motivational talk filled with insights on life success (photo below).

saban conference
(Charlie Adams and Nick Saban at the Key Bank College Football Hall of Fame Gridiron Legends Luncheon Series, 2004)

Recently I went to the Hall of Fame and watched their video of his 45 minute talk. He had delivered it a few months after he had led L.S.U. to the 2003 national championship (he became Alabama’s coach a few years later). Should he lead Alabama to victory January 7th, he would be the first coach ever to have four national titles in 10 years. Some are saying that would make him the greatest college football coach of all time or at least of the BCS era.

“My LSU team was the first team I had been associated with in 31 years of coaching,” said Saban, “that when they made their goals before the season none of the goals had anything to do with winning a game.”

He listed some of their goals:

* Be a TEAM – together everyone achieves more, with respect and trust on both sides of that statement.

* Make a positive effect on someone on your team every day.

* Be responsible for your own self determination

* Be a champion on and off the field

“The next year’s team did not change the goals,” said Saban. “They said they couldn’t change them because they were now the principles.”

Saban has always brought in motivational speakers and taken his teams to motivational experiences. One of the speakers he brought in before the 2012 season was Chris Herren.

“The speaker we brought in before that championship season (2004) said something I had never heard,” said Saban. “It was from a Dr. Martin Luther King speech.” Saban then looked out at the audience and quoted King word for word without referencing any notes. It was obvious to me the quote had gone deep within him and his championship team as he recited this word for word:

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of Heaven and Earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

Saban paused.

“Dr. King said there was only one guy he ever wanted to shine his shoes,” he said, “and that guy worked down at the Green Stamp store in Montgomery, Alabama. It was because of the pride the guy had in what he did and how well he did it every time and that he had a smile on his face when you told him he did a good job.”

“If you can do that,” said Saban with passion, “then you’ve accomplished the absolute best there is in life. I think that’s the key thought in a day when we have a lot of alcohol and drugs and a lot of sex and scandals to deal with … things that make people feel good. But you go all the way back and the only way to really feel good is really to do the best you can and take advantage of the gifts you have been given.”

Just like that street sweeper. Just like that shoe shiner.

When Saban gave this speech in May of 2004, it was just a few months after his LSU team had defeated Oklahoma to win the national championship. For motivation he took his team to see the movie ‘The Last Samurai” the night before the big game.

“The Meiji never had a word in their language for ‘lose’,” said Saban, “and they never really had a word for ‘win.’ They had words for honor and dishonor. The honor came with how they represented themselves and the dishonor was with not doing it the right way. In our time of everything being about winning and losing it was refreshing for me to see people lose a battle and have those that defeated them bow down to them for the way they fought.”

Saban has achieved year-in success with his teams partly because he works hard on making sure his teams never settle. “Complacency is a human condition,” said Saban. “It is the human condition to be satisfied if you do something extremely well. If you make an ‘A’ on a mid term then you might take two weeks off and not study because if you make a ‘C’ on the next test then you have a ‘B’ average. It is not natural to be a champion. It is not natural to have to deal with being a champion in life.”

Saban said we live in a results-oriented world, but it is important to focus on the process of what it takes to be successful and remember that process. He told the story about an LSU running back who was coming off a great season. In meeting with that player before the next season the player admitted he was stressed out because he felt pressure to achieve the stats of the year before. Saban asked him to think about where he was before that season. The player recalled having a hungry desire to work hard and be the best he could be every day. Saban told him THAT was what he needed to do for the coming season and get back to focusing on the process of what it takes to be excellent.

“We lose sight of the process of what it takes to be successful,” said Saban, “because we start looking at the bar. A lot of us, especially young people, want immediate gratification. They didn’t really grow up with a lot of consequences. When we grew up we played checkers. If you made the wrong move, what happened? You lost your guy. My kids play Nintendo. They make a wrong turn and get blown up, they just hit the restart and start over. They never learn from their mistakes.”

Saban talked about the challenges of life. “There can be no great victories in life without tremendous adversity,” he said. “The war in the Pacific was our greatest victory. It came after the massive adversity of Pearl Harbor. There is a book called ‘The Road Less Traveled.’ It is a spiritual development book that talks about positive attitude. The first line is ‘life is difficult.’ I was thinking, ‘What kind of book is this?!’ As I thought about it, though, if you assume life is difficult and expect that it will not always go your way then you are so much better equipped to handle the adversity and hardships you will face.”

Nick Saban is the best at what he does and his teams win championships because he establishes high expectations, recruits talented, team-oriented and competitive people, and understands the importance of bringing in regular motivation.

Charlie Adams

Charlie Adams is a longtime motivational speaker whose latest book is due out in 2013, “How to Build a Positive Attitude and KEEP the Darn Thing!!” The growing trend he observes as he speaks to corporate America is that companies and organizations are looking to hire former college athletes because of their ability to manage time, compete, set and reach goals, overcome adversity and understand the power of team. Adams, who was a sports anchor across America for a quarter of century, has a son who  is currently a college athlete.

About the author
Charlie Adams