What Drives Winning: Character vs. Performance

Editor’s Note: Last week, several of the nation’s most prominent coaches in their respective sports came to St. Charles County to talk about what drives human performance in a one-day conference sponsored by The Filmroom Project. Driving home the message were some boldface names across the spectrum of college athletics.


Several St. Louis area high school coaches took it all in, and have agreed to share their takeaways. If you’d like to, email: stlprepsemail@gmail.com

Here’s what moved Kirkwood Softball Coach Amy Leatherberry:

One of the first things Brett Ledbetter (Founder, The Filmroom Project) said at the What Drives Winning conference was that he gets a text from Florida Soccer Coach, Becky Burleigh, almost every day that reads:  Let’s start a revolution.

The revolution is the idea that we’ve reached a crisis in sports.  The crisis is that society conditions us to believe that results matter most.  Personally, I have seen many young softball players “burn out” as a result of too much emphasis on their stats and the pressure to continue performing at a high level every single day.  Strikeouts or errors become catastrophic blows to their confidence, almost crippling them.  Ledbetter advocates for a better way.

His main message to players is “what you do is not how you provide value to world.”  In the Wooden vein, Ledbetter’s philosophy is that results are primarily driven by the process and our process is driven mainly by our character; thus, his book is about repurposing sport to focus on developing a player’s character as a way to reach the desired results.

The speakers at the conference offered a variety of perspectives from many levels of many sports.  Here are a few of my biggest takeaways.

1.  Instead of choosing quantitative goals at the beginning of the season, have your players choose a list of five character skills and five moral skills for which they want to be remembered (a list is provided in his book).  Have each player write a speech they hope a teammate or coach might give about them at the end of the year using the words they chose.

2.  Provide the players with a glossary of words so everyone has the same definition of universal concepts.  Jack Clark (UC-Berkeley Rugby) offered the following definition of toughness, which I love and plan to use with my girls:  “toughness is the ability to focus on the next most important thing.”

3.  My softball idol Sue Enquist (former UCLA Head Coach) said it is a coach’s job to “be an engineer of belief.”  She instituted a failure recovery system for her team and created a station at practice where players could learn to bounce back from mistakes. The key to sustainable excellence, she argued, is your ability as a coach to “give the game back to them” by giving players a steady diet of belief in themselves.

4.  Anson Dorrance, soccer coach at UNC, believes that only in uniting a team to play for each other can they succeed at the highest level.  Each year he writes a letter to the seniors expressing his appreciation for who they are as people.  His players absorb this culture and play for their seniors each season.

5.  Pay attention to “the action between the action” and get players to think about their body language, attention, and energy during the competition.  Becky Burleigh (Women’s Soccer) at Florida sets up a “bench cam” to show players what they looked like coming in and out of the game, cheering for their team, and reacting to adversity.  She uses film clips to facilitate conversations with players about their character versus their performance.



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