The Difference is Discipline

Last night was what you would call a big night of football for our family.  Our University of Central Florida (UCF) Knights went into one of the most storied college football stadiums and knocked off Penn State, chalking up their first victory against a "Big 10" opponent. "Go Knights" and "Charge On" ( Closer to home, my son's high school football team won an equally impressive game...defeating the defending champs in their division 39-38. It is the high school game that really impressed me this weekend as it was the second week in a row that our team went into a game that they were out sized, had less pure athletes, and came out victorious.  Looking closer, the International Community School (ICS) Comets are a team that is only in its second year of playing, have just enough players to field a full team, and most seniors play both ways.

ICS Victory

The Comets hold a respectable 2-1 record at this point, and most would have predicted them 0-3 if they just stacked the teams up on paper.  Week One for the Comets was their loss and it was tough.  They faced a team with three running backs that should see college playing time and lost by 20 points. However, they should have lost by 50 points and they gave this team a scare by scoring first and hangining in with them throughout the game.  After the game I told the head coach that the boys changed that night, came together and achieved something in that game they may not realize or appreciate until later in life. They didn't quit and they saw the opportunities in front of them for the taking.

I was only partially correct because I think now that they did appreciate their victories that night and used them to pull off two impressive wins the past two weeks.  And the key to both of them was discipline.

The head coach has been a friend of mine for more than a decade and is a man of the highest integrity, driven by his deep spiritual beliefs and a strong work ethic. He loves the players and creates an environment of accountability for himself, his coaches and the players. He is humble and strong, passionate and yet he keeps his emotions in balance. This is discipline at the highest level and its is showing up in his players.

In both games discipline was the overriding key to victory. When things went badly for the opposing teams, three things happened: 1) the players got frustrated with one another and began taking it out on each other, 2) the coaches screamed and yelled at players singling people out and demeaning them, and 3) the trash talking on the field and penalties went to a new low. These three things caused a complete breakdown in the organization and they could no longer perform to their potential.

Juxtapose this to our ICS Comets.  When things went badly for them, three very different things happened. 1) the players would certainly express frustration, however, it was over and they immediately supported each other, 2) the coaches addressed the issue directly and without humiliating the player or harping on the mistake, and 3) they stayed focused on the objectives, not the other team or the things outside their control. Last night these traits culminated in an 80 yard winning touchdown drive with under 2:00 to play.

Now, this is high school football, so there were certainly emotional outbursts, poor decision-making and trash talking -- but my behavior is not what we are talking about here. Yet on the whole these young men and their coaches kept the tone and execution disciplined to the end.

The key thing about this team is they play for a higher calling...they play to become better men.  They are self aware of their strengths and shortcomings and they attack the game with a passion and enthusiasm that is infectious. All of this is part of the disciplined culture.

Here is where we can all take something away for ourselves. Discipline is a learned behavior in individuals, teams and organizations...the ICS Comets illustrate a few important lessons in developing a culture of discipline.

1. Have clear goals or objectives - Keep it simple and know where you want to go and how you should get there.

2. Analyze and adjust - Develop a plan that has the flexibility to change as the environment changes around you.

3. Demand accountability - Beginning with yourself, be sure that everyone has a clear idea of what they are accountable for, who they are accountable to, and how will they be help responsible for their roles.

4. Support the people - This is the balance point and a difference maker in fostering a culture of discipline or just another fear-based environment. People are emotional beings and will make mistakes, do something wrong, or just "hit the wall" and not perform. They need to know that failure is not fatal if they see it as a moment to teach them how to succeed.

The football season is young and I know we will have plenty of great Friday nights and some that will be painful in defeat. I am grateful for this team my son is playing for and look forward to seeing how he and these other boys take this experience and apply what they learn in life.