The Art of War: How Nick Saban Uses Psychology to Prepare His Team

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The Art of War: How Nick Saban Uses Psychology to Prepare His Team
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Anyone who has seen or heard a Nick Saban press conference knows about it: A question is asked by a reporter that prompts a verbal tirade from the coach.

Many have said Saban employs such tactics to intimidate the media, but he has admitted he does it so many times to send a message to his players. In other words, Saban uses various psychological techniques to reach his players and to shape the way they think.

In his book, How Good Do You Want to Be?: A Champion's Tips on How to Lead and Succeed at Work and in Life, Nick Saban shares his four steps to success in football and in life.

 

1. Organization

Create an environment where everybody knows his or her responsibilities and each is responsible to the entire group.

 

2. Motivate to Dominate

Understand the psychology of teams and individuals, and use that knowledge to breed success.

 

3. No Other Way than Right

Practice ethics and values and demand the same from your team.

 

4. Look in the Mirror

Maintain an understanding of who you are by knowing your strengths and your weaknesses.

 

All of these steps are simply part of "The Process," as Saban likes to say. Saban believes in building a program not only through recruiting and the development of talent, but also by reconstructing the mindset of the players he recruits—molding their psychological mindset.

Saban teaches his players to not only be determined to have success on the field, but also to visualize that success and accept it as reality, not allowing anything to deter their mindset.

As Saban's teams begin to achieve success, he uses "The Process" to counter the tendency to believe that success builds upon success and therefore competition becomes easier.

In the warfare Saban employs, no singular game is considered as having more importance than any other game on the schedule. Saban asserts if his players play with a single mind and with one focus, playing each individual snap independent from the scoreboard, his team will play at its highest caliber.

Saban often comments to the media that his team isn't result-oriented like people may want; instead, they are process-oriented. In other words, the individual result of one game or of one play is not the goal; it's the culmination of "The Process" and using those steps for success in the end. When this is achieved, the results will come.

Saban speaks of "self-determination" and "positive energy"—points that were stressed by the Pacific Institute, an organization that speaks to groups on mental transformations, when he brought them in to address his team over the summer of the 2008 season. 

The Pacific Institute stressed self-actualization, self-confidence, and self-esteem issues.

Saban stated in a 2008 media conference, "I think your ability to motivate, reach, affect—however you want to say it—these different personalities, but not let their personalities be divisive to the team chemistry, is a key to being successful."

During his career, Saban has learned that you not only have to recruit the top talent to win football games. You also have to reconstruct the mindset of the players to believing in their success and to have an unwavering determination to achieve the results they have already visualized.

In 2007, when Saban was forced to suspend five players from his team, some of whom were starters, right before the Tennessee game, Saban addressed his team and refused to allow it to be an issue.

Saban reminded his team that adversity is not something that creates a stumbling block to winning; it is something that should intensify the desire to win and be successful—that the team needed to visualize their goal and overcome the situation with more determination than ever before.

This wasn't a problem in terms of "The Process." It was merely another step in achieving their goals.

Alabama went on to defeat Tennessee that day, 41-17. Saban's attitude played no small part in how his team reacted.

When Alabama lines up to play Virginia Tech in the 2009 Chick-fil-A College Kickoff, the game will already have been played, and every contingency will have already been accounted for in the mental preparations of the players. 

So while the media may continue to rant on Saban and how he chooses to do things and the things he says, it's all just a part of his psychological warfare.

It's all just part of "The Process."

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