I hope you had the chance to watch last week’s college football National Championship between Alabama and Clemson, but not for the reason you might imagine. As a fan I was as thrilled as anyone to watch the two best teams in the country go back and forth, with the game coming down to the final seconds. But that’s not what is still with me a week later.
I still have Clemson coach Dabo Swinney’s post-game words ringing in my ears: “I told my guys tonight, that the difference in the game was gonna be love...tonight, we’re gonna win it because we love each other.”
Really? You just beat a team in Alabama that many experts thought to be unbeatable due to their fast, physical, tough defense full of NFL-level freak athletes, and the reason your team came out on top was...love? This was a first for me. But I know that no matter the sport, we have much to learn from those who reach the top of the mountain. Over the past 8 years Coach Swinney has built a program full of coaches and players who believe in each other - and they believe in the power of playing for the guys next to you. They have bought into the idea that love is a competitive advantage.
With that countercultural truth in mind, here are three takeaways from last week’s game:
1) Having motivation is important - the source of your motivation is more important
There is an axiom that goes something like this: “Don’t fight out of hatred for the guy across from you, fight out of love for the guy next to you.” Football can be a highly emotional sport with constant battle and war comparisons. There is something more powerful about drawing your motivation from playing for your teammates than drawing it from simply beating the opposition.
2) You must love to compete
It is crucial to keep in mind that the word "compete" comes from the Latin word competere, which means “to strive with” (and not against, as you might assume). Our best performances are often brought out by our best opponents. The essence of competition is two opponents pushing themselves toward their potential, bringing out the best in each other in the process. When you internalize this truth, your perspective on championship games against high quality opponents will be fine tuned and become a competitive edge.
3) Culture matters. A lot.
Culture is one of those buzzwords we are hearing constantly these days, and with good reason. I’ve heard it said that “culture eats scheme for breakfast.” When I read about how the University of Oregon team can go from the 2015 National Championship game to a 4-8 season followed by the firing of Coach Mark Helfrich two seasons later, I see a flawed culture where players are cutting corners and looking for others to blame. Coach Swinney is onto something when is says that love is the difference.
Whether you are a coach, a captain, or just someone who considers yourself a leader, you would do well to consider how you can implement this lesson from one of sport’s biggest stages - love is a competitive advantage.