We live in a country that has bought into the cult of self-esteem.  Everyone gets a participation trophy, everyone is unique snowflake.  This is a terrible way to motivate men.  Men thrive in contexts where there is an surfeit of respect, where respect must be earned through accomplishment.

In the run-up to the Super Bowl, ESPN ran an article on Bill Belichik, head coach of the New England Patriots, and how he motivates his players.  Does he do it with self-esteem?  Not exactly.  His film sessions are legendary for cutting players down to size.

The Belistrator is an equal-opportunity humiliator. He doesn’t care if you are a young safety or a first-ballot Hall of Famer; if you mess up, he’s going to hold you accountable.

And then he’s going to degrade you.

Former linebacker Don Davis was a popular and revered figure in New England’s locker room. He was a pastor who coordinated Bible study groups for the players and proved to be a tireless worker on the field and in the weight room. He even earned the offseason conditioning award.

“So there’s this one play that made Don look really bad,” Vrabel recalled. “Bill showed it a few times then said, ‘Offseason award winner, my ass. You look like a cow on ice.’ Tedy [Bruschi] and I were in the back laughing our butts off.

“Of course, it’s only funny until it happens to you.”

Belichick’s current and former players and coaches say his vicious film critiques have been part of his motivational arsenal for as long as they can remember…

“It was very, very effective,” said Brad Seely, the former Patriots and current San Francisco 49ers special teams coach. 

Belichick uses humor and humiliation in a social context to keep his players hungry.  He denies respect to athletes who have been given respect (and adulation) their entire athletic careers.  A lot of players can’t deal with the loss of respect.

After Patriots rookies are handed their playbooks, if they are fortunate, a veteran will pull them aside and prep them for the devastating beatdown that each of them invariably will experience.

Most learn to take it; some never can. Those players do not last in the Patriots’ organization.

“The idea is to take it personally,” Bruschi said. “Bill wants you to do that. You get angry, and you get embarrassed. But then you get to the point where you want to fix it, and fix it badly.”

Deion Branch said if you are looking for positive feedback to soothe your ego, New England is the wrong place to play. The idea, he said, is to push you to the brink, then reel you back in so “you can prove Bill wrong.”

“He never compliments you,” linebacker Rob Ninkovich said. “He’ll throw you a little something once in a while, but it’s never, ‘Good job.’ It’s more like, ‘Well, you did a little better with this.’”

This, from the most intellectual coach in football.

How else is Belichick supposed to motivate a guy like Tom Brady, who already has three Super Bowl rings, wealth, social status, and Giselle?  By denying him what everyone else gives him: respect.

Past Patriots veterans fondly remember the time Tom Brady uncharacteristically threw a weak, fluttering pass. As they left the stadium, Brady announced, “Bring the popcorn. I’ll be the star of tomorrow’s show.” Sure enough, when the lights were dimmed and the film began rolling, there was Brady in technicolor, tossing a wounded duck up for grabs — over and over again.

In that instance, the coach let the picture tell the story. Then he clicked on the lights and announced, “I’ve seen better passes thrown at Foxborough High School.”

The Brady lowlights have been frequent and biting through the years. Belichick stresses the need to never leave points on the board and whenever his quarterback does, he’s treated to his own personal film festival. The clips include bad reads, interceptions and poorly timed bombs, such as one in 2009, when Brady overthrew Randy Moss as he streaked toward the end zone.

“As you can see,” the Belistrator pointed out, “Randy is wide open. The defense let him go. Not that we can hit him, though. Right, Tom?”

Picking on Ihedigbo is one thing; embarrassing the face of the franchise would seem to be another matter entirely.

It isn’t.

“The message was always clear,” Bruschi said. “No one was off limits. That’s why you had to respect it.”

I’m not saying this should be an exact model for other situations.  The NFL is highly competitive, all male, high testosterone, and winning requires enormous levels of teamwork from egotistical individuals who regularly change loyalties (teams).

But in a broader social context, if we teach young men that simply being alive is a ticket to self-esteem (and if sex is more or less free), don’t be surprised if they aren’t motivated to accomplish much.

Full article here.

One Response to “Bill Belichick knows how to motivate men”

  1. MissJelic says:

    Great post, but "surfeit" (in your first para) means "an excess of". Did you perhaps mean "a dearth of respect"? Makes more sense given the rest of the post. 

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