The Art of Assessment

Part2:Trust, not Fear



On the surface, the two head coaches in Super Bowl XLIX could not be more different. Pete Carroll, head coach of the Seattle Seahawks is considered the excitable, passionate, modern-day players coach. Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots, is regarded as stoic and gruff, an old-school disciplinarian. But if you dig deeper into their coaching philosophies, you will find many more similarities than differences. As it relates to this series, “The Art of Assessment”, they are almost identical.


So how do a pair of 60-somethings connect with rosters full of 20-somethings? For both of them, there is one pillar for which everything else is built on: trust. Without it, their coaching staffs cannot even begin to properly assess players.


Carroll’s philosophy is called, “Coaching the Whole Player.” Simply described, it is knowing your players as human beings and caring about them and their well-being, not just the bottom-line of winning football games and making money for ownership. There is a strategic goal to this philosophy and the logic is as follows: If as a coach I authentically care about you, not just a player, but as a person, I care for your family, and your well-being, in-turn, you will trust the coaching staff, and you will be more apt to taking coaching instruction; You will work and play harder; You will be loyal to the coaching staff and your teammates, and thus, your insecurities will diminish, your confidence will improve, your performance will improve and you will play for something bigger than yourself, i.e. the team.


In Bill Levin’s book, “Management Secrets of the New England Patriots”, he reveals many of the organizational and coaching philosophies of the four-time Super Bowl champions, many of which are centered around creating and maintaining trust. Under the section, “Trust, Empower, Hold Accountable” they list some of what they consider the most important characteristics of a championship team: cultivating happy, hard working employees through trust building, listening when someone you trust knows more than you, challenge don’t threaten, fear fails to inspire — criticize to spur self-improvement.


The trust-first philosophy can also extend into the classroom.


Rafe Esquith, the only teacher to ever win the National Medal of Arts, and author of “Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire” wrote in his best-selling book that he discusses trust with his class on the first day of school, within the first two minutes.


“While most classrooms are based on fear, our classroom is based on trust…The kids are proud of the trust I give them, and they do not want to lose it. They rarely do, and I make sure on a daily basis that I deserve the trust I ask of them.”


But what about the employees, the students, or the athletes that abuse that trust? What about accountability and discipline? Anyone who’s been in a management or leadership position knows you can’t be soft, or they’ll take advantage of you, right?


“My students learn the first day that a broken trust is irreparable,” Esquith wrote. “If you break my trust the rules change. Our relationship will be okay, but it will never be what it once was. And of course, kids do break trust, and they should be given every opportunity to win it back. But it takes a long time.”


Esquith has taught at Hobart Elementary School in a Los Angeles neighborhood plagued with poverty and violence.


“(As) parents and teachers get mad at our kids all of the time, and often for good reason. Yet we should never become frustrated when a student doesn’t understand something. Our positive and patient response to questions builds an immediate and lasting trust that transcends fear.”


Belichick and Carroll also both execute disciplinary measures through the prism of trust. Some very talented players have been released (Lawyer Milloy, Wes Welker, Percy Harvin to name a few) and replaced over the years from Patriots’ and Seahawks’ rosters for breaking trust within the organization. Because players fully understand that Belichick will release any player, regardless of their stardom, should they break his trust, he rarely, if ever, resorts to fear tactics.


In Part I of this series, I wrote about a player I coached at Post 22 named Ruiz, and the common errors we made when assessing him. There was also an incredible lack of trust. We didn’t trust him because of some of his off-the-field decision making, and he didn’t trust that we had his best interests in mind. His mother contacted me and told me he wanted to quit the team. Ruiz showed up to the field ready to turn in his uniform. I intercepted him in the parking lot.


The first thing we discussed was trust. We opened a real, honest dialogue for the first time. I started by asking him why he wanted to quit, what was going on at home, at school, with his teammates. He was uncharacteristically talkative. He wanted to to say it all. After all the mistakes we had made with him, I just listened.


When he was finished. I told him I was going to give him my most honest assessment of his strengths and what he needed to improve on. I told him because of his off-the-field mistakes, and then later lying about it, trust had been broken. But he was going to have an opportunity to earn it back.


Some small measure of trust was finally achieved.


In Part III, “Assessing Attitude, Effort and Focus.”

By Jake Nordbye, guest blogger