Cognitive Methods in Teaching Resiliency in a Player-Driven Culture

Nov 27, 2023 | Program Development

By Mike Kuchar
Co-Founder/Senior Research Manager
X&O Labs



“Create an Environment Where Players Can Fail”



Response is the final actionable choice players will make in critical moments of competition.  It’s a common maxim that in this circumstance players don’t rise to the occasion, but rather “sink to their level of training,” by relying on all the aforementioned competencies in this study to induce the most desired result at the right moment. In talking to our sources, I’ve found that the best way to teach the behavior of resilience is to continually put players in adverse situations until they are comfortable living in adversity. It’s learning from that outcome that perpetuates continual resilience. University of Minnesota head football coach PJ Fleck continually makes a distinction between failing, the verb, and failure, the noun. “Failing is growth, failure is quit,” he said. The word association behind failing needs to shift to a more positive connotation because it is this failure or adversity, that cultivates resilience. Coach Fleck calls this resilience the “How,” in how will we respond? He devoted his entire first year in the St. Paul area to what he called the “How” Tour, often making references to popular music artists like Jason Aldean just to keep things relative with a younger roster. The way he terms it, it’s the coach’s job to get everyone in the program to fail, but the response is the only aspect that is quantified.

In a player-driven culture, again the outcome is never the goal. Rather, it’s about how players use the competencies in this study to respond to that outcome.  In other words, the “means” always has a greater significance than the ends. If coaches find ways to empower players to master the previous five competencies in this study, resiliency should come organically. It’s a byproduct of mastering all these prior behaviors.


How Resilience is Developed in a Player-Driven Culture

I’ve found that the competency of resilience can manifest itself by coaches engaging in the following methods:

  • Cognitive Response Models
  • Physical Response Models


Method 1: Cognitive Response Models


The Equation of Resilience: E + R = O


Tim Kight, a performance coach who works with dozens of FBS level programs, treats response training the same way that a defensive line coach would train a 3-technique defensive tackle. He told me that when faced in the moment of truth, a player’s choice relies on two main factors: their own personal discipline and the culture that they are in. Kight explains two common scenarios in which culture is revealed through response:

  1. A person with passion, discipline, and purpose inside a dysfunctional low standard culture. The culture is not productive, yet they are.
  2. Culture is well communicated and owned by coaches and players but there are players that don’t buy-in and don’t align or respond well. They resist and reject the culture.


Kight mentioned that the former is rare, but without circumstance; the best-case scenario is an intact culture that is clear, compelling, and consistent and the players have personal discipline. In his perspective, the biggest mistake coaches make when it comes to teaching response is they don’t teach players how to own their personal response. “Every coach says ‘buy-in’ or ‘be mentally tough’ or ‘be a great teammate,’ but do they show you how? Most don’t. You have to teach the player a skill set to handle adversity.” This was the reasoning as to why Kight developed the now popular “E+R= O” formula when working with former Ohio State University head coach Urban Meyer. It’s an equation that means Event + Response = Outcome. For Kight, the “R” must always be stronger than the “E.”  Basically, the response to the event is stronger than the event itself. Therefore, it’s a coach’s job to show players how to respond. “If I’m saying I want collaboration, teaming, and trust, I need to show them what trust is and how to do it,” he said. “If I tell them that I want them to respond better in the events of school, social life, and football then I need to show them how to monitor their ‘R’ factor, their response.”

In Kight’s pedagogy, there are six R factor disciplines in elite competitors. This is a progression he works through with players when teaching them how to respond to situations of adversity.