The Pathway: Vulnerability
“Culture, by definition, is connecting people.”
- PJ Fleck, Head Football Coach, University of Minnesota
By Mike Kuchar
Back in 2014, longtime assistant football coach Brent Myers sat with his hands clenched into fists under the table, finding it hard to control his true feelings. It was nighttime, mid-way through a late July training camp and he was exhausted. While every player and coach in the Weber State University program got up to address the entire group about what the program means to them, Coach Myers kept wondering when this was all going to be over. “I kept asking how this crap is going to help us win?” he recalled. “I just wanted to go out and practice.” The exercise was called “testimony and commitment,” and had become a staple in head coach Jay Hill’s pre-season routine. A former assistant at the University of Utah under coach Urban Meyer, Coach Hill put his spin on the activity by having both players and coaches tell their life stories in front of the entire program each night in pre-season camp. Flash forward five years later and Myers, the old grinder of a football coach of 30+ years has been transformed. Perhaps uncoincidentally, this personal transformation runs parallel with the program’s success. After going 2-10 in 2014, the Wildcats finished with 11 wins in 2019, one win shy from playing for the FCS national championship. While the tangible proof of the transformation results in wins, the intangible and perhaps more important factor lies in the connection the team and coaches created in that mountainous terrain in Utah.
Connectivity as a Competency
The competency of connectivity is directly aligned with psychologist Abraham Maslow’s philosophy which revealed that once behind the satisfaction and security of basic needs—safety, food, water, shelter, warmth, comfort—people are no longer driven by purely extrinsic motivations. Instead, they turn their attention to deeper needs such as safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. Deeper needs like a sense of belonging and love often supersede assumed motivations such as money, possessions, or recognition. In other words, if players and staff feel like their values are in line with the values of a football program, they will work harder in assimilating themselves to the culture of the program. And coaches who understand these desires, work harder to create a sense of connection with anyone associated in the program. The shared emotional connection between a group of people is a stronger motivator than anything else.
Why Connectivity is Essential to Creating Player-Driven Culture
Many coaches, like the University of Minnesota head football PJ Fleck, believe that culture, by definition, is connecting people. Coaches are in the people business and most psychologists will argue that a feeling of connection is one of the more primal desires for human beings. Ask any social worker and they will explain that the ability to feel connected is neurobiologically how we’re wired. People yearn to be connected in any way, shape, or form with one another. This behavior of connectivity answers existential questions like “why are we here?” and “what is our purpose?” Connectivity defines purpose and produces clarity in groups. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. But like culture, connectivity is always a work in progress. It’s an evolving process where individuals continually seek to find their place in a particular environment.