In a recent Sports Illustrated article titled “Pete Carroll, NFL’s Eternal Optimist, is Ready to Turn Heartbreak into Triumph”, the beleaguered coach of the Seattle Seahawks discusses how he dealt with his team’s crippling, final-seconds loss to the New England Patriots in last season’s Superbowl. Says Carroll, “[I] grieved for all of one morning”. Incredible, huh!
For those of you who don’t follow American football, here was the situation: The Seahawks have the ball, second-and-goal from the Patriots’ one yard line. Rather than running it with wrecking-ball running back, Marshawn Lynch – the safest option –Carroll the gunslinger calls for a pass play. New England cornerback, Malcolm Butler, then steps in front of the Seahawks’ wide receiver and intercepts QB Russell Wilson’s potential, game-winning touchdown pass, sealing a four-point win for the Patriots.
Many critics at the time (including myself) considered it the single worst decision in Superbowl history.
And yet, Carroll has refused to let it bring him down. In fact, he claims, “It’s been thrilling to go through this (the off-season). It really has.” He continues: “If you hope I’m going to cry over the deal, I’m not. I’ve moved past that…we’ll come out of this better than if we won.”
To say that Pete Carroll is an optimist doesn’t begin to describe his incredible attitude. You have to admire the guy…and this is coming from me, a die-hard San Francisco 49ers fan. I dislike the Seahawks with a bright-hot passion – they’re my team’s main rivals! They knocked us out of the Superbowl a few years ago! But as much as I dislike the Seahawks players, Pete Carroll, the man, intrigues me.
The SI article goes on to reference University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Angela Duckworth who, in her recent TED talk, discusses the variable academic results of some middle and high school math students she had been studying. Duckworth asked herself why the best students weren’t always turning in the best work. The answer she came up with was “grit”, an in-definable quality that appears to be one part passion and one part perseverance. According to Duckworth, doing well depends on more than IQ…on more than your ability to learn quickly and easily. Grit, it seems, is the real predictor of success. Mere talent doesn’t make you gritty. Grit owes more to the individual’s personal stamina –to his or her willingness to stick with their future for years, working hard to make that future a reality. Life is a marathon not a sprint.
Which brings us back to the very gritty Pete Carroll, who clearly possesses a long view about life and the prospects of his football team. One isolated failure means nothing. It’s disappointing, yes, but the key to success is picking yourself up, renewing your passion, and persevering in spite of the setbacks, for the long term..
Carroll has mastered his story. What I mean by this is that, given the high stakes (a Superbowl!), it would have been understandable for Carroll to run a blame story, laying the guilt on the shoulders of his quarterback, the wide receiver, or the lineman who let Russell Wilson come under pressure. He could even have laid the blame on Tom Brady for his collusion in the “Deflategate” scandal. But Carroll, you see, has grit. Blame is not part of his narrative. In Coach Carroll’s story, the Seahawks’ Superbowl loss is an opportunity for learning, an opportunity for individual and team growth.
How much grit do you find in your own personal stories? Are you a blamer or a life learner? Are you a sprinter or a marathoner?
We all have setbacks in life (and at work). Mastering your story and infusing it with grit is the critical factor to success – and perhaps, for the Seahawks, another run at the Superbowl.