by Garret Kramer
I have to admit it; I think Rex Ryan of the New York Jets is a heck of a football coach. His players love him, his team is extremely unified, his defensive schemes are insightful, he takes responsibility for his actions, and he (unlike most coaches) understands that “bulletin board material” only serves to hinder the performance of players. Why, then, did his team just lose in the AFC championship game for the second straight year?
Simply put, Rex Ryan believes it is productive to set the “goal” of winning the Super Bowl. He often states, “My team is good enough to win it all; why be afraid to say it?” Well, there is certainly nothing wrong with standing up for what you believe in. And if it feels right to him, it’s not for me to determine whether it’s right or wrong to proclaim it. His mistake, I think, is stringently setting the goal in the first place.
Goal setting restricts opportunities.
Now, I realize that 99 percent of you are convinced that setting goals is essential for success. Indeed, this is a common mantra in just about every self-help or coaching manual out there today. Popular books such as The Secret tell us that if we want something (a championship, a mate, a million dollars), we need to focus on it—put it out there—and it will come. The problem with this paradigm, however, is that goal setting actually hinders our awareness and, thus, restricts our opportunities. Why? Because single-mindedness limits our creative potential.
In other words, when we narrowly set our sights on a specific goal, we thwart our ability to adjust, imagine, and think outside the box. Conversely, Jeff Skinner, one of the leading rookies in the NHL this season, was willing to think openly and is now reaping the rewards. Skinner started his athletic career as a figure skater. In fact, he was the third-ranked junior skater in Canada when he responded freely to the notion of giving hockey a try. Unlike Skinner, in setting his sights solely on the championship this year, Ryan helped reduce the consciousness and perceptual field of his players. He made the journey about achieving one objective, not about the experience or limitless possibilities along the way.
To perform freely, an athlete must be open to the imaginative possibilities of the journey.
To me, the real “secret” or solution for Ryan, as he continues his coaching career, is not to discount the value in winning the title; it’s to ask himself, “What do I want to create on my way to the title?” Last season, the New Orleans Saints clearly relished the quest of winning the Super Bowl, but rebuilding the hopes of the people of their city was the true driving force behind it.
The bottom line for the New York Jets moving forward is this: Athletes and coaches who understand the restrictive nature of goal setting are simply freer to perform. Like the Saints, Ryan needs to recognize that achieving a goal will not elevate his, or his players’, self-worth or level of contentment. By focusing solely on the prize, Ryan has hampered his own intrinsic ability to consider its real purpose. Remember, Rex, there is nothing wrong with processing the desire to win it all; it just won’t become a reality until you open yourself up to all the opportunities present—no matter the outcome.