"The edge of uncomfortable is where you start to grow"
-Trent Dilfer, head quarterback coach for the Nike Elite 11 program
Last weekend I had the opportunity with several of my Team Red, White, and Blue teammates to take part in a leader development experience for the 18 top high school quarterbacks in the nation as part of the Nike Elite 11 program at Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, OR.
The quarterbacks were broken down into 6 teams and we served as small unit advisors, coaching them and giving advice during the days events. My team members were Sam Darnold, Deondre Francois, Ryan Brand, Davis Webb, and Dennis Gile.
All of the Team RWB small unit advisors were combat veterans and experienced leaders. They understood that leaders are developed through hard, challenging experiences, and that leaders have to be comfortable being uncomfortable. The experience was designed to take the quarterbacks to the "edge of uncomfortable" so they could grow and develop as a result of it. It was planned as a series of military style missions that would last approximately 7 hours. The missions included an unknown distance ruck march and flag run, building a bunker, a waterborne mission with a raft with no paddles, and finally the "21 Guns" WOD.
There was also time set aside for us to share our leadership stories with our groups. As I thought about what stories to share with theses young leaders who are the future of America, I reflected back to my combat experiences thinking about the similarities to the role of a frontline leader in combat and the role of the quarterback. Frontline leaders lead by example in complex, dynamic, and dangerous situations. Football is not as hazardous, but quarterbacks lead their teams in fluid and dynamic conditions during the game. As I shared my experiences with them I pointed out the similarities to help make the connection between this experience and what they do on the football field.
The stories I shared had these themes weaved into them:
Trust: Cohesive teams have a foundation of trust. I told them they had to build trust amongst their respective teams and show them they care care and are competent.
Developing Future Leaders: I explained third generation leadership to them which is the concept that the investment they make in the younger players will influence successive generations of players on the team.
Energy: Leaders are a major source of energy in any organization. They are expected to fuel the fire that inspires others to take action
Overcoming Adversity: I had the chance to review all the bios of my team and everyone of them had faced adverse conditions, some more adverse than others. That was one of several things we all had in common. One of my favorite sayings is "CRUSH IT" , which is for overcoming and crushing adversity. I told them the true test of their character was how they lead when confronted by adversity. I shared how I had faced adversity in combat and as a wounded warrior (Read about Vulnerability& Courage), and how I overcame it.
Prior to the execution of "21 Guns" we conducted a peer evaluation. The team rated each other from worst to best. One of my quarterbacks was ranked last by a majority of the team. Part of the peer evaluation process was each person who ranked him last had to come up and "own" their comments and tell the player why they ranked him last. I facilitated this session to make sure the feedback was professional. This was uncomfortable to all parties, but taught the value of brutally honest feedback designed to give the recipient takeaways on how they could learn and improve. That is exactly what happened after the peer evaluation session was over and where vulnerability and courage came into play.
Deondre Francois was the recipient of the feedback and this was a crucible experience for him (More on crucibles here). His peers had told him that they thought he was holding back, not giving 100 %. It took courage for him to acknowledge the feedback and then overcome it. The peer evaluation session lit a fire in him. He confronted the adverse feedback by absolutely CRUSHING the 21 Guns WOD which was as many rounds as a possible (AMRAP) in the time period specified. He and his partner completed more than any other team (Read the story here).