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Kelly gets psychological on winning

Feb 18, 2010, 7:30 AM EDT

Brian Kelly’s keynote speech at the Opening Night Dinner for Notre Dame Baseball was a smashing success, and another reason why many are incredibly excited for Kelly to take the reins of the Irish football program.

Kelly’s attention to detail and methodology behind building a championship team was incredibly detailed. And while some have compared it to the motivational tactics of Lou Holtz, Kelly actually went much deeper than the Tao of Doctor Lou.

Kelly’s comments were actually based on a learning theory developed in the 1940s by psychologist Abraham Maslow, who also wrote one of the groundbreaking theories on human motivation.

(I’ve got a feeling we’ll be tackling this one when the subject of pregame speeches comes along…)

Maslow was the first to posit the “Conscious Competence” theory, a theory that Kelly laid out for an audience eager to hear anything of substance from the new head football coach. And while Kelly did a great job relating everything to the recent instability of the baseball team after head coach Paul Mainieri left for LSU, you don’t have to have a Masters in psychology to figure out how to apply this theory to the recent struggles of the football program.

“A lot of people know how to win,” Kelly said. “Winning once and a while, a lot of people can do that. How do you consistently win? How do you win them all? That’s a process.”

And so Kelly went on and laid out the four stages of competence, which Kelly tweaked into the four stages of winning consistently.

Stage One: Unconscious Incompetence

Maslow said: The individual neither understands nor knows how to do something, nor recognizes the deficit, nor has a desire to address it.

Kelly said:

“You know what that is, you don’t know that you don’t know what it takes to win. You get that blank stare when you say, ‘Listen, pay attention to detail. Do this right. Go to class. Be on time.'”

Stage Two: Conscious Incompetence

Maslow said: Though the individual does not understand or know how to do
something, he or she does recognize the deficit, without yet addressing

Kelly said:

“You know know what Coach wants from me on a daily basis. You now know what the formula is, but you can’t do it yet, because you have so many bad habits. You can’t seem to finish the drill. You can’t seem to pay attention to detail.”

Stage Three: Conscious Competence

Maslow said: The individual understands or knows how to do something. However,
demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires a great deal of
consciousness or concentration.

Kelly said:

“You now know the message, you are able to do it, but it’s really hard. It’s hard for you to stay on task. That’s where great coaching comes in and keeps you focused, keeps you involved in the process. It’s not, ‘Hey, I want to be a champion.’ Everybody wants to be a champion. What are you going to do about it? Conscious competence is that area where coaches really need to remind their players every single day what it takes to be a champion.”

Stage Four: Unconscious Competence

Maslow said: The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it becomes
“second nature” and can be performed easily (often without
concentrating too deeply). He or she may or may not be able teach it to
others, depending upon how and when it was learned.

Kelly said:

“That’s the habit-forming, you know what to do, and you know how to do it every single day. You don’t have to be reminded about what it takes to win on a consistent basis because it’s been instilled in you. It’s been instilled by your family, your parents. It’s been instilled in this community. It’s been instilled by your coaches. When you want to win the championship, when you want to win them all, you need to get to that level of unconscious competence because then it just happens naturally. The journey has been great, but keep your eye on the process.”

The entire speech is available to watch at, but it really is an impressive performance by a coach that’s learned a ton in his 20 years of head coaching experience. Kelly is by no means the first person to take psychological theories and apply them to the sporting world, but if there’s a perfect dissection of the problems that plagued the Irish football team under Charlie Weis, it was the never-ending, mind-blowing battle for consistency.

With Kelly at the helm, you get the feeling that this won’t be a problem for much longer. 

  1. JRC - Feb 18, 2010 at 10:44 AM

    When I taught Leadership Development at the college level years ago I used Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in my lesson plans extensively. I’ve been contacted several times by former students that told me “the Hierarchy of Needs” were some of the best principals they learned in college.
    Kelly in on the right path.

  2. MIchael - Feb 18, 2010 at 12:57 PM

    Kelly is on the right path for sure, but do you guys think that the main reason he has to pay so much attention to detail is because he has never had really talented players?

  3. Tim - Feb 18, 2010 at 1:27 PM

    I’m not sure this is all that groundbreaking. Every leadership/management training course I’ve taken professionally has covered this exact same thing in a very similar fashion. The key is how to implement this idea in managing/coaching different employees/athletes that may be in different parts of this hierarchy to get them up to Unconscious Competence. Proof will be on the field in W/L ratio.

  4. JRC - Feb 18, 2010 at 3:30 PM

    I agree it’s not some new theory or ground breaking deal. When I was teaching it was in the late 80’s. Maslow, I believe died in in 1970 and his pyramid was developed long before.
    I’m not sure how much it has been used in athletics but we shall see, as you said on the field.

  5. ugetwutuask4 - Feb 19, 2010 at 1:19 PM

    At the end of the day I beleive Coach K will have ND’s players buying into everything he’s selling which is all that matters. Everyone, everywhere knows Coach K’s a winner and everything he touches turns “GOLD”! I’m not saying he can “walk on water”, so to speak but the proofs in the pudding and his accomplishments speak for themselves. In a nutshell our players will be in shape, disciplined, and strong minded to begin with. Then they will be trained to compete and compete at a high level while learning the system under Coach K. Finally, by the time gameday 2010 rolls around they will begin the mission of learning how to win and win big when ND should WIN BIG. Unlike 2009 where they lost games they should have won but Coach Weis did not know how to instill this mentality in ND’s players. 2011 will be the year when ND’s unconscious competence will take over beginning with USF culminating with an undefeated Natn’l Champnshp season.

  6. Eddy Bordelon - Feb 20, 2010 at 3:31 AM

    Thanks for taking the top out to write this great/ post.

  7. Jacquelyne Knie - Feb 25, 2010 at 1:14 AM

    It is really essential for family members to school themselves about the bio chemical science that is taking place in their loved one to understand the actual nature of how “possessed” by the disease their loved one is. This will let them to drive matters such as blame, dishonor,anger and misguided cause off the table and sharpen on actions that will aid. Once seen household members are better suited to recognise, react, and talk to the disease while also furthering and supporting the spirit of the individual they love. It is really critical for family to sort the demon from the person, and know the difference. In The End, that is the difficult fight that the afflicted loved one faces within themselves and as much as we may see ourselves as victims, they are the ultimate victims of this beastly disease.

  8. Jim - Mar 18, 2010 at 4:28 PM

    This really is a great article.

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