Nick Saban is good at what he does.
As the head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide’s football team, Saban has won three national championships in the last four years. He’s won another championship at LSU and he has sent dozens of his players to the NFL. As this newest NCAA football season kicks off on Saturday, his team is once again ranked number one in the polls.
But when you ask him about his goals, his team, or his place in history among the greats of the game, he always defers to one thing: The Process.
The Process of Nick Saban has become legendary within the ranks of college coaching and I’ve spent the last several days down the rabbit hole, reading all I can about it.
In Saban’s own words, The Process is, “really what you have to do day in and day out to be successful. We try to define the standard that we want everybody to sort of work toward, adhere to, and do it on a consistent basis. And the things that I talked about before, being responsible for your own self-determination, having a positive attitude, having great work ethic, having discipline to be able to execute on a consistent basis, whatever it is you’re trying to do, those are the things that we try to focus on, and we don’t try to focus as much on the outcomes as we do on being all that you can be.
“Eliminate the clutter and all the things that are going on outside and focus on the things that you can control with how you sort of go about and take care of your business. That’s something that’s ongoing, and it can never change.”
Saban added, “So it’s the process of what it takes be successful, very simply.”
Basically, Saban talks about The Process as doing all the little things every day and not worrying about where things end up. Take care of business every single day and your end product will be worthy of all the effort. To paraphrase one of Saban’s players, don’t think about graduating; think about making it to your freshman level class. Don’t think about winning a championship; focus on getting in one more sprint on the practice field.
This is not to denigrate the role that Big Goals play in the teaching and learning progress. It is important to have a destination in mind. But I feel like last year, I would get too caught up in the Big Goals. I would pull an all-nighter working on trackers or elaborate management plans or ways to call every single parent when instead I should have been focusing on delivering engaging, rigorous content every day.
Now, every night before I go to sleep, I have my powerpoint for the next day ready to go and my notes and Exit Ticket all typed up. Even if my unit plan isn’t quite finished or my grades aren’t all in, my kids are guaranteed to receive the best lesson that I (with my shortcomings) can possibly deliver. And part of that is making sure that I sleep every single night.
It’s been a tough adjustment at times because I am ferociously competitive and oftentimes I hate stopping my work when I feel like it isn’t finished. But I’m taking better care of myself and so my lifestyle is more sustainable. In the long run, I’m far more productive by making myself stop because this year I have been much more productive on weekends and during planning periods, times during which last year I would have simply zoned out because I was burning the candle at both ends.
Because of my competitive nature, I hate not being the best at things. It is my goal to win everything. Every race, every lesson, every indoor soccer game. But that’s simply not possible, especially with the number of things outside of my control in the world of Title I education. So I’m working on not focusing on winning. Instead, I focus on The Process.
I don’t worry about the kid who got suspended or the one who is always slow to start his work. Don’t get me wrong- those things still hurt my heart. But I now focus on The Process: have I set up systems to help me maximize my class time? Am I finding ways to get assignments to my suspended students? If the answer is yes then I know that The Process is working through these things.
I no longer worry about what other people are doing, I just worry about what I’m doing. Anything else is wasted breath and I’m saving all mine for my kids.