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What did he say? Ron Rivera talks about discipline and success

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I want players who are tough, hungry, who will do whatever it takes to play Redskin football in January and hopefully into February

Although Ron Rivera spoke a lot about family, culture and character in his introductory press conference on Thursday, he also spoke about a topic that I think more people would have expected to be his central message: discipline.

Things will begin and end with one simple principle, discipline.

For a lot of people, “discipline” is a dirty word with negative connotations. It means getting spanked when you do something wrong. It’s something to be avoided. Discipline, to many people, means ‘punishment’.

But I think when Rivera uses the word, he means something different.

I have been a business manager or a teacher (a different sort of manager) since I was 22 years old. Early in my professional career, someone convinced me that discipline is a positive word, not a negative one, and that high-quality people want to work in a disciplined environment.

As a manager and as a teacher, I have always sought to have discipline in the workplace or classroom under my control, and I think my staff and students have been the better and happier for it.

In my view of discipline, the word doesn’t equate to punishment, but to behaving the right way, doing your job the way you’ve been taught, and being able to count on one another. Discipline builds trust and high performance — trust, because each person in the group knows what to expect from the others, including the leader, and high performance because anyone who doesn’t meet the standard stands out and hurts the production of the group.

Looking at a simple example, if there are ten people in a work group, and nine show up on time every day, it is a clear and obvious problem if the tenth is regularly late. The others won’t trust him and the production won’t be as high as it should be. The non-performer will be corrected one way or the other — by the manager or by the group. Initially, the correction will come from the manager, but, eventually, the group will create its own pressure to perform through mutual expectation and reliance. That is entirely consistent with what I have read about Ron Rivera-coached teams.

Rivera mentioned the influence of growing up in a military household.

I come from a military family where discipline isn’t taught, it’s lived. It’s expected from day one. I have a philosophy that every player, every coach, everyone who works for this organization, they’ll know it day one. You’re not going to play for this team, you’re not going to work for this team, if you don’t have the discipline to give us everything you have. No exceptions, no excuses. It’s that simple, guys.

This resonates with me because I, too, grew up with a career military man as a father. What Rivera describes is what I lived.

The military teaches people that there is a best way — a right way — to do things. The military further teaches that, because people’s lives may be at risk in a dangerous and high pressure situation, there’s no time to draw up plans or be a ‘cowboy’. It’s essential that each person do his job as he was trained. His teammates' lives literally may depend on their ability to trust him to do what he is supposed to do.

There are different schools of thought about managing people. One of the tenets that I learned and embraced early on was this:

People want to do a good job. As a manager, your key role is to clearly define for people what success looks like; praise them when they do the right thing and correct them when they do something else.

With everyone focused on one clear goal, with constant feedback guiding them, success follows quickly and the group becomes self-correcting.

To me, this is discipline, and I believe it’s what Ron Rivera means by the word, too.

We have to hold each other accountable, and that’s something we most certainly will do. We’ll expect the most from each other.

Whether I was in Chicago or Carolina, we were at our very best when the players knew that the coaches had their backs. And this is the thing I’m going to ask from the players, do it the way we teach you, do it the way we ask. You do it that way, the success will be yours, okay? You do it that way, the success will be yours.

If you don’t, the success is going to be yours but it’s not going to be right. Why? Because if you fail, it’s on you. Do it our way, do it the right way, and if we fail, it’s on me. Okay? It’ll be on me, the head coach. It’s that simple, and I truly believe that.

Discipline starts with the leader — the manager, the teacher, the head coach — who defines what success looks like, gives every person the chance to aggressively try to do the right thing, and is nearby to correct them quickly if they don’t get it right.

I told Mr. Snyder, I wanted to assemble a coaching staff that was truly dedicated to the players, and teachers — and teachers, okay? I don’t have to have a great big name. What I have to have is great teachers. We want to teach these guys how to play football to the best of their abilities, to the best of our abilities and also to be good quality young men off the field. I want players who are tough, hungry, who will do whatever it takes to play Redskin football in January and hopefully into February.

Discipline is linked to success — in this case, playing football in January and February.

This vision of discipline is not punishment-based, but focuses on a set of expectations and a way of doing things that every member of the team can rely on. It allows each member of the team to trust every other member, and that’s why it’s fully congruent with Rivera’s other messages about family, culture and character. Establishing and maintaining discipline is the practice of building those three other traits.