Be Coachable

It's not all about talent. It's about dependability, consistency, being coachable, and understanding what you need to do to improve.

—Bill Belichick

I've been rigorously coached nearly all my life, and it's only until now have I realized how deep of an experience it really is. Coaching is a relationship between you and the coach and between you and the best version of yourself. And it's not a one‐way street—the best coach in the world can't do anything if the person working with them doesn't show up and do the work.

Yes, it's work. There's a practice and even an art to being coachable. Whether it's in a professional sport, a business, your life, or any other situation, the coach you are working with can help you reach levels unattainable by yourself. Your future best self is waiting on the other side. However, to receive the proper guidance, you must have a specific set of attitudes and actions, or it won't take.

From my perspective, there are things you need to bring to the table for a coach to help you reach your highest potential.

First, Be Accountable

Accountability is a way to track your integrity and responsibility. It's a way to take a snapshot of where you are now. Are you doing the things you said you would do? Are you tracking your progress with meaningful measurements? If you're not willing to be accountable, then this is where you'd get off the train. Coaching isn't for you, and you'd be on your own.

There's a concept called “radical responsibility,” which means taking responsibility for everything in your life. Essentially, you're saying, “If my life is great, it's because of my choices and how I react to circumstances. If it's awful, it's also due to my choices and how I react to circumstances.” Such a high level of responsibility is scary for most people because it means if something in your life isn't working, it's nobody's fault but your own. You have to take ownership of the problem and how you react to it, even if it's something you didn't directly control, such as a natural disaster or a scary diagnosis. The scary thing is that means you can't blame anybody or anything else for what's happening. But the fantastic thing is that it also means that if something isn't working, you have the power to change it. By the ways you react and your actions, you can take control.

In the world of football, you are 100% accountable for your performance. What the NFL requires of you is so precise and requires such dedication that coaches and organizations won't let you get away with being sloppy with your technique, effort, or knowing your given assignment on each play—and they have built‐in methods to keep you on the right track.

The NFL was on an entirely different level. By the time players get to the NFL, everyone down the line is paid handsomely—so the NFL knows how to leverage that carrot with the appropriate stick when necessary. For example, they created a schedule of extreme fines if you were late to practice or meetings, which was considered one of the worst things you could ever do. It was a $1,700 fine if you were even one second late when I was playing for the Bills.

So if you missed a whole day of practice, you might be paying between $10,000 and $15,000 in fines! It wasn't just the money—the embarrassment of getting a late penalty when everyone else showed up on time was just far too much. Guess what? Most people showed up on time.

It didn't stop there. We would weigh ourselves in on Friday mornings—we were required to stay within a specific weight range. Coaches would be there, sitting in on the weigh‐in. If we were even one pound over, we were considered overweight. They would charge you $550 a pound for every extra pound and fined that amount every day until your weight was within the correct range.

Another example was the kind of fines you might get for inappropriate behavior on the field during games, for example, if you hit someone's head violently or if you did a block and cut someone's legs out from underneath them. If you got a severe penalty on the field, you know you're going to get an official FedEx envelope at your locker that would charge you an exorbitant fine, depending on the offense. I was the recipient of one of those envelopes once—it was an unintended accident where I cut someone's legs from underneath them in an illegal way during a block. I was able to explain myself and got the fine rescinded.

Naturally, the culture of accountability trickled down to the players who would hold themselves accountable to each other. Of course, we wouldn't send each other threatening FedEx envelopes, but we did develop little systems and rituals to keep each other in check. A prime example was the offensive line on our team.

In virtually every NFL team, the offensive line is generally the closest unit, the ones most in tune with each other. We spend the most time together, so it's almost always the case. The offensive line performs as a single entity. If one of us does poorly in a play, we all look bad. It's never, “Hey, this guy gave up a sack.” It's the offensive line that gave up the sack. We're all so close on the line of scrimmage and so physically close in proximity. We would get to be in sync, operating as one entity.

With the Bills, our offensive line had a pot of money we had accumulated at the end of the season from our own little system of fines we would give each other. It was just for fun, and at the end of the season, we would donate half of it to charity, and with the other half, we would take a trip together.

We had this system of dinging each other if someone took a coaching direction too seriously or too personally. They'd get dinged for being too sensitive. We all had the attitude not to be too sensitive because we were all supposed to be easily coachable. Or maybe someone jumped offsides before the play was going. Or perhaps we missed an assignment (an assignment is what you were required to do on a specific play). The team or the league wouldn't fine us, but internally, we would fine ourselves. It looks terrible for everybody if anyone doesn't know what they're supposed to do and starts missing assignments.

They weren't hefty fines—ranging from $5 to $20 per offense. But in the case of the internal fines, it was just an extra layer of accountability. We made it fun, too. Anyone could ding anyone else for an offense, so it kept us on our toes.

I had an old school bell that literally made that ding sound. So I was usually the one that made the ding. I was in charge of funds, too. I would have fun with it—for example, if someone was dinged for being sensitive, and then they claimed they weren't being sensitive, I would say, “You're still being sensitive.” And ding him again. And he might say, “Okay, write it up.” And then I'd ding him again, and then we'd all laugh.

We had four layers of accountability that committed us to greatness with the league, the Bills, the coaches, and the players. How many of us go through life with zero accountability at all?

The price of entry for greatness at anything, at the very least, is accountability.

Be Willing to Be Uncomfortable

The process of getting better at something is rarely easy. It requires you to go through multiple levels of potential discomfort. One of the first levels of discomfort is simply the realization that you need to improve something. When someone gives us feedback, we may be preconditioned to take it personally—that there's something wrong with us internally; otherwise, we'd be better at whatever it is.

You can't take it personally. Or if you do, you won't last long.

If someone takes the time to coach you or give you valuable feedback, they are on your side. They want you to progress! They see these things you can improve—whether that's on‐field performance, your marriage, career, or any other facet of your life. Yes, that's difficult at times because if you're not used to criticism, it's hard to hear about things you could do better. Just remember, it's never a personal attack on you.

Some people spend their whole lives either deflecting criticism or avoiding it. Those people never get very far in any dream they've ever had.

In football, everything was on video. Every single thing was watched afterward on film. So, yes, it's constant criticism, but that's how you get better.

Even with this context and background, I recognize it can be uncomfortable to start an unfamiliar coaching process. When I first started working with Mac and having an accountability partner, I wasn't necessarily used to being coached on certain areas of my life—and a lot of questions were far from comfortable. For example, how are you managing your time? How are you spending the first 30 minutes of your day? Who are you spending the most time with? Yet, it was necessary to push through that discomfort to get to the what's next part of my life.

The best coaches in life push you out of your comfort zone so that you can be your best. Mac does that with me now. Bobby Petrino and Mike Summers did that for me in college. Coach Petrino was our head coach, and Coach Summers was our offensive line coach during my first three years at Louisville. Those were two extremely tough coaches—they were just constantly demanding nothing short of everyday excellence. For the first time in my life, I understood what that tough coaching was.

Don't get me wrong—I had great coaches in high school who pushed us, but they just took it to another level at Louisville. Our strength coach at the time, Jason Veltkamp, pushed us beyond our limits. We would do these drills on Friday mornings. He called them “full metal jackets,” a title based on the war movie. It was essentially an hour torture session for us.

Another thing we did was sit in a squat with a giant boulder in our arms. It would be cutting up our forearms and taxing our legs because we couldn't fully stand up. We had all types of drills like that in the full metal jacket, each more punishing than the last. But if you do enough of those in a row, you gain confidence, strength, and grit through that intense coaching. You couldn't do it without them!

On my podcast, I had a fantastic conversation about being uncomfortable with Robert O'Neill, an ex‐Navy SEAL known for being on the missions that killed Osama Bin Laden and rescued Captain Phillips (he actually was the one that shot Bin Laden). These days, Robert O'Neill is a motivational speaker and a FOX News contributor. Robert spoke at length about his BUD/S training as a Navy SEAL, a fierce program that makes my full metal jacket drills look tame by comparison.

It is the three‐week orientation training to become a Navy SEAL. The first tip about dealing with discomfort was not to think about accomplishing everything at once. Don't think about winning the week; think about winning the day. Or, as he put it, “I've got to make it to breakfast.” His instructor told him, “I'll never ask you to do the impossible. I'll ask you to do something very hard, followed by something very hard, followed by something very hard.” Take everything one step at a time.

The instructor gave everyone in training his own particular brand of motivation. He said, “You're about to go to war for the first time, and the enemy is all your doubts, all your fears, and everyone you know back home who told you you weren't good enough to do this. Keep your head down, keep moving forward, no matter what, never quit, and you'll be fine.” On the same topic, the quote that Robert shared from his instructor that I'll never forget is, “Don't quit now, quit tomorrow. If you keep quitting tomorrow, you can do anything.”

How many times have you quit something in life that you now regret? There are so many times people quit in the moment and later wish they didn't. The pain of regret is far greater than the pain of discomfort. So stay with that discomfort and push through.

Practice Humility and Confidence at the Same Time

You need to have a certain amount of humility to be coachable. But then also, you need to have a combination of confidence with your humility to inspire and lead others and make an impact in this world. It's a weird paradox because you need both, yet it has to be the right balance. Too much humility, and you might take things too personally and not be able to execute. But, on the other hand, too much confidence and you become arrogant and unable to receive feedback properly, thus making it so you can never improve.

I think it's one of the biggest challenges to being coachable for some people—the humility that comes with accepting that someone knows more than you. Someone who has been further in life than you. Someone who knows better than you do about a particular situation. Or one of the hardest things about being coachable is that you're going to create new habits. And anytime you're creating new habits, whether that's on the football field or life, you're going to be uncomfortable, and that's not going to be fun.

Michael Jordan, arguably the best overall basketball player of all time, said, “My best skill was that I was coachable. I was a sponge and aggressive to learn.” And you could see that right out there on the basketball court. I've read Tim Grover's book, called Winning, and he talks a lot about his work with Michael Jordan. It's fascinating, but Michael was always looking for some type of edge to improve. So the guy you would assume would have the confidence that he was already good enough, and maybe he should just keep rolling, actually just wanted to be coached. That's amazing.

That's how you become the greatest of all time and don't fall off at any point and win those championships late in your career. It's by continuing to get better and be coachable versus being unwilling to learn from difficult coachable moments to continue to improve.

Hold Yourself to a Higher Standard by Seeking Coaching

Once you start holding yourself to a higher standard, maybe higher than most, then you've opened the door to ascend to greatness. You might have to ask for help and get lasered‐in specific about what kind of feedback you're looking for.

For example, when I went to Louisville, I had never played center. I had only played offensive line for one year in high school—I played tackle. Well, there was an opening at center on our college team. That was the only way I would be able to start as a freshman, so I transitioned to center.

There was only one problem: I had never snapped a football in my life before. My snaps were sporadic because I was just trying to wing it. I just thought you throw a football through your legs, similar to how you would throw a football overhand on any other play, and how hard could that be? That wasn't going to be good enough for the team, and Bobby Petrino noticed right away.

Coach Petrino took me into our weight room and drilled me mercilessly to perfect my snap. He said, “I want every single one to hit me on the belt buckle.” In the beginning, I had no accuracy at all. He'd say, “No, this one went left because you're stepping to your left. You need to be able to hit the same spot on your leg with your forearm as you release the ball on every snap to keep it consistent.” He worked with me until I mastered that snap.

He essentially taught me how to snap a football in that moment. It was a lot of pressure when you're an 18‐year‐old kid trying to prove yourself and learn something new. But when he taught me that, even way later, when I was 32 years old playing in the National Football League, I could revisit that coaching. If my snaps got a little sporadic or off‐center, I would think back and make all the slight adjustments he taught me.

When you show you are coachable, you are showing coaches that you are trustworthy. Coaches in sports need trust. When you do what you say you're going to do, what you trained yourself to do, you also build trust and confidence in yourself. Business leaders are looking for that same trust as well.

Post‐career, of course, I still craved that extra coaching. I wanted mentors and accountability partners in the areas of life I was trying to succeed in. It was so confusing at first in broadcasting. Not getting the feedback, I had no idea how well I was doing.

For example, there are a lot of times in broadcasting when I would be working with a different producer or a different director every week. There's no consistent curriculum in the broadcast world. I discovered quickly that there are broadcast coaches out there that could help me. For example, I worked with Gerry Matalon, who helped me prep for my interviews with ESPN and Fox. However, beyond that, I had to learn on the fly and had to seek my own feedback actively.

Not having the feedback I needed made it difficult to understand where I stood. If you don't have metrics, how can you improve? Thankfully, some generous veterans of the business showed me some of the ropes. For instance, Adam Bryant was a producer on most of the broadcasts my first year with ESPN and ACC Network. In the first game of the season, we had NC State, so I interviewed their head coach, Dave Doren, after the game. I made a total rookie mistake: I faced the camera, not him.

I was so used to facing the camera and, I'll never forget it; Adam said, “No one wants to see you. They want to see the coach, and you line him perfectly up with the camera. You have to stand to the side and get out of the way. If they want to include you in the shot, they will.” I had never been told that before. I just had walked up and put my arm around him and conducted the interview (during the pandemic, I also quickly learned you never put your arm around the coach either). Adam gave me a few pointers, and I loved it. And now, for the rest of my life, I know exactly how I'm supposed to line up a coach in an interview.

I had to learn to find those coachable little moments so I could truly learn on the fly. It's not like the football field where you are taught everything, and at training camp, you iron out any of the wrinkles before the season gets going.

Push Your Limits

When confronted with extreme adversity, we have a natural tendency in our lives to quit far too soon. We think we're running on empty when we actually have a reserve tank that goes untapped. So when you hit those extremely uncomfortable moments in life, your heart races, you start sweating, and you pull back in those moments. That's where having a coach who can push you through those exact moments can be so valuable.

My advisory board often serves that purpose for me. All of the board members are such high performers and much farther along on the journey than I am, so I value their input tremendously. They really put me in the hot seat. I have to wear a dark shirt to my advisory board calls and meetings because I know that I will sweat buckets. That gives you an idea of how valuable those meetings are to me and the level of coaching I receive!

I was so glad Mac encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone on my podcast. He pointed out that during quarantine, everybody would be home now. Four people on that advisory board were guests on my podcast, including bestselling author Jon Gordon. I've developed a relationship with all of them. It was by reaching out last year and trying to align myself with people just like them. I was worried about reaching out. I thought they might think it was a dumb idea. I even thought they might laugh at me. Well, now I have all four guys in my corner, and it's a powerful alignment for the type of work I'm getting into. They were a big reason why I even had the courage to write this book.

I think it's not only a great idea but necessary to build discomfort into your routine, so you're pushing yourself past that discomfort every day. The mental and physical conditioning you build up makes you more resilient to unexpected challenges that pop up when you least expect them. Even if it's just increasing your reps or time exercising—the idea is that you are constantly being challenged by your physical limits. It's great for your confidence at facing obstacles—subconsciously, you start to see challenges as something you can easily conquer. After all—you deal with them every day!

Pivot and Be Flexible

I had to learn how to pivot and be flexible long before my career‐ending injury. One of the hardest things about playing for the Bills when I did was that we went through seven different head coaches in nine years and five completely different staffs, teaching separate and distinct techniques. Everyone has different expectations of you. If you wanted to keep your job, you had to learn the new way without grumbling or complaining about it.

That's a great microcosm of life in general. You constantly have to learn new techniques and their nuances as life around you changes. Sometimes the old ways don't work, and even if we know they don't work, it's hard to let go of them because we've become accustomed to a particular way of doing things.

Back then, maybe for a casual football fan, they might not have seen a whole lot of change in the way I was playing or the plays we were running. But there were all these little different skills we had to keep learning, keep picking up constantly. One of the reasons why I was able to stick around with the Bills for nine years (and was signed through 11 years) was because I was willing to be coachable and adaptable as we switched schemes from more of a power‐based offense to more of a finessed wide zone scheme offense. I was ready to put in the time to learn those new skills. I would watch film of where the offensive coordinator was previously and watch his center execute in certain situations so I could try and emulate him—all so I could keep my job with the Bills.

Look at what's happened in the past few years in the world of business. After COVID‐19 hit, everything changed. It's a struggle to keep up with the learning curve on technology, and the pandemic only accelerated it. Five years ago, the business world looked very different. Who would have thought that most business meetings would be run through Zoom?

Let me tell you about my friend Dan Oliver, a Louisville‐based entrepreneur who had a rapid rise to success. Dan told me his story on my podcast, and his journey is a perfect example of how to pivot and be flexible. Dan lost his regular day job and started working at a bar at age 37. Sometimes as part of his job, he would work in the kitchen, and he started making a chicken dish with a custom blend of spices and seasoning that he made himself. Customers raved about the seasoning. So Dan started going to trade shows, state fairs, and barbecue festivals, marketing his “Dan‐O's” seasoning directly. With his grassroots marketing efforts, he was making low six figures in addition to his job as a bartender.

Then the pandemic hit, and Dan lost all that extra income. Initially, he thought this was another failed dream, and he'd just have to move on. But before he threw in the towel, he listened to an entrepreneurial podcast, “The Gary Vee Audio Experience.” In it, Gary Vee strongly suggested that if you're a small business and you're not marketing on Tik‐Tok, the social media video site, then you were missing out on a lot of revenue.

Dan took Gary Vee's advice seriously and started making some moves. He hired a marketing company to put up some videos on Tik Tok. And since he couldn't pay them their fee directly, he offered to give them half of the company in exchange for doing all his marketing. It was a bold move, with no guarantee of success.

The marketing company ended up building him a following of more than 2 million fans on Tik Tok, rapidly developing a huge social media presence. Now they are on pace to make well into eight figures in revenue. Inspired by his story, I invested in the company as well!

Dan pivoted hard when he realized he couldn't do any marketing at live events anymore during the pandemic, so he went online. So here's a guy who has no tech background at all, who wasn't even that social media savvy, who found a way to pivot, and who is likely going to create generational income and wealth for his family.

If you think about it, it's multiple pivots. He pivoted once being fired from his job and working as a bartender, twice by creating a new seasoning and marketing it at live events, and three times when the pandemic hit, and he was forced to go online to sell his seasoning. Kind of like a coach that keeps throwing surprise drills at you, the universe threw him curveballs. He was able to adapt and thrive.

The better you can flow with change, the more you allow yourself to be coached in real time by the events around you.

The Best Coaching Is Ongoing

Jordan Montgomery said that there was a difference between being teachable and coachable. If you're teachable, you're willing to listen to what is being taught to you. Being coachable means that you are eager to put that teaching into practice, and you show the coach or tell them how you implemented their coaching. You're bringing the learning they gave you back to them, and this completes the circle.

I have had the pleasure of getting connected to some of the top coaches in the world, whether that is in sports or life optimization. On my podcast, some of these incredible coaches on the sports side include Sean McDermott, Scott Satterfield, Dabo Swinney, Mike Vrable, Leslie Frazier, and Chris Mack. On life coaching, mindset coaching, and life optimization, I've hosted Craig Ballantyne, Ed Mylett, David Nurse, Jon Gordon, Ben Newman, Greg Taylor, Jason Selk, Michael Gervais, and Jordan Montgomery … just to name a few.

I have used my podcast to essentially be a one‐hour coaching session a week for my listeners and me. Some of them are packed with so much golden information from my guests that when I relisten to them, I find myself hitting the rewind 30 seconds button constantly just to absorb and pick up all the nuggets of what they are saying.

I'm striving to integrate all the wisdom I pick up, and I stay in touch as much as I can to let these great coaches know how they've affected me. You can honor the coaches in your life by picking up what they've taught you, putting it into practice, and sharing with them the impact it has made. That helps fulfill them and be aware of the positive effects they are having on the world through you. As a people, we are blessed with each other to help each other. Proverbs 11:14 says, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”

It's such a powerful relationship in sports, this coaching cycle, where they teach you and observe you, and then you put it into practice, and they teach you again. It's a constant give‐and‐take. So when you're lucky to have effective coaches in your life, you want to honor that process and relationship as much as possible.

Key Takeaways

Here are the key takeaways from this chapter. To be coachable, you have to bring several qualities to the table:

  • You must be accountable, first and foremost.
    • Being accountable means you do what you say you are going to do.
    • Being accountable also means you take full responsibility for your actions.
  • You must be willing to be uncomfortable.
    • If you can't get out of your comfort zone, you can't grow.
    • Discomfort is natural when learning new habits.
  • You must practice humility and confidence at the same time.
    • Even the greatest players in the world know there is room for improvement.
    • Those who remain humble and coachable often rise to the top.
  • You must push your limits by seeking coaching.
    • Great coaches often push you past what you thought your limits were.
    • Seek meaningful metrics and feedback so you can track your improvement.
  • Pivot and be flexible—life is constantly changing, and you need to keep up.
  • The best coaching is ongoing.
    • Being teachable is learning something once.
    • Being coachable is taking what you've learned back to the coach to develop it further.
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