Missed Tackles + Missed Blocks = Tebow Tears: The Danger of Being #1

I confess to being a Gator fan. Darnell Lattal, President and CEO of ADI, is an Alabama graduate and fan. I don’t know what to call her, a Tide? I sure won’t call her an elephant. Alabama uniforms are not even crimson, but a kind of dull red. Crimson Tide, it’s a joke!  Enough bitterness (sour grapes), already. Alabama won and rightfully so.

I was deeply disappointed with the Florida loss to Alabama this weekend. It was so bad that my friends didn’t even tease me about it. While I was disappointed with the loss, I was not surprised because staying on top is very hard to do and I saw it coming. I believe the Gators won many of their games this year by not playing their best. In several games, they played only good enough to win. With the talent they have, I expected that they would blow the competition away but instead struggled with several teams on their schedule. Only one of their opponents, LSU, remains in the top 25 and the winning score, 13-3, could hardly be considered a rout.

All of this aside, I am still a loyal Gator fan. However, it caused me to think about how difficult it is to be number 1. If you understand behavior, you realize that the natural consequences, particularly rewards and positive reinforcers, often work against motivating athletes, students and employees who are on top of their game. This is particularly true when the gap between number one and number two is large. What it means is that you can often execute poorly and still remain number one. In the case of the Gators, you can miss a few blocks, tackles and pass-coverages and still win. The problem is that skill sets become more variable every time the behavior is less than optimal but the outcome is good. In other words, you inadvertently get positively reinforced for bad habits. I believe this happened to the Gators for weeks until it caught up with them this weekend.

If coaches, managers and leaders don’t have a good understanding of behavior, this is a usual ending. If the natural consequences don’t support the behaviors you need, then you have to create them. It is difficult for a coach or a manager to practice fundamentals with seasoned performers who are on top. However, it is absolutely necessary to prevent and correct the breakdown of critical behavior patterns. It takes a keen eye and knowledge of reinforcement to develop tactics to correct and prevent such occurrences. Success often causes performers to take their eyes off the ball as there are many things that dilute their focus – ask Tiger.

Avis Car Rental Company has it right. I don’t know about their execution but the natural consequences tend to favor number two in their competition with Hertz. Avis is reinforced for trying harder; Hertz is by remaining number one even when they really didn’t try harder.

I just hope that for the rest of this month, the Gators will get lots of drills on the basics so that when they tangle with the Cincinnati Bearcats in the Sugar Bowl all that will be left will be only a little fur and a full stomach for Albert, the alligator.


Posted by Aubrey Daniels, Ph.D.

Aubrey is a thought leader and expert on management, leadership, safety and workplace issues. For the past 40 years, he has been dedicated to helping people and organizations apply the laws of human behavior to optimize performance.