Learning from Belichick

By Bob Hiller

Our country is divided over pretty much everything these days. In such times, it is helpful to remember that nothing unites quite like a common enemy. That is why I am thankful that the New England Patriots are back in the Super Bowl. Our collective disdain for ol’ Grumpy Bill and that disgustingly talented quarterback just might be what this nation needs to bring us together. Just think of the collective joy we would feel watching Matt Ryan march down the field with only seconds left on the clock to score a winning touchdown and rip the hearts out of the New England sideline. It just makes you want to hug your enemy, doesn’t it?

Look, I have very little affection in my heart towards the Pats, but in today’s blog, I’m feeling a bit more, shall we say, conciliatory. Maybe I’m just tired of watching every group fight with every other group on Facebook. And though I must admit that I am really rooting for Atlanta on Sunday (or is it against New England), I do want to say something positive about the Patriots, specifically, head coach Bill Belichick. As hard as it is to say, I think there is something that we could all learn from Belichick.

Before the Patriots played in the AFC Championship game this year, their opponent was decided when the Atlanta Falcons trounced the Green Bay Packers. After winning their own game, a reporter asked Belichick if he had already started mentally preparing to play the Falcons. The coach (who is notorious for his curt and dodgy press conferences) replied, “I didn’t even know they had won.” Belichick is one of the greatest football coaches of all time. He is constantly scheming, at times finding loopholes in the rules to give his team an advantage. How, some wondered, could it be that a coach who is that involved, that prepared, that ingenious, did  not know what happened in the other game? Doesn’t he need to start planning ahead? Surely he was just avoiding the question and being politically correct by saying he wasn’t paying attention to another game, right?

Actually, I happen to believe Belichick’s response. I don’t think he knew who won that game, nor do I think he cared until after his guys had the AFC wrapped up. Why? Because Belichick is a model of his craft and a picture of how one should carry out their vocation. He was focused with all his energy on the task that was at hand. He was not distracted by everything else going on in the world, even those things that would have a significant impact on him in the future. His concern was on the Steelers. He was focused on serving his neighbor by preparing his team to do everything necessary to beat Pittsburgh. His closest neighbors, the people who needed him in that moment, were his coaching staff (whom he was scheming with) and his players (whom he was preparing). He was allowing tomorrow to worry about itself and was dealing with the next game which had enough trouble of its own (though he ended up causing most of the trouble for his opponent).

Perhaps Belichick gets after each game better than any coach in the league. He’s one of the best of all time. Much of that, I believe, can be attributed to his ability to fend off media distractions and focus on the task at hand. He simply does his job and sees that he does it well. His team knows this, buys into his system, and plays hard for him. His stubborn dedication to his craft serves the “neighbor” he is given in his vocation and has pushed his team to seven Super Bowl appearances since 2001. Belichick avoids distraction and pours himself into his job.

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Though his work ethic has produced incredible results, the results are not what impresses me about Belichick. What’s impressive and instructive for us is his stubborn focus on his craft. A few years back, a good friend and I were bemoaning our addiction to social media. He said something that haunts me to this day: “I keep getting on Facebook to get affirmation from people I don’t care that much about while my kid is standing in front of me, telling me he wants my time.” It was a damning critique of how social media had distracted him, and me, and many of us from the vocation of loving the neighbor God has placed within reach. I fear that social media has distracted us from loving our neighbor in an any sort of active sense because all of our emotional and mental energy is exhausted in affirming or attacking them. I mean, if you are laying in bed, questioning your friendship with someone because they posted something that counters your political view, it is time to get off of Facebook and take your friend out for a drink. It is time to stop being distracted from the vocation at hand (say of friendship) because of the anti-vocation of social-media posting.

Social media, though it doesn’t have to be, has become the anti-vocation. It distracts us from the task at hand and turns us against our neighbors by allowing us to label them as merely friend or foe. Just see how it distorts the craft of friendship. Just think about the kind of person you become on Facebook. Do you go there to listen, discuss, support, and debate with your friends, or do you go there to merely be affirmed and speak your mind only to despise those who disagree with you? Do your interactions foster love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Or do you react to whatever world-ending event is happening this week? I’m not saying things in this world aren’t awful and need correcting. I am saying that social media may be the least useful platform we have to do anything of substance (while it giving us the perception that we are making a difference).

We can learn a lot from Bill Belichick, who ignores the hype and invests in his responsibilities towards the people around him. Perhaps it’s time for us to step away from the computer (after reading the Jagged Word, of course) and spend real time with real people in real places. Just think how nice it would be to act like Belichick, step away from the hype, and say, “I don’t know what was trending today. I was laughing over drinks with a Patriots fan.”

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