ReThinking with Adam Grant
Getting to the heart of team culture with Pete Carroll
April 25, 2023
[00:00:00] Adam Grant:
Hey everyone, it's Adam Grant. Welcome back to ReThinking, my podcast on the science of what makes us tick. I'm an organizational psychologist and I'm taking you inside the minds of fascinating people to explore new thoughts and new ways of thinking.
My guest today is Pete Carroll, the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks. He's among the most successful football coaches of all time, one of just three ever to win both a Super Bowl and a College National Championship. When I met Pete a few years ago, I was surprised by how different he was from a stereotypical football coach.
He's not particularly loud, and berating people is not in his playbook. His coaching philosophy revolves around culture and care, and as you might have guessed, he's a fan of the Grateful Dead.
I think I'm supposed to ask you what's on your heart?
[00:00:50] Pete Carroll:
Oh, shoot. There's a lot going on right now. It's a really interesting time because we're constructing and reconstructing a team because of the possibilities, because of these guys that are here in this program. It's a really exciting time. There's a lot of positives. There's a lot of really good forward thinking and, and anticipation of stuff that's going well. So it's, it is a great time right now.
[00:01:10] Adam Grant:
Glad to hear it. Well, that I think goes to one of the big topics I wanted to talk to you about, which is recognizing talent and potential. You've spent your whole career trying to size up what people are capable of. What do you look for now in a player that you didn't early on?
[00:01:25] Pete Carroll:
We're advanced in what we appreciate and what we understand is important has expanded. Whereas one time maybe we were more concerned about really getting the fastest guys and the best-looking athletes and all of that. We felt like if we just had that, we'd be okay. We look much deeper into the players now and much deeper into with their makeup and capture who they are as soon as we can so that we can go to work with that. You know, and, and so in the process of evaluating players as they come to us, we're trying to figure out the makeup.
The chip on the shoulder, the competitiveness, so that we can tap into that. I mean, the most fundamental way I can tell you is I've always looked at guys, I'm trying to figure out who I would wanna pick to play on my team if I was playing in the park. That's the basics of it, you know, the guy that I want to compete with. It's really trying to uncover that during the process.
[00:02:09] Adam Grant:
The, the chip on the shoulder phenomenon is really interesting because on the one hand, I can see the motivation that it brings. On the other hand, I imagine it makes people hard to coach sometimes. Because they have a, a plan and a path. Right? And, and who are you to tell me how I should do things?
[00:02:24] Pete Carroll:
No, that’s exactly right. But that walking that edge, you know, with guys has really been something that I've taken pride in over the years because I appreciate so much of that edge, and I want them to feel like this is a place where they can demonstrate really as openly as they can, what's right, true to their heart.
And so I'm trying to uncover that and try to create an environment so they feel comfortable and free to express themselves. And some guys, you know, they carry it different than other guys. And I, I appreciate the heck outta that. So once I sense that they get a little attitude with me, you know, I want to give them the space cause I want them to be whatever that is. That, that whacked out or that crazy or that intense or that, you know, fiery. Or sometimes it's even the quiet guys too. They, they go all the way the other way. So it's, it's a whole spectrum.
[00:03:05] Adam Grant:
What does that conversation look like if you, if you do pick up some attitude from a player?
[00:03:09] Pete Carroll:
The, the conversation from the beginning is to try to get them to feel comfortable. To be open. I know you've talked to Brené Brown. She was one that impressed upon me a long time ago that you gotta create an environment of openness and, and of vulnerabilities so that people will express themselves. They won't hold back. And if anybody's holding back, then I'm screwing it up. So I'm trying to find ways to connect with them.
We're a relationship-based, you know, set up here. And that means that we gotta get to know who we're dealing with. And so I've gotta put 'em in different situations. I've gotta get them to speak, I've gotta get them to react. I gotta get them to laugh and tell the sadness of their story and the joy of their story and get to all of those things during the process.
So we're a very open, communicative group, and that's where the relationships are so important. I don't need to be friends with 'em. I just need them to be willing to express themselves and really to be willing to expose themselves for who they are. So, that's an ongoing conversation there. There's no one way to do it. It takes time, and you gotta be a, a really good observer to, to make the most of it.
[00:04:03] Adam Grant:
One of my findings from recent research is that especially in leadership, one of the most powerful ways to elicit vulnerability is to show it. As a leader, I can't expect you to be vulnerable unless I am too. How do you show vulnerability to bring that out in your players?
[00:04:16] Pete Carroll:
Every way I can. Really, I'm, I'm trying to be as open as I can possibly be, but more importantly, I've gotta get to the source of what's moving me, what's making me think that it's worth talking about the topic I'm on. I need to get to where I can go get emotional about it. I mean, I'm doing that cause I wanna communicate with them really well.
And I know that most of the time, the communication is most powerful when you, when you are really engaged and really willing to express yourself. And it isn't always the words you say, it's how you say it and how they feel it. So I'm trying to get myself and my coaches and, and my players to that point because that's when we're really functioning at a high level.
It's why we really like to have guys tell their story. Tell us where you come from, tell us what your background is, and then man, they go off and they get going and before you know it, sometimes they're emoting as well, and that just draws everybody.
[00:05:05] Adam Grant:
Is there an example that jumps to mind of, you know, of something you shared or opened up about that we wouldn't expect a coach to?
[00:05:11] Pete Carroll:
I talk about when you really love somebody, you'll do whatever it takes to protect them and to look after 'em. And I want to express to them what it is to be a father and, and to be a parent. And how far will you go to help your kid be the best they can be and be the safest and the most effective and, and have the most fun. How do you get there? And what does that take to do that? I love talking about that topic because it's so real and it's so important for everybody to make their choice how they wanna operate that. When I'm talking about the love thing, that to me is really as deep as I can try to go and I, I try to let myself get there.
[00:05:44] Adam Grant:
You must have some colleagues in the NFL who think it's a little unusual for a, a football coach to talk a lot about love.
[00:05:50] Pete Carroll:
Yeah. I like to think if I can demonstrate to these guys that caring for people is, is your best way to help motivate 'em and to help reach them and to help, you know, help them find themselves.
I know that that topic is a little bit different, but I think it's the key to everything. I really think it's the key to everything, all of the relationships with my coaches to help them stay at their best is I gotta keep finding ways to keep showing why it's important to me to care for them. I haven't really been a mainstream guy. I'm not like in, in a groove of, of some of the classics, but I'm not doing that to, to be different. I'm just doing it to try to figure out how to be at my best too.
[00:06:25] Adam Grant:
I remember the last time Brené was on this show, she said one of her big takeaways from working with Air Force leaders was that you cannot lead people you don't feel affection for.
[00:06:33] Pete Carroll:
We have seen this over and again her. The difference between coaching and college and coaching in the NFL for me has been—and I've been both back and forth—guys graduate. They leave, and you know they're going, and they, everybody knows it. And then there's, there's kind of an end coming the whole time. Well, the end that's coming in, in professional sports doesn't have a timeline to it.
You can kind of age out, but there's not a really defined time. What I've realized here in this job, I think I'm starting my 14th year, you know, so we've been here a long time that I've lived through careers of guys. And when you care for people as much as we care for 'em and, and, and go through as much and, and respect what we've experienced together, to come to a point where you have to say, “Oh, you know, it's, it's, it's over now. You know, and you're, you're done. And, and we gotta, you know, get ready to move on. I'll help you in every way I can.” But for that to take place, that's a huge transition. You know, you don't, you don't cut your family. Your kids, they're gonna be your kids forever.
Well, in my, my approach, I'm never leaving these guys. When they've been here for a while, I'll be here. It don't matter how far apart we get or where they go or whatever, I'm not leaving them.
[00:07:39] Adam Grant:
That's both moving and unusual to hear. This goes back to your point about asking players to tell their stories. I imagine that not everyone opens up right away. So when just asking what's your story isn't enough, how do you begin to get to know them?
[00:07:54] Pete Carroll:
It’s really just by relating. Competition’s the central theme in our program; we've used competing as a way to get guys to interact and get guys to, you know, have to show themselves and have to battle when we shoot hoops, you know, almost every day in, in our meetings.
And it just gives us a, an environment kind of, and a, and a tool to have fun. When you're having fun, often you're not worried about, you know, how you're coming across and you're getting close to who you are and, and, and I can see the guys that aren't and that are struggling with it, but it's also just being receptive and being available. So when the other times come, so that can come in the office or you can catch 'em in the hallway or hang out with them or whatever.
[00:08:28] Adam Grant:
You have some rules in place to try to facilitate that. Tell me about your Seahawks rules.
[00:08:34] Pete Carroll:
Well, they’re pretty basic. Always protect the team is rule number one. And it gives me a chance to talk about what that means. That's about your conscience. You hold people that are on your team in your conscience always, and you have a mindfulness of them, and you do what it takes to protect them and look after 'em.
Rule number two that I, I borrowed from, uh, uh, coach John Wooden is no whining, no complaining, no excuses. That's a mindset for us that has to do with how you talk, you know, and how you communicate with people and do you share your ugly thoughts about something or whatever. Or do you try to help one another be positive and be supportive and, and, and, and, and work to bring out the best in people? And, and, uh, so that's, that's a, another part of it.
And then rule number three, and I tell you they're really short and they're really easy is, uh, uh, be early. Again, it gives me a chance to, to communicate to the guys, you know, what's important to me. It's about priorities. You know, getting organized and getting your life together so that you can show respect—which is the, the biggest aspect of rule number three—towards the people around you. That I'm prepared to come to wherever the meeting is or wherever we're supposed to go. I figured out my plan. I got up on time. I ate on time and got to the building on time, whatever, and I, I had a plan about it.
That's getting your priorities in order so that you can present yourself in the best light. And when we talk about that, we talk about respect a lot. And I've asked guys over the years, “Okay, tell me what respect is.” And they got a million answers, then it's hard to figure out what respect is. So we've, we've brought it to using the word regard, how you regard something or somebody.
When you think about regard in terms of respect, you can also think, “How do you regard yourself?” How do you present yourself? Do you present yourself where it shows that it's important how you present yourself? Or do you not care? It doesn't matter to you. Like you, you dress crappy. You don't pay attention to people. You don't. You know, you, you, you may listen, you may not, you may do right. You may not.
That's all an opportunity to demonstrate your self-regard and self-respect. And so if you wanna be at your best, you gotta present yourself your best as well. Those rules have a lot that I can work with and I can pretty much run the show on that and so it's, it's helped me over the years.
[00:10:34] Adam Grant:
Uh, they’re easy to remember, but they're also powerful. The “no excuses” one is interesting to me. I, I find that I sometimes get in trouble on this because I'll, I'll try to explain my behavior, not to excuse it. And people confuse the explanation for an excuse.
[00:10:46] Pete Carroll:
[00:10:47] Adam Grant:
How, how do you separate those two things?
[00:10:49] Pete Carroll:
To me, it, it's intent. And if you mean well, and you, and you know, and you're trying to explain yourself or, or, or describe why you did something or make sense of it… If, if it's true to you, then it doesn't really matter kind of what they think about it, because in the end, they'll figure it out. If you're making it up and you're BSing, man, they're gonna find out. It's really just getting to the truth.
[00:11:09] Adam Grant:
You modeled that in a very powerful way, in a moment that I'm sure you're tired of talking about. But I have to ask ‘cause I think it's so fascinating on two levels. If we go back to the 2015 Super Bowl, you made a pass call, I think 25 seconds left that got intercepted. Seahawks lost the game, and you immediately took the blame. I think you, you said to your team, “That's my fault totally.” I thought that was an incredible leadership moment. How did you get there?
[00:11:36] Pete Carroll:
Well, through a lot of years of preparing for that moment. You know, I always go to myself first in terms of accountability, and I mean, if, if somebody doesn't act according to the way I would like him to as a coach or whatever, and the first thing I think is maybe I didn't explain it to him, right?
Maybe he, I wasn't clear enough that he understood, you know, where I'm coming from. And so I'm not gonna blame him. I'm gonna figure out how can I do a better job to help them be more effective and be in accordance with me. Well, I'm asking our guys to be, to hold themselves accountable for everything that we're doing.
It's gotta start with me. There's moments—they’re not that frequent, but there's rare moments when things happen, when, you know, accountability is really the most important thing. And what are you gonna do when the time comes, you know? And in my mind, I've prepared myself for those moments and, and I want to demonstrate the epitome of poise and understanding and clarity and all of that.
So really in the, the instant of that play happened, I think I bent down and then I, by the time I stood up, I said, “Well, here you go.” You know, this is that time. Because I realized how much just occurred, and I knew that in going in the locker room, there was gonna be an array of concerns, you know, with emotions and all of the life effect that, that it has as an athlete and a coach.
You know, you, those, those rare moments, and I didn't want to leave it any gray area. I didn't want to, I didn't want them to have to think about this or that or the other thing, or, or come up with their own. I'll take it, you know, and, and then I'll deal with it. And then I have prepared for years to, to be able to, to do that. Whether it was preparing for, um, the good or the bad of it, you know, I, I want to be ready for it.
[00:13:07] Adam Grant:
Wow. How did the team react when you took responsibility?
[00:13:09] Pete Carroll:
I said, “You guys are gonna take this differently. It's going to hit everybody, uh, in, in their own, in-individual way. And, and we want to give space for, for people to respond the way they do. We're gonna have to figure out how we're going to, you know, how we're gonna move forward. But I, I, but I think it's gonna take us some time.”
I don't think I mentioned that, that it was gonna be a grieving process, but it was a grieving process and, you know, you gotta take the time that it takes to, to get your mind clear and, and to be on your stuff.
[00:13:35] Adam Grant:
Pete, one of the things that's, that, that's salient to me in a situation like that is psychologists have found that it's easier to admit some of your failures and shortcomings when you've achieved success. And I wonder, would that moment have been harder if you hadn't come off a Super Bowl victory of the previous year?
[00:13:51] Pete Carroll:
Yeah, I had some extraordinary times in, in, uh, in Los Angeles at SC that help ed me, you know, shape the way I want it to be. That's why I've said I, I was prepared enough. I, I've anticipated if something goes really terrible that, you know, I'm gonna handle that too. And, and so I've had enough time to get to that.
And I think the, the winning certainly had a big factor. Winning the year before. But I think it's more than that. I think it's much deeper than that, than just the, the one Super Bowl win.
[00:14:18] Adam Grant:
Now, I wanna challenge our football fan listeners to rethink their view of your play call in that situation. I was talking with Annie Duke about this recently, and I think it's such a clear example of what she calls resulting, right, where, okay, the interception happened. Therefore it must have been a bad decision. But empirically, I don't buy that. Right? I think the interception rate in a situation like that is something like 1 or 2%. And if, if you had scored a touchdown there and won the Super Bowl, people would've called you a genius, right? So Annie would say, you made a good decision that happened to have a rare bad outcome. Where do you come down on that?
[00:14:54] Pete Carroll:
After time thinking about it, that's kind of how I express it too. It wasn't the, the worst decision, it was the worst outcome. All, all of the time it takes to get your mentality correct and get close to fully functioning, you've gotta have the goods and the bads, and you have to go through it.
And I, I hate learning the hard way. I always want the other guy to learn the hard way, but I do appreciate the fact that it, it's important and we have to pick ourselves up and, and, and respect that to really work to prevent that, but I, I, I agree with her. That's exactly how I interpreted it.
[00:15:26] Adam Grant:
Well this is, I think, one of the biggest challenges of your job as a coach, right? Is you have to learn from decisions where there's a lot of luck, sometimes good, sometimes bad involved.
[00:15:35] Pete Carroll:
[00:15:35] Adam Grant:
So when you analyze your, your judgments, how do you figure out what, what was the situation and what was on you?
[00:15:43] Pete Carroll:
We got a format for that. It's called Tell the Truth Monday. It's get to the essence of what had just took place and, and try to share that with everybody so everybody can share in that as well. I don't think I get a hundred percent of buy-in all the time on my interpretation of the truth, but that I try to do that really well. And that's to, you know, really step back and get clear and listen to the people around you and, and watch the, the players and the coaches and how everybody, you know, can express what took place and then, and then try to present that so that we can put it somewhere and move on.
That's the whole point of telling the truth. It's not, not about getting to the truth of it as much as getting on. It's just as difficult to respond to a great win as it is to a great loss. Whatever enters into your mind when you're trying to perform at your best, it's a distraction.
Doesn't matter what kind of distraction it is. Any of those factors can keep you from finding the clarity it takes to perform at your best. So, I gotta get rid of that. That’s, we gotta, we gotta put that behind us and, and, and stick the big win or the big loss behind us so that we can take the next step we take, getting back to the basics.
And that's why I theme it like it's Competition Wednesday for us, is there's a big purpose in that. The, the reason is we're gonna go back to competing. We're gonna go back to focusing on our craft, focusing on what it takes to, to play good, good ball. And part of that is battling and go out and, and, you know, trying to win on the practice field. And that's all to try to draw our focus away from what took place and into what's really important. And that's getting good at what you do.
[00:17:14] Adam Grant:
Are you up for some rapid-fire questions and answers?
[00:17:17] Pete Carroll:
Let her rip.
[00:17:18] Adam Grant:
What's a book that we should all read?
[00:17:19] Pete Carroll:
My favorite book was Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, and it was a book by a guy named Chogyam Trungpa, and I've read it back in my college days and I've never been the same. But I would give you one other one though too. The Inner Game is a great book too.I love that one.
[00:17:32] Adam Grant:
What was the thing that hit you hardest from Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism? I'm not familiar with it.
[00:17:36] Pete Carroll:
Helping yourself do things for the right reasons. You get to the truth, get to the source, get to the, what's authentic, you know, and, and represent that way.
[00:17:45] Adam Grant:
Who is your coaching role model?
[00:17:45] Pete Carroll:
Bud Grant is really my favorite guy.
[00:17:49] Adam Grant:
He has great taste in a last name.
[00:17:51] Pete Carroll:
Yeah, he just passed away recently, and I only coached with him for one season. He hired me after I got fired in the NFL after my first year. And he hired me into back into the league, and then he retired after that year.
But we've remained connected throughout all of the years, but he's, he's affected me the most. His extraordinary abilities, and just the person that he was, you know, was really affecting me in a big way. But he was a great observer, man. He just didn't miss stuff. He could hear things, see things kind of almost before they'd happened, and he had awareness that, you know, that I could only envy. But I, I just love the guy and he was, he was a great winner.
[00:18:25] Adam Grant:
Speaking of being fired and the opposite of winning, what's the biggest lesson you've learned about how to bounce back from a setback, whether it's losing your job or losing a game?
[00:18:34] Pete Carroll:
Don't sanction the person that fired you. If you buy into it and you think that you're beaten, and that that was the truth that you should have been kicked out, then I don't know how to bounce back.
Anybody who let me go, I thought they made a mistake, and that's kinda that chip on the shoulder that we talked about a little bit. I'm just not gonna sanction that decision. I remember that time I got fired at the Jets. The first thought that hit my mind is that I got two more years of my contracts. We gotta go to Disney World.
In my world, you know, there's a lot of people talking about it and you get a lot of exposure about it and all that, and a lot of criticism and all. And, uh, you gotta stand strong. So that, that's, that's part of the mentality of competing to me.
[00:19:09] Adam Grant:
What would you say is the worst advice you've ever gotten?
[00:19:12] Pete Carroll:
Any, anybody that's trying to tell you to act like somebody else. I had a, a coaching job. The people in charge wanted me to be, you know, more like this guy, and we can't, why can't we do it more like that? And, and fortunately, my mentors that, that I checked in with kept telling me, “Stay the course. You'll never be any good at being somebody else.”
[00:19:31] Adam Grant:
Who'd you say is the most underrated player in football? Past or present.
[00:19:35] Pete Carroll:
This guy may not be underrated, but I thought Troy Polomalu was one of the greatest players I ever, was ever around. He's a Hall of Famer and all that, but I don't know. He, he never got enough credit in my book.
[00:19:45] Adam Grant:
Did not expect a Steeler to come up, but we'll take it. What's an interview question that you've found especially insightful when you're looking at either a potential draft pick or a player to vet?
[00:19:56] Pete Carroll:
Why do you, you know, treasure this? This player, you know, what is it, what is it that you treasure? That to me, and I'm not answering that because of his numbers, you know, and I'm not answering that because of his stats and how big he is. And I would answer it because I'd want to be able to express why I think so highly of them. And you know, what I appreciate most about 'em and, and, and why we would make a decision to bring 'em on your club.
[00:20:18] Adam Grant:
Is there something that you've rethought recently?
[00:20:21] Pete Carroll:
I've just jumped back into my work in a way that I haven't done in a few years, and I'm really excited about it. I just feel that the connection to going for it right now in, in a little bit different way, and my whole world has shifted forward and I'm really excited about it.
And what it means is I'm just getting more involved with one side of the football and the defensive side just because I want to, you know, and then I, and I wanna help, and I want to be there to give them everything I got. And I, I felt like I, I had more to offer. So, it's really been exciting. And, uh, I'm looking forward to it.
[00:20:51] Adam Grant:
Wow. What, what pulled you to defense?
[00:20:53] Pete Carroll:
Well, that's just kind of always been my strength and I just think it's time to, to, to re-revisit it. And so rethinking is to, is to take a step back, but yet with new vision and new eyes and, and all of that. So I'm excited about it.
[00:21:05] Adam Grant:
It's almost like you used to be a defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.
[00:21:09] Pete Carroll:
Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
[00:21:11] Adam Grant:
Old habits die hard.
[00:21:12] Pete Carroll:
[00:21:13] Adam Grant:
Since you're a fellow podcast host here, is there a question you wanna ask me as an organizational psychologist?
[00:21:19] Pete Carroll:
Knowing that you're always pressed to get to the next idea, like rethink, you know, um, how do you handle that? How do you deal with the fact that, okay, I gotta reinvent, you know, another concept or a principle. Because I think that's an exciting challenge for somebody who's been creative. Okay. How you gonna, you know, paint another Starry Night, you know, that kind of thing?
[00:21:39] Adam Grant:
I think early on I made the mistake of, of saying, “All right, I don't wanna get typecast.” I, I don't wanna keep doing the greatest hits, or I don't even believe in non-fiction sequels. Once an idea has, you know, has grown big enough for, you know, a series of studies or a book, then it's time to move on, and not everybody wants you to move on.
[00:21:59] Pete Carroll:
[00:21:59] Adam Grant:
Which is always a challenge, but I think I was a little bit too eager to say, “If I'm excited about an idea, that's enough.” And it's not enough because as you well know from, from writing, ideas can follow you for a long time. And sometimes that's a curse of success, right? Is that you can't ever escape your past work?
One of the things I've tried to pay more attention to is not just what's interesting to me, but what do other people care about? What do they keep asking questions about? And then also, where do I have a novel perspective to, to bring to the table, right?
[00:22:30] Pete Carroll:
[00:22:30] Adam Grant:
Even if something is, you know, is exciting personally, and you know, it matters to other people. Like I, I don't think, for example, the world needs yet another leadership book at this point. Right? So I'm probably not gonna write one, but there are other topics that I feel like are massively underrepresented, and so I want to go where there's interest, where there's importance, but there's not necessarily a lot of light that's been shined.
[00:22:52] Pete Carroll:
I’m kind of stuck being a ball coach too, you know? There's not much I can do about that. But, um, there's a lot of ways that, that, um, I'm interested in continuing to find out how that makes sense in other ways also.
[00:23:04] Adam Grant:
I think one of the things that's most interesting about your role is that you're really shepherding people through, you know, a major transition in life. In a lot of cases from college to being a professional athlete, and then to something you touched on earlier—to walking away from the game that's defined their entire life. How do you help people navigate those transitions? I, I don't need to tell you. It's, it can be a massive loss of identity.
[00:23:27] Pete Carroll:
It's the main deal that these guys have to have to deal with. And I, I liken it to, um, guys coming out of the fighting in wars, you know, and, and the guys that are in the, in service and they give their life to the guy next to him to keep them alive. That takes so much of, of yourself that, um, you can't see yourself as anything other than that. And the football players, myself included, I've never gotten over it.
Really, you know, I've still got a chip on my shoulder about it, and this guy shouldn't have cut me when he cut me the last time. You know what? It's just still, still be playing. It's a major issue to deal with, and it needs to be understood and respected because it's real. And when you've primarily thought of yourself as a player—as a football player, any sport—and then all of a sudden you don't have that to wake up to where you can act on it, you don't know who you are without it.
When you're a mom and the kids leave the house, you know, and when you're married and then you're not. When you know, when those, when those things change, those major shifts that happen in your life, somebody passes away. I don't have that person any longer. It really takes consideration and love and, and caring and time and, and grieving and all of those things to get back on track.
The, the game has been the purpose. You know, it's been why you do stuff, you know, and everything kind of fits around it. When that goes away, you gotta rediscover. And to wait till it's over, it's, it's late. It's late in the process. There could be some real pitfalls, and they see it all the time with our guys.
They really have trouble finding their way, and so we hope to be always connected. That's why I always wanna be connected with guys, so at least we can con-continue, communicate and I can see them who they are because we're always ball players. You know? We, we are, and I can't get away with it. You're always a guy that fought in a war. You can't get away from it.
You don't want to, I don't think. I think you need to hold onto that because that has been a major part of your upbringing, and you need to stay connected to that. But we have to go. We have to grow. From one year to the next. I, I, I hammer my coaches on this thought, to get ready. They're coming back. It's a new year. They're not gonna be the same as they were last year. If you expect them to be exactly the same, you're gonna be mistaken. So you have to be open to the newness of that, that comes to you, and you have to observe and listen and watching and, and be tuned into all of that.
It's that clarity that gives you a chance to deal with the things that are uncomfortable or that don't feel just right, or a person doesn't come across like they used to. They don't talk to you the same way that they used to. They don't respect you in the same way. They may respect you more, even. You, you, you just have to be wide open and there's that openness and that willingness to, to listen and to watch really carefully and to be a great observer is crucial in moving forward.
[00:25:57] Adam Grant:
When you talk about what's new, it reminds me you're a big believer in the importance of beginnings. You've often said that the first day is when you make mistakes that can haunt a team for years. How do you approach those beginnings to make sure you don't make those, those disastrous mistakes?
[00:26:12] Pete Carroll:
Well, one of the ways is anybody can have a good day. You know, can you come back and have another good day? And it's not unlike you can win a big game, but can you come back and win another one? Can you get refocused and can you get tuned in? It's just like you, you're talking about, it's about rethinking. Can you get on the wavelength that you need to be on to be at your best?
And can you return to that? I haven't mentioned the word, but the word trust is really important here. If you've been able to be effective at what you do, then and, and you have acknowledged that, that doesn't mean you need to be cocky about it and shove it in somebody's face. You just need to know the truth.
And then when you know the truth, What did it take for me to get there and then, okay, how do I reconstruct my path to get back on course again? That's a day-to-day thing. I mean, like, I’ve got a kid and I’ll tell him, “Yeah, we had a great day of practice yesterday, but that didn't mean anything ‘cause that day's already gone. What are you gonna do now?”
It, it's been a really helpful tool because it, you reset and, and you don't get swayed or affected by what happened in, in the past, in any other way than to build your belief. And, yeah, I can do this again. I, I, yeah, I can get that done. So there's a real discipline to that.
[00:27:09] Adam Grant:
We've talked a lot about care and relationships and the importance of connecting with people. I know that especially earlier in your career, you got a lot of criticism for being too soft on players—too laid back—and you didn't change your style. Why not? And what would you, what would you say to those critics now? Because clearly, they were wrong.
[00:27:30] Pete Carroll:
They didn't understand. They didn't know, you know, and, and they didn't know what was important and what was happening. They just knew it was different. And different was bad and different, that’s a terrible thing. When things aren't like you want them to be, you think they're wrong, you know, or they're bad. And I haven't been a typical coach.
I think it was my second year of coaching in, at the University of Pacific. Back in the day, I was a graduate assistant. I was at a, a night meeting during camp. I was a defensive back coach, and I had a thought to ask the guys here what do they need to work on in the drills tomorrow. You know, what, what can I do to help you? You know? And all of a sudden these guys started, I mean, I filled up a chalkboard with, with ideas and things that they wanted to do.
It was like the best meeting I'd ever had because all of a sudden they were interacting, and we're going, and we're working. And so the meeting's over and you know, I, I take off and I jogged back to the, to the office, the football office, and the first guy I run into is my, my old head coach, Chester Caddas. You know, old Kentucky guy, you know, as southern as an old style and, and authoritarian as you can be. And, and, and I said, “Coach, I just had the best meeting I ever had.”
He said, “What happened?” I said, “Well, I asked the guys what they wanted to work on in practice tomorrow, and we were all fired up and they told me a million things.” He said, “Don’t you ever ask them to what they want to do. You don't ever want to know. You're listening to what their, their considerations are.”
And so I just end up slumping. Oh. ‘Cause I love my coach, you know? Oh man, I just, I was totally wrong, you know, and I thought, I thought about it for a couple minutes. I got, I left and I, wait a minute that I was just there. I watched what happened. That was freaking awesome.
And so I did just what I said I was gonna do, and we did the drills that they were talking about and, and that point forward, you know, I, I realized that I was, I was on a different wavelength than the guy I was working for. It was really a big moment. Look, I still remember it. It was just that moment of when you connect with people and they communicate with you and, and they realize that you care enough that you would ask them, and then you'll act on it and you'll back it up and you'll come through for ‘em, the relationship just skyrocketed.
[00:29:19] Adam Grant:
It's such a deceptively simple idea.
[00:29:22] Pete Carroll:
Right. I think it is.
[00:29:23] Adam Grant:
To say that if you wanna show people that you care about them, and also that you're invested in their growth, ask them how they want to grow.
[00:29:30] Pete Carroll:
Tell me your story. You know, if I was gonna try to help a company do better, a corporation or something like that, I'd go right to dealing with your people. Start a level of communication that isn't present and is uncommon, and, and show them why it's important to see how extraordinarily unique they are and uncover that and, and make them realize that you care about understanding that, and then you recognize them, and in essence you see them and you hear them.
I don't know how you can't perform at a higher level if that, if that's the way you deal with the people in your company. I don't care what you're doing. It doesn't matter what you're doing. It's getting people to realize that you see them at their best, and then that's not easy. You know, it's not just automatic that you do that, you gotta work at it. And that, that work that you put in and the time that you spend, that's where the real sweet stuff is.
[00:30:18] Adam Grant:
So given your passion for growing and learning, what are you hoping to get better at this year?
[00:30:22] Pete Carroll:
I'm real specific about that now I need to really, really do a good job of listening to my guys now. I’ve gotta, I've gotta draw from my coaches everything that they got and, and that means I've gotta just be on point.
Every single moment I've stepped into this building and whenever I'm with them and when I'm not, I, I can't stop competing at helping. I had a coach one time. I said, “Hey, I was, I'm sitting on the beach here. I had a thought about a pass route.” And the guy says, “You're sitting on a beach?” And I said, “Yeah. I was in Hawaii. I'm sitting on the beach. And I had a thought, so I called you and I'm calling you.” And he said, “Well, when I go to the beach, I don't think about anything.” He said, “What are you doing?”
So I, I realized I, yeah, I can't turn it off, you know? And, and, uh, I really don't want to. When the brain goes, you gotta go with it, you know, and it's just too important. And that's competing, too. I gotta do that with my guys. That's what, that's what this year is all about, is helping them be great at what they do. And, and then, you know, we get all the good stuff if we do that.
[00:31:15] Adam Grant:
Well, I'm excited to see where it takes you. And for the record, I cannot imagine what it's like to not think about anything either.
[00:31:22] Pete Carroll:
I, I know we're, we're cursed, but that's okay. That's okay.
[00:31:28] Adam Grant:
I have no complaints here. And you don't allow complaints anyway.
[00:31:31] Pete Carroll:
[00:31:31] Adam Grant:
I’m not gonna complain either.
[00:31:32] Pete Carroll:
There you go.
[00:31:33] Adam Grant:
[00:31:33] Pete Carroll:
That’s it. Rule number two.
[00:31:34] Adam Grant:
Pete. This has been a lot of fun and super informative too.
[00:31:38] Pete Carroll:
Oh, I appreciate that.
[00:31:43] Adam Grant:
Pete has me thinking a lot about the importance of communicating our standards to other people. So many times when they disappoint us, we think it's due to their actions, but it's actually because their behavior fell short of our expectations, and in many cases, it’s because they didn't know what we expected.
If you want people to rise to the occasion, you need to communicate what your expectations are, and if you wanna live up to other people's expectations, you have to find out what they are.
ReThinking is hosted by me, Adam Grant, and produced by TED with Cosmic Standard. Our team includes Colin Helms, Eliza Smith, Jacob Winik, Aja Simpson. Samiah Adams, Michelle Quint, BanBan Cheng, Hannah Kingsley Ma, Julia Dickerson, and Whitney Pennington Rodgers. This episode was produced and mixed by Cosmic Standard Original Music by Hansdale Hsu and Allison Leyton-Brown.
It seems like you and Ted Lasso would get along with his idea of players becoming like a goldfish and having sort of a ten-second memory.
[00:32:54] Pete Carroll:
I've not watched that. I've only saw the first episode.
[00:32:56] Adam Grant:
[00:32:57] Pete Carroll:
No, I don't watch it.
[00:32:58] Adam Grant:
You haven't watched Ted Lasso?
[00:32:59] Pete Carroll:
No. I'm gonna watch it some other time, but I, I, I love the theme, you know, what he is doing and, and how it's coming across and the effect that he's had on people. I think his ways is marvelous, but I don't want, I don't wanna get affected by any of those things that they throw out. I want to be me. I don't wanna be Ted.