Last night’s Super Bowl, between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers, was one of the more fun championship games I have watched in a while. The commercials were terrible but it featured a nail-biter of an ending and the half-time show was as entertaining as any I’ve seen in recent years. Shortly after the half-time show ended however, something unusual happened. All the lights in the Superdome went dark.
At this point, it is still unclear why the lights went out but we do know that it necessitated a break in play of more than 30 minutes while maintenance people and electricians no doubt had one of the busiest, most chaotic times of their lives trying to get them back on. As this outage came so soon after the half-time Beyonce extravaganza, most players and coaches were sitting idle for well over an hour in the middle of one of the biggest games of their lives.
Going into the blackout, the Ravens had been dominating. The score was 28-6 and the Ravens receiver had just completed a record tying 108 yard scoring run. Many people in my world, whose favorite teams had been eliminated in earlier playoff rounds were talking about going to bed early as the ending looked like a foregone conclusion. But then the lights went out.
The teams seemed to react very differently to the set-back. The players and coaches were all required to stay on the field so they could immediately start the play as soon as the lights came back (and also presumably so fans at home wouldn’t turn off their televisions). As the players paced the field and stretched out their legs in an attempt to keep their muscles warm, I watched the way the coaches reacted to the situation.
The coach of the Ravens was angry. He likely felt like his team had the momentum and that this unexpected break was going to take that away. During that time, he was repeatedly shown on camera screaming at the referees, unnamed officials in suits, and his assistant coaches.
The 49ers coach however looked calm and focused. He spent most of the break throwing the football back and forth with his quarterback. We don’t know what exactly he said to his players but his actions showed that he was focused on making the best out of the situation.
I don’t believe that there is any real statistical weight behind the idea of momentum (for more on this see this recent University of Cincinnati study). Sometimes teams respond to being down in the score by coming out swinging while other times they get frustrated and their play suffers. I do however, believe in the idea of mindset affecting performance and outcomes. Approaching unexpected obstacles as opportunities to grow instead of something to fight against, will ultimately make one stronger.
This idea played out in the remainder of the game. While the Ravens ultimately squeaked out the win, the 49ers came back from the break a different team. In the first few minutes of play, they scored two touchdowns and managed to capitalize on every Ravens mistake. Instead of being a runaway win by the Ravens, it was a fantastic, nail-biting game of football.
Keep the lessons of these coaches in mind when you are leading your own team through tough situations. It can be easy to respond to bad events beyond one’s control with anger and yelling. However, it may pay off for both you and your team to stay loose and focus on the next phase.