Belichick's keynote address: Passion plus

BOSTON -- Patriots coach Bill Belichick gave the keynote address this morning at a symposium called "Sports Medicine and the NFL: The Playbook for 2013."

Belichick's address was called "Building a Champion", and he spoke about some of the aspects that have been most important to him over his 14 years with Patriots from a team-building standpoint.

The symposium, which is co-chaired by Patriots team doctor Thomas J. Gill, is being held over the next three days at the Sheraton Boston.

“From a coach’s perspective, in building a championship team, there is nothing more important really than your medical staff,” Belichick said in his opening remarks. “The overall operation of that group, relative to keeping our players healthy and on the field, is a huge aspect of the organization. … There is nothing more important to a coach than a healthy team.”

Over the course of his 40-minute speech, Belichick strayed away from medical talk – he has often said “I am not a doctor” – and touched on what he looks for in any staffer in the organization, from players down the line.

“To summarize it as quickly as I could, there are three things that go into our entire organization,” Belichick said. “It starts with the people, that’s No. 1. And, of course, we’ve gone through a period here with the draft that gives us a good opportunity to turn over about one-third of our roster with new players, and also sign some free agents as well.

“It comes down a couple things. No. 1, of course, is talent. But really, everybody in the National Football League has talent. If they didn’t have talent, they wouldn’t be in the league. It comes in varying degrees, we understand that, and whatever you get with the player, you get with the player. You get his strength, his speed, his explosiveness, his intelligence, his work ethic, whatever physical condition he is and so forth. I don’t want to say it’s even but it’s pretty comparable in the big picture, from team to team, based on the way our system is set up with free agency, salary cap, and draft order.

“The big thing I’d say we look for, which would try to differentiate the players for us, are players with passion; guys that really love football. As we all know from our jobs, if you love what you’re doing you don’t feel like you’re working. If you don’t like what you’re doing, then every step of the way is just painful torture. We don’t want people who are in football because of the lifestyle it brings or the opportunities [or rewards] from it. We want people who are in our business because they love doing it.

“Let’s face it; we all got into what we’re doing because we love doing it. When we took our first coaching job, or our first intern job or whatever it was, there wasn’t very much in it. We did it because we love doing it. That’s what we’re really looking for in football players – guys that love what they do, have passion for practice.

“Practice is a very important part of our development. You look at a lot of the other sports – baseball, basketball, hockey and pro sports like that – those teams are playing daily and in some cases multiple times a week. We don’t have that opportunity. We just play once a week. If we only improve on the days we play, we’re not going to get very far. We have to improve on those other six days that we’re not playing. Those are important days for our football team, and for our individual personal development, and the overall development of the team.

“With that in mind, it certainly relates to the importance of practice, and practice as a unit, and why that’s so important to the coaches. I know that there may be many of you in this room that may think, from a football standpoint, that we just come out there on Sunday – and there is something to be said for that – but it’s so important for players who are playing together to work together and be able to communicate together. I’m not just talking about quarterbacks and receivers. It transcends through your entire team – your defensive backs, your backs and linebackers, your offensive linemen, your tight ends working in combination with your offensive line, or with your receivers and quarterbacks in the passing game.

“When those guys can’t practice, and they can’t be out there on the field, not only are they falling behind individually – and even if they’re experienced enough where it’s not that big of a fallback for them – the overall communication and execution of the team is certainly not what it would be if they were able to participate.

"Participation in practice is a big thing, and once again a lot of that comes down to mindset – guys that want to practice, guys that want to be out there, will approach things a little bit different than guys, who in all honesty, are trying to get out of it or don’t feel that’s important.

“As it relates to people, it’s trying to bring people into the organization that share a similar philosophical outlook to the game, and have a passion for the game, that we in the organization have. That’s really where it starts.

“And then it goes to preparation. We work very hard in our preparation in every area. I believe to have a championship team you want to have a championship team in every area, whether that’s your starting quarterback, your strength coach, your medical staff, your area scouts, whatever it happens to be. We’re trying to work at a championship level of performance in every one of those areas. …

“The only way for us as a team to get a championship level is to continue to evaluate ourselves, and we have to look at what we’ve done and critically analyze it. … We can’t hire a consultant to come in and fix our problems. There is nobody else to turn to. There is no team in the league that wants to help us and there’s no team in the league we want to help.

“So the only way for us to get better is to do our own R & D [research and development]. I think along with that comes a certain amount of humility, being able to take constructive criticism -- we certainly have all made a lot of mistakes; I’ve made more than my share and so has everybody else. In order for us to improve and get better and move forward, we’ve all got to be able to stand up and say ‘Hey, I screwed that up’ or ‘I didn’t do a good job here, how can we correct the problem and get it right the next time?’

“In our society, I would say there is not an over-abundance of that out there. There’s a lot more trying to point the finger at somebody else and make excuses, and all that. So we try to eliminate that in our organization.

“In terms of overall preparation and evaluation of our preparation, those are a couple of key elements that we try to have throughout the whole process. We just finished the draft process and now we’re in the process of going back over the draft and talking about what things went well, what things didn’t go well, how can we improve next year? So it’s a constant evaluation of what we do, how we can do it better. And if we feel like we’ve done it well, then it’s what things we want to make sure we put in the priority list the next time this point comes along. It certainly relates to the medical field as well, because it’s a year-round process -- the draft process, free agency process, training camp, in-season injuries and the management of them and so forth. It’s something that really never stops. ...

“And ultimately for us it all comes down to performance. We get one opportunity a week, three hours a week, to put that whole week of preparation and game-planning and therapy and conditioning, it all shows up in that one three-hour period. That really heightens how important every single play and everything we do – we could have great practices on Wednesday and Thursday but nobody really cares; the only thing that matters is how you play on Sundays. … So in the end, our ability to perform under pressure is critical.”

NOTE: In ensuing posts, we’ll touch on some more of Belichick’s thoughts on leadership and team-building.