Think big, but keep your dreams and goals simple


Marv Levy, at left, told LSY's Hailey Rose Gattuso that his Buffalo Bills wouldn't bring on players with a history of questionable character. (Photo by Lauren Kirchmyer)

Pro Football Hall of Fame Marv Levy, at left, says that goals should focus on continuous improvement and achieving greatness. (Photo by Lauren Kirchmyer)

Here’s a different way of looking at goal-setting: Instead of setting big, specific goals, make them simple and broad.

That’s the advice Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy shared LSY! sports editor Hailey Rose Gattuso. What follows is an edited version of her conversation with Marv, who coached the Buffalo Bills to four straight Super Bowls in the early 1990s:

How did you go about setting goals during your coaching career?

Marv: I didn’t always set them, but somewhere in my subconscious, they were there. I never went into coaching with the idea of “I’m going to coach in the NFL” or “I’m going to take a team to the Super Bowl.” That type of goal, I think, is far-fetched. Your goal should be to do the best job you can. Show up for work on time every day. If you set too many down-the-line goals you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

What would you tell someone who has big goals as a coach?

Marv: If during my coaching career a young person got in touch with me and asked, “How do I become a coach in the NFL?”, my response would be, “Young man, if that’s the only way you’re going to be happy, you don’t want to be a coach.” It needs to be, “How do I become the best coach? How do I bring honor to the game? How do I bring value into the player people I associate with? How do I have fun in what I’m doing?” Those are goals.

How does that apply outside of sports?

Marv: Let’s say you want to become a writer. You say, “I want to write a great American novel and make millions of dollars.” I don’t believe in that kind of goal. I’d say, “I love to write. I hope I can get better and better at it. “

“Resilient” is a word often used to describe the teams you coached. Where do you think that resilience comes from?

Marv: It certainly is a trait of character. There are going to be disappointments in life. If you cave in when you don’t reach a goal you strive for, or you don’t get a result you were hoping for, you are destined to remain a failure. You’re destined to be unhappy. Yeah, there might be a period where things go very wrong and you feel remorse or you mourn, but then you own up. What can I do better? What did I learn from this? Then you make a plan — and the plan is only a job half-done. Then you go to work. The process of reaching a goal should be enjoyable and rewarding. If it’s not something enjoyable and valuable, then you are wasting your time.

What in your mind is the best way to tackle the fear that most athletes experience under high pressure?

Marv: Well, let me say this: Even as a player and then as a coach, I never felt stress or pressure. I may have felt adrenaline, but the best way to tackle it is to prepare. I used to tell our players, “Don’t tell me you have the will to win. Tell me you have to will to prepare, because if you don’t prepare then you don’t really have the will to win, no matter what you say.”

The best way to handle pressure is to prepare. If you’ve got to give a speech, what do you want to say? Outline it. Get the idea. Rehearse it then you will do a better job and experience a successful speech and it becomes more enjoyable next time. So the best way to tackle it is to prepare for whatever it is you are going to have to face.

What do you think are the biggest distractions athletes struggle with?

Marv: It can vary very much from one person to another. The biggest distraction you have is not focusing on the task at hand. If some are in it only for the money, forget about it.

I’m going to use the example of former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez, though I know you can’t comment too much considering you don’t know him personally. As a coach, how would you respond if you found out your players were spending too much time with the wrong crowd?

Marv: First of all, he had a bit of a history of some character flaws before he ever joined the team. One of the things that we did with the Buffalo Bills and our general managers Bill Polian and John Butler was we would not bring guys who had a history of flawed character on the team. It’s difficult to change that. We were in the business of coaching football and getting teams ready, rather than psychiatric treatment, to be honest. So we shied away from players like that regardless of how good they were. Bill Polian once said to me, “Ability without character will lose.”

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