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Super Bowl Psychology: What Winning Teams Do Right

David Mielach, BusinessNewsDaily Staff Writer
Updated Nov 17, 2021

It wasn’t luck that landed the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX. Rather, it was the result of months — if not years — of hard work, team-building and constant preparation. When they take the field this Sunday, it is those qualities that will once again be on display when one team is named Super Bowl champion. 

Although the boardroom and the locker room may seem worlds apart, the truth is that many businesses can learn a lot about achieving success by emulating the Seahawks and the Patriots. In particular, winning teams in both sports and businesses must follow a three-step process and possess the necessary ingredients to achieve their ultimate goal.  

BusinessNewsDaily asked three experts – a world-renowned sports psychologist, a former Philadelphia Eagles manager and a former New York Giant – to share their combined expertise in sports and business. Follow their game plan and you’ll be on your way to a winning season.

Start with people

“People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses, or the problems of modern society.”– Vince Lombardi

While reaching the end goal can often cloud the short-term judgment and actions of both sports and business teams, a large part of future success will be determined before the journey even starts. According to Jack Stark, a performance psychologist with 35 years of experience working with numerous pro and college teams and athletes, the people who are in place within an organization are the single most important factor in determining future success, regardless of the arena in which they compete. 

“In 1993, we lost the National Championship at Nebraska on a missed kick,” said Stark, author of “The Championship Formula: How to Transform Your Team Into a Dynasty” (Emerald Book Company, 2012). “We were kicking a field goal to beat Florida State and we had outplayed them, outgained them and we missed the kick and lost the game. It just goes to show how one player can have one bad play and cost you the championship and cost you your season. The same thing is true in a company, say if one rogue trader can have one bad day and it can cost you a couple million dollars which could cost him his job and you your company.  That is how fragile it can be.”

According to Stark, regardless of the destination, whether it is to win a Super Bowl or reach the pinnacle of the business world, the people an organization has put in place will be the ultimate determining factor of how far they can go.  That means that the people in the trenches will have a large responsibility in the final success or failure of a given venture, but Stark also notes that the ownership structure that is in place is equally important to make sure those people are going in the right direction. 

“It is also the people at the top that will help to make the difference between how successful a team or a company is,” said Stark. “In business, that is the usually the chairman, CEO and COO, and in pro teams it is the coach, the star player and the GM or owner. It is those three people at the top that will drive the success of others.” 

In particular, the leaders of the organization will need to follow what Stark refers to as the “Four Ps” formula for success. Starting with the right people, these leaders will  then be able to help shape the personality and character of others around them, show others the process they need to follow every day and identify the purpose of the organization.  According to Stark, in order to achieve sustained success, those guiding factors must all be in place before a business or organization ever touches the field or begins negotiations in a business setting. 

Build your team

“The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.” – Babe Ruth

Simply having the right people, however, is not enough to ensure future success. You have to build your team. Just ask Susan Tose Spencer, who knows what it takes to build a team both in sports and business.  After serving as the legal counsel for the Philadelphia Eagles for five years, Spencer was promoted to general manager of the team, a position she filled from 1983 to 1985.

“During that period of time, I was running the business, which included managing a budget, trying to collect proceeds and all the other things you would do when trying to run a business,” said Spencer, who is the author of “Briefcase Essentials: Discover Your 12 Natural Talents for Achieving Success in a Male-Dominated Workplace” (Greenleaf Book Group, 2011). “In addition to that, I was also responsible for signing players to contracts. I also worked with the coaching and scouting staff to try to work out the numbers for players that would have to fit that into their scheme without hitting the salary cap.”

Having the experience of crafting a sports team taught Spencer what it took to be successful in the sports world, but her career after leaving the Eagles taught her what it took to be successful in the business world as well. After moving on from the NFL, Spencer ran two successful businesses, one in food distribution and another in meat processing that dealt with sales worth tens of millions of dollars a year, but her time as the first female general manager in NFL history taught her about a quality, present in the sports world that was lacking in the business world.

“Team-building is a quality that I find isn’t really prevalent in most large companies,” said Spencer, who is in the process of writing a second book. “When I use the word team-building, obviously in a sports team, if you don’t build a team and you don’t have the team buy in, you won’t win. In my companies, some of which had over 100 people working there, teamwork and team spirit was everything.”

Adding another layer to simply putting the right people in place, both businesses and sports teams must have the leadership to guide either their employees or athletes. Even if a team has the most talented players or employees, the end result will not end in success if there is not a strong team spirit and clear leadership in place.

“All of the coaches I have spoken to told me there is one ingredient that is unmistakable if you are going to get buy-in from your players or employees,” said Spencer. “You have to be authentic and you need to know your stuff.  If you are neither of the two you will get no buy-in. If you get no buy-in, you won’t have teamwork and you can’t build a team, which means you won’t be successful.”

Have a game plan

“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” – John Wooden

As the third overall pick in the 1984 NFL Draft and a two-time Super Bowl champion who played under legendary coaches Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick, Carl Banks knows all about the importance of having the right people in place and the right coaching to bring those people together, but he believes another quality is needed in order to achieve your ultimate goal.  According to Banks, preparation is the final key to success whether it is in business or sports. 

“Attention to detail is crucial to success in both sports and business because you cannot accept your full potential unless you make sure the little things are right to make sure that the full picture is where you want it to be,” said Banks. “Preparation allows you to focus, have discipline, deal with adversity and have the ability to process information in order to achieve success.”

Banks credits learning from Parcells, then coach of the New York Giants, and Belichick, then defensive coordinator for the Giants and current head coach of the Patriots, with showing just how important preparing for every possible scenario is.  But it was not until after Banks’ playing career was over that he was able to see the correlation that preparation can have in both sports and business. 

“I would say this point is evident with sports in the preparation you put in on Monday through Saturday, and then you see it all come together on Sunday,” said Banks. “In business, preparation also occurs pretty much on a daily basis in an attempt to build a good quarter.  The biggest difference is that your adversity in business doesn’t come in the form of a guy knocking you to the ground on a physical play, it is all mental.”

Despite these differences, Banks, who now serves as president of the clothing line, G-III Sports by Carl Banks, says with the right people, leadership, and preparation, your business can experience the equivalent of winning the Super Bowl.

“In sports, you have instant gratification if you make a good play, but also you have instant disappointment if you don’t play the next play well,” said Banks.  “In business, you build it up over a period of time to have success at the end of a year or the end of a quarter, but it still takes the same preparation.  You have to start with a solid foundation and in doing so, you need to be able to realistically assess what your core confidences are. Then you will be able to assess where you want to be and will go in the immediate future and in the distant future.”