The coronavirus pandemic brought the sports world to a screeching halt. The NFL got off fairly light since it was already in its offseason when COVID-19 hit. So far, the league hasn’t canceled any games due to the ongoing public health crisis. Yet this doesn’t mean the coronavirus hasn’t interrupted the league’s normal rhythms.
The unexpected quarantine placed new challenges on teams, which struggled to find ways to motivate their players about the upcoming season. One of the most proactive approaches came from Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn. Let’s look at the steps Quinn took to better engage with both his coaching staff and players.
Coach Dan Quinn’s novel approach
For the most part, NFL teams have been focused on how to ensure that their players continue to get the kind of skills and strategy training that they normally would. Instead of meeting in person, players have linked up with coaches and training staff via Zoom and similar programs. Yet by and large, the emphasis has remained largely on football-related matters.
Quinn decided to take a somewhat more innovative approach. While he and his assistant coaches spent plenty of time conferring about how to handle the pandemic from a football perspective, he also wanted to bring in voices from outside the NFL. Quinn realized those other perspectives could shed an important light on the situation.
One of the first people he reached out to for advice was Saturday Night Live actor Kenan Thompson. Thompson joined a Zoom meeting with Atlanta staff in order to share his experiences regarding the difficulties of presenting and acting online. That information was an eye-opener for the Falcons’ staff in terms of the limitations and benefits of working with the new technology.
The Falcons’ military perspective
Another person Quinn contacted to give advice to his staff about remote speaking was U.S. Army four-star general Paul Funk. Quinn had met and made friends with Funk years before on an USO Tour, and knew that he had faced the challenge of coordinately and motivating large numbers of people remotely.
Quinn started right off the bat by asking Funk how many people he had under his command. Funk’s answer: 800,000. That instantly put things in perspective for the Falcons staff, who were no longer quite so intimidated by having to motivate 150 people. Funk also delivered other valuable information that Quinn and his team used moving forward into virtual meetings with players.
Engaging with players
Once Quinn felt like he’d absorbed the basic concepts necessary for meaningful online engagement, he started to set up guest speakers for his players. Yet rather than having speakers address the entire team as a whole, he decided to break things down into more manageable portions. His goal was keep meetings intimate enough that players felt like they could really be a part of the discuss.
Smaller groups also meant that Quinn could be far more specific about choosing his speakers, many of whom were former football players themselves. For instance, Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez joined a tight end-only meeting. 10-time Pro Bowl selection Joe Thomas spoke to the Falcons’ offensive lineman.
Quinn also spent a lot of time engaging one-on-one with players. His goal was not only to get to know each of them better—specifically the team’s 26 rookies, who he barely knew at all—but also to isolate one specific thing that each of them could work on during the offseason. For quarterback Matt Ryan, that meant practicing drills to keep his shoulders and hips in front of his chest when running crossing routes.
So far it’s too soon to know whether Quinn’s proactive strategy will yield dividends on the field. Yet he and his staff clearly feel confident that the Falcons will benefit from their offseason Zoom meetings in a way that will give them a clear competitive advantage.