Justin Fields, Leadership and Grit
If you’re a college football fan, I’m sure you were as glued to the TV as I was during the Ohio State vs. Clemson semifinal game on New Year’s Day. What we witnessed on Friday night was arguably one of the toughest and grittiest leadership performances I’ve ever seen from an athlete.
Late in the second quarter, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields took a huge hit to the ribs/hip area from Clemson linebacker James Skalski. The hit came at a critical time of the game and left Fields in extreme pain — with many believing he may have broken some ribs and would not be able to return.
Grit is characterized as an individual’s ability to maintain passion and perseverance in an activity or goal despite continuous challenges, adversity and failure1. Studies by Duckworth et. al (2007) show that grit is one of the great predictors that leads to success in life. In fact, they found that individuals with higher levels of grit had higher performance than their peers2.
Duckworth, a pioneer in grit research, found that “where talent counts once, effort counts twice.”
Talent x effort = skill: If you do not put in effort, your talent is untapped potential.
Skill x effort = achievement: If you do not put in effort, your skill goes unused.
How does grit factor into Justin Fields’ and the Buckeyes’ success?
Each season, the ultimate goal of the Ohio State Buckeyes — and all college football teams — is to win the College Football Playoff National Championship. Ohio State suffered a heartbreaking loss to Clemson in the 2019-2020 College Football Playoff semifinals. It was a loss that they would not forget, and it fueled Justin Fields to become a better leader.
During the offseason, Fields was challenged by Head Coach Ryan Day to do exactly that. He was taught to draw from this loss and develop the leadership skills needed to push his team to compete for a win in the College Football Playoff National Championship.
And he did just that.
Here are some quotes from Fields’ coaches and teammates regarding his effort and grit this offseason3:
“His mental toughness to come back and play after really taking some shots is when he really won the team over. He had a really unbelievable offseason and showed up in great shape. This is an opportunity for him to be the leader of Ohio State and have a great, memorable year” – Coach Ryan Day
“Now that he has had a great year and has some great leadership skills he is doing a little bit better job of doing what you think a quarterback is going to be — a strong leader” – Offensive Coordinator Kevin Wilson
“He’s really hands-on. In the past six months he’s been a really vocal leader… He has always been a natural leader, but I think in the last six months or so he has been a lot more vocal and guys have been following his lead” – Tight end Jake Hausmann
Fields was determined to get back into the College Football Playoff and redeem their loss to Clemson. Two plays after sustaining the injury, Fields returned to the game and threw a personally agonizing touchdown to give the Buckeyes a 28-14 lead. He persevered the rest of the way and led the Buckeyes to a 49-28 win and birth in the National Championship game.
- Find your passion
- Work incredibly hard: Deliberate practice is the key to improving your weaknesses
- Find your purpose: It is important to find meaning in what you do and believing that your work matters
- Have hope: You must have faith in the process and believe things will improve, because you’re going to improve them.
To learn more about grit, I highly recommend this TED talk with Angela Duckworth.
Photo Credit: Ohio State Athletics
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