Fourth and goal: Coach Todd Graham advises Sun Devils on how to “Tackle Life”

Career management is spoken of in terms of metaphor quite often, and no metaphor has more power to motivate millions of Americans than sports. Sun Devil Head Football Coach Todd Graham tapped into the power of that mindset on May 12 when he delivered his “Tackle Life” presentation at Phoenix Marriott Tempe at the Buttes to a roomful of adoring fans and ASU supporters.

Sun Devil fans had a chance to chat with Coach Todd Graham before the "Tackle Life" luncheon at a meet-and-greet event.

Graham has electrified the Sun Devil Nation since his arrival at ASU in late 2011. He was named Pac-12 Coach of the Year in 2013, and the Sun Devils had back-to-back 10+ win seasons in 2013 and 2014. During his time at ASU, he’s compiled a 34 win and 19 loss record, for an impressive .667 winning percentage.

There were quite a few take-aways from Graham’s talk for professionals. Here are a sampling of the best of the best.

Tackle Life - Coach’s Prescription For Success

1. Have a set of values that guide you and sustain you, in good times and in bad times. Graham described his life as being guided by “faith, family and football.” His faith provides a “rudder” to steer by, and said he feels that regular periods of reflection and solitude are necessary to stay focused on what really matters in life.

2. Play to win, but pay attention to how you define “winning.” Graham said that his goal every day is to “win on all levels.” This includes creating a team that wins academically, on the playing field, and in terms of producing young men of character who have integrity and values. He said it wasn’t acceptable to him personally for him to only win in one or two of those areas. He also included the way in which ASU contributes to the community as one of the ways in which he wants to win, nicely mirroring the university’s overall emphasis on social embeddedness.

3. Your self-concept becomes your self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s necessary to “speak victory” to those under his coaching tenure in order to be sure they can fulfill their potential, Graham said. He said he works hard to instill confidence in his players. “Leadership starts with heart - what do you believe about you?” he asserted.
He noted that he struggled with a learning disability as a child, but his mother constantly reinforced that he was a smart boy, and as a result, he ended up graduating from East Central University in Ada, Okla., with a 3.1 GPA. And one of the “upsides” to the way he learned - by using a very visual, almost photographic memory - was that this skill was one that turned out to be very useful to him as a coach.

4. It’s not all about you. Graham said that a recruit’s ability to “surrender to the team” was key to succeeding at ASU. He noted that he sometimes monitors the Twitter feeds of recruits to get an idea of how they present themselves to the world. “If it’s all selfies, he’s probably not going to like it here (at ASU),” Graham chuckled. The importance of being able to submerge one’s identity for the sake of a team goal was also why Graham said he was hardest on his best players. “The top guys need to be held to a higher standard, and show they can serve and be disciplined,” he asserted.

5. Everyone has the power to make a difference. The ability to live a meaningful and successful life is not limited to CEOs, politicians and football coaches! Graham named his mother as one of the most significant influences in his life, and said, “Everyone in this room is a leader, a difference maker.” At the end of his talk, Graham challenged his audience to stand up for their beliefs and to make a difference doing the things they are passionate about and they feel called to do.

"Everyone in this room is a leader, a difference maker," Graham told the audience.

See a photo gallery from the Tackle Life event 

~ Liz Massey, Managing Editor, ASU Alumni Association