Friday, August 12, 2011

How ESPN Created a Vocal Leader for Alabama: The New, Improved Trent Richardson

Richardson ESPN Magazine goalsThe old self-help adage goes: People who write down their goals every day achieve them. So we asked four of college football's best – Stanford's Andrew Luck, Alabama's Trent Richardson, Miami's Marcus Forston and Pitt's Brandon Lindsey -- to do just that and share them with us. We promised we'd check back during the season -- and that we wouldn't judge if they started to slide. After all, they may be busy winning games. – excerpt by Bruce Feldman, ESPN The Magazine

Teddy Roosevelt gave us another adage: Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.

If President Roosevelt had met Trent Richardson, he might have rephrased it to: Speak softly and carry big muscles. And No. 3 certainly has gone far – into contention as a national top-10 in the weight room; into an SEC-winning season in 2009 and an electric performance in the National Championship game for the 13th Alabama title; into the end zone 18 times in two years, racking up 2,495 all-purpose yards while increasing by 20% his average yards per carry to 6.25 in 2010; into the list of candidates expected to make a run at the Heisman; and into a potential first round NFL draft pick.

But about that speaking softly…

Coach Nick Saban’s philosophy of leadership is that “great leaders encourage greatness in others.” Richardson learned that lesson in abundance from Bama’s Heisman-winning running back Mark Ingram. However, as the backup for two years, there was no need to fully flex his vocal leadership muscles while Ingram handled those duties. In situations when more direct intervention fell to him, he found it difficult.

[L]ast season, when Alabama needed someone to step up, Richardson froze. "There were times when something needed to be said, and I had something to say, but I didn't know how to say it," he says. "So I would be quiet."

Before Ingram’s departure to the NFL, Richardson quietly led by example with his work ethic on and off the field, pushing his body to perform in games despite injury and maintaining a 3.3 GPA in hopes of being an Academic All-American. He is also one of the team's peer group leaders, where the players hold each other accountable for their actions with help from assigned leaders. But for the upcoming season, Richardson knew he had to somehow find within himself a more vocal leadership style to befit his new lead role in the Crimson Tide backfield.

Enter ESPN’s unintentional Big Stick Diplomacy.

By encouraging Richardson to write down his goals for each day, ESPN helped to unleash the massive potential of a vocal, in-your-face leadership force. Identifying his priorities has given Richardson a new confidence to stay on top of his responsibility to push teammates further for a bigger purpose.

At an early-morning practice in late July, Richardson arrived at the facility to find several of his teammates dragging and complaining about the heat. "I said, 'You've had all summer off and you're here now,’” Richardson says. "I told them, 'Run onto that field like you're walking into the ring. Run these drills like they're the last ones you'll ever run. Run them like we're in the championship game.'”

President Roosevelt, the original Driving Force, would be pleased:  Believe you can and you're halfway there.

Team Goal: Win the BCS title

Richardson’s story appears in the Aug. 22, 2011 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

P.S. -- don’t tell Steve Spurrier.


On twitter @LivingCrimson


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