McCarthy uses hero parables to motivate team for Broncos

McCarthy uses hero parables to motivate team for Broncos

Corey Linsley was trying to explain Mike McCarthy’s latest motivational object lesson Thursday when a freshly-showered Josh Sitton, Linsley’s neighbor in the Green Bay Packers’ locker room and the team’s self-appointed iPhone DJ, butted in.

“Don’t stop believin’ … Hold on to that feelin’,” Steve Perry crooned from Sitton’s Spotify app.

Uh, Josh? That’s not the Journey the head coach was talking about this week.

Rather, as part of his weekly message to his team, McCarthy reached into mythology to use The Hero’s Journey – a plot device commonly used in mythology, as defined by researcher Joseph Campbell – as his motivational talking point in advance of Sunday night’s showdown with the Denver Broncos.

For Linsley, it wasn’t the 1980s pop/rock supergroup that first came to mind when McCarthy delivered his message during Wednesday’s team meeting. Rather, it was the stack of Disney movies the Packers’ second-year center had watched on VHS tapes as a kid – animated films like Hercules and The Lion King – and the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens episode headed for theaters this Christmas that he identified with.

“All the stories of heroes told throughout history, the emphasis is on the word journey. He doesn’t just wake up and become a hero,” Linsley said, explaining his interpretation of the message. “The hero’s journey isn’t a one-stop shop. It’s a process.”

Added safety Micah Hyde: “Think about it: Anytime you watch a movie on a hero, they take a journey, it’s always a long, hard-fought journey, and there’s a big battle towards the end, they win, and they go home. That’s what I take from it. It’s a long process, you have your stages, you’re working to get to the top of the mountain.”

McCarthy has long believed that such presentations not only break up the monotony of game-planning and film study and Xs and Os football, they also engage his players in an important way. Now in his 10th year as the Packers’ coach, McCarthy has found object lessons just about everywhere over the years – including in his kids’ playroom two years ago, when McCarthy took a Keep Calm and Carry On poster off the wall to share with the team during a spate of injuries.

As was the case with that presentation, McCarthy unexpectedly shared the story with reporters during his midweek press briefing Thursday. He said the concept fit his team because, with a Week 7 bye and a pair of Thursday games still to come later in the year, he broke up the season into one-thirds instead of the traditional quarters he normally does.

“We completed the first division, the first six games. And now we’re at the second division of our season, of our journey. And then third division would be the last four games,” McCarthy said.

The full explanation of The Hero’s Journey can get a bit convoluted with its two worlds, three acts, four thresholds and various steps, and the dozen or so players asked Thursday about McCarthy’s spiel said they’d never heard of it before. (Not even Ivy League center JC Tretter, a Cornell alum, had.)

But the value and effectiveness of such presentations aren’t predicated on the players gaining a clear understanding of the concept itself, but rather the motivation or lessons they glean from it.

“The first thing that resonates with me is the word journey. It’s about the process, about all the work that you put into it,” backup quarterback Scott Tolzien said. “The schedule always gets monotonous – and I’m talking very level. High school, college, pro. So to me, it’s a great way of refocusing and remembering why you’re doing this. I think it’s always good to have those motivational bits. Days when you don’t want to come in, it kind of grounds you and recharges your batteries.”

And that’s exactly why McCarthy is so adamant about its importance. As vital as it is to evaluate talent and break down film and draw up creative plays and manage egos and do all the other things a head coach must do to get his team ready, keeping players from burning out – or tuning out – is key, too.

“Messaging’s important. We spend a lot of time on messaging, [during the] offseason particularly. … It’s a different world than it was 20 years ago,” McCarthy said. “To think you’re going to come in here and dust off your old notes from 2010 or last year and you’re going to go up there and that’s going to work, I don’t think people are motivated by the same thing each and every day. I think routine and regularity are very important, in aspects of your program, but creativity has to be one of the top priorities. That’s the way we’ve always gone about it.”

And for many of his players, it’s working.

“I think that’s the first and foremost job of the head coach, to coach attitude. And that meeting starts with attitude,” Linsley said. “I think the bad thing would be to start off the week talking about Xs and Os. When you’re talking about ‘The Hero’s Journey,’ we’re not talking about double-team blocks, or coverages, or anything like that. We’re talking about the way you approach the week and the way you approach the process and your attitude. That’s like the foundation of this whole thing, the attitude you take and the approach you attack each week with.”