Saban and Seven Seconds
By Anthony Lanzillo on Aug 25, 2016


With the 2016 college football season about to begin, many sports experts are predicting that the University of Alabama football team will have another successful year. While most of the media coverage focuses on the coaching and management skills of head coach Nick Saban as well as the talents and NFL potential of individual players, there is a professor of psychiatry at Michigan State University who may have a small but significant role in the good fortunes of Saban and Alabama.

Back in November, 1998, the Michigan State football team had already lost its first two games in the season and was about to face the Ohio State football team that was ranked #1 in the nation. Michigan State was going into that game as a 28-point underdog. The Michigan State’s head coach, Nick Saban, was concerned about his players’ confidence, and there appeared to be a collective fear among the players and the coaching staff about how his team would do in this coming contest.

Saban turned to Lionel Rosen, a professor of psychiatry on the Michigan State campus. He talked to Rosen and asked him to come to the team’s practices leading up to the weekend game against Ohio State. Rosen talked to the players about taking one step at a time, and to focus on their own individual responsibilities during each play. He told the players that the average play in the football game lasted about seven seconds. Rosen encouraged the players to simply concentrate on winning those seven seconds of a play, take a rest between plays and then win the next seven seconds. And he reminded them that they were not to focus on the scoreboard or think about the end result.

At halftime, Michigan State was behind on the scoreboard. Interestingly enough, Saban’s players were calm and surprisingly confident about their opportunities in the second half of the game.  When the game ended, Michigan State had come from behind to beat Ohio State by a final score of 28-24. Many considered it to be one of the biggest upsets of the college football season. The Michigan State coaching staff believed that “psychology” had played a large part in the team’s success that day. And since that game, including his years at LSU and now at Alabama, Saban has continued to reach out to Rosen on numerous occasions for advice on the mental game for his players.

Anthony Lanzillo is a regular contributor to the FirstDown PlayBook Community site and also has created a mental preparation tool for athletes called The Mental Tune-Up. It is a great tool and resource for getting your players to make a commitment to becoming mentally stronger and tougher. If you would like more information on this tool, drop Anthony an email at risson1954@gmail. He has designed this process for 30, 60 or 90 days.