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We Can Learn A Lot About Becoming An Insight Driven Health Club Business From Great Football Coaches

Yes, it’s football season again, and as I read our CEO Bill Davis’s recent article about how health clubs need to be more driven by data insights, it made me think about what this requires not only in the health club and fitness industry but in football. There is a lot we can learn from great coaches in football that applies to being insightful in our industry. Here is a great quote from Bill’s article about being insights-driven and what it requires:

“It requires having the right process, the right people with the right skills, and the right technology to turn that data into valuable and actionable insights. If doing this was easy, everyone would, of course.”

Bill is so right, gaining insights is about the right process, the right people, and the right technologies. Most importantly, it is not easy. What Bill points out is very similar to what you might learn from some of the greatest NFL Football coaches of our time.

Now I do not want to create controversy, but when it comes to the NFL, it seems like half the people I know love the New England Patriots. It also seems that the other half is tired of watching them win. Familiarity can breed contempt after all; especially when you win so much.

When it comes to successful insights in football, coach Bill Belichick’s winning percentage is an incredible 74%; which is the second-best of all time. He has led the Patriots to 16 AFC East division titles, 13 appearances in the AFC Championship Game, and nine Super Bowl appearances, with a record six wins. Belichick has won eight Super Bowl titles in total from his combined time as an assistant and head coach. He is obviously a great coach, whether you like it or not. Like Bill Davis, coach Belichick also relies on focusing on the three key things Bill Davis mentioned in his article.

1 The Right Processes

Nick Saban, another super coach, learned a lot about the process from Bill Belichick. From 1991-1994, Nick Saban worked as defensive coordinator under Bill Belichick, who was then head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Recently when watching a segment on “60 Minutes,” Nick Saban, head coach of the University of Alabama, discussed process management for managing his leading collegiate football program. Establishing a process and having every player buy into and follow that process is the method that Nick Saban credits for creating four college football teams that have won four BCS National Championships. Sabin applies the same principles of process management to himself. He follows a very rigid, thorough process of evaluating and recruiting players. From there, he and his coaching staff follow a process of taking players through a play until they can do that play perfectly. Saban does not allow himself, his coaches, or his players to focus on winning games. He requires that everyone focus on delivering a nearly perfect performance. Saban does not want his players to think about results. He requires that his players focus entirely on perfecting their performance of the process. He expects 100% effort and execution on each play. His players are mentally in the present moment. The scores and victories will come as the result of perfectly completing the process.

2 The Right People

Getting the right players is really important in business and in sports. The Patriots can attribute their success to Bill Belichick’s draft philosophy that includes four key points.

First, Belichick seeks to build a team, not collect individual talent. Many coaches debate on draft day whether or not to fill positions of need or just to take the best player available. Belichick is always looking at how a player is going to fit on the roster and how he can contribute to the team. The team is more important than individual talents. Second Belichick does not fall in love with players. He is well known for trading down in the draft, something that goes back to early in his drafting career. He is looking for value, and he thinks the rising cost of rookies make early picks less valuable. Those rising costs were curbed greatly in 2011 with the new collective bargaining agreement. Belichick still likes to trade down and acquire more draft picks.

Third, in making personnel decisions coach Belichick is known by his colleague Mike Lombardi as “one of the best listeners of all time,” but is “not looking for more opinions, he is looking for the right opinions.” As a result of that approach, Belichick will typically have a handful of other people in the draft room with him. This is quite different from other team’s war rooms shown on draft night when it often looks like there are 20 or more people in the room. Finally, at this point in his career, the coach can afford to eliminate players he does not like and coach the ones he does. Urban Meyer who knows Bill well said this, “I’m always amazed how he takes the non-stars and makes them stars. He takes these players that you haven’t really heard much about and all of a sudden they’re making great plays in the biggest games of the year. I started asking him about it, and he made this point to me, and I shared this with our team. He said, ‘At this point in my career, I want to coach guys I like. I want to coach guys I want to be around, and that’s it, and I’m not going to coach anybody else.”

3 The Right Technology

It is long rumored that coach Belichick doesn’t care for technology. He really doesn’t seem to like the NFL tablet technology. During the AFC title game, the New England Patriots coach spiked his tablet before tossing it out of his sight. Truthfully his outburst related to an official, not the tablet. You can watch it here. Regardless, he has not been a big fan of how the NFL tablet solution has worked in the past. The truth is that the coach has nothing against technology; he just wants it to work and support the way he coaches his team. In fact, coach Belichick is a master at using data and sophisticated modeling to identify competitors strengths and weaknesses as well as assessing a variety of factors in how he game plans. This has helped him unearth counter-intuitive insights about his team to create competitive differentiation if any coach has used technology to reveal data that has led to an advantage, it is the Patriots head coach. Like in business today and as Bill Davis’s article points out, being insights-driven and using data to do it is a key to success today in football or in any industry including ours.

As Bill Davis myself and our team continue to work closely together, we are applying the same disciplines as some of the greatest teams and coaches in football have. Our team continues to work hard at delivering better and more effective solutions and service that is second to none. What do you think?

Paul Schaller is Vice Chairman of ABC Financial Services, a premier provider of technology and related financial services for the health and fitness industry, renowned for exceptional client service for clubs and their members. Its market-leading billing and collections solutions automate the revenue cycle that enables owners and operators to achieve better financial performance, all in a Software-as-a-Service and cloud-based platform. ABC’s comprehensive technology solutions include DataTrak advanced health club management and MYiCLUBonline extensible member engagement platforms that allow owners and operators to efficiently manage employees, members, resources, sales and drive improved member engagement. Founded in 1981, ABC helps more than 7,000 health clubs across the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Puerto Rico perform better and more profitably. ABC Financial is a Thoma Bravo portfolio company, a private equity firm based in San Francisco and Chicago ( You can learn more by following Paul on Linkedin and Facebook.