Book Review: Above the Line by Urban Meyer

Above the Line by Urban Meyer and Wayne Coffey stands out as a leadership book because it deals directly with sports. While the lessons taught in this book are especially helpful for football coaches and athletes, they can be applied by coaches and athletes from almost every sport. Here are the top lessons I've learned from this well-written, insightful, and inspiring book!

"Leadership isn't a difference maker, it is the difference maker." - Urban Meyer

This quote resonated with me because I believe leadership is the most important factor of a team's performance. Leadership is the heart and mind of a team. A team is only as good as its leadership. With great leadership, a team can reach its potential and achieve great things. This is why it's so important to read leadership books and improve your leadership skills in all ways.

While most people understand the importance of leadership, not many people know how to lead effectively. Like Urban Meyer says in this book, some coaches think it's enough to hang up motivational posters around their facilities. But to be the best leader possible, this isn't enough. You have to be much more intentional and committed to lead effectively. Meyer writes, "Average leaders have quotes. Good leaders have a plan. Exceptional leaders have a system." This book gives great advice on how to develop a leadership system to maximize your team's success.

It starts with creating a culture. Here's a great quote to help you understand the formula for team success:

"Leaders create a culture. Culture drives behavior. Behavior produces results." - Urban Meyer.

As a leader, your job is to create a culture that drives the behavior needed to produce the results you want. Team culture is defined by the core values, beliefs, behaviors, standards, and goals shared by a group of individuals. It is the head coach's job to clearly define these five components of their team culture and emphasize them every day. By teaching the core tenets of your culture, leading by example, and keeping everyone accountable, you can establish and maintain your ideal team culture.

Every coach has their own unique philosophy for their team culture, depending on their personality, worldview, values, goals, sport, and players. While there isn't a one-size-fits-all culture that can be used by all coaches, there are some universal truths that can be helpful to all teams. Here are the three core tenets of Urban Meyer's team culture:

1. Relentless effort. Motivation and effort are the gas and engine of team success. It is the foundation. Without great effort, nothing else matters. But with great effort, a team can have success even without the best talent and schemes. Because of this, Urban Meyer prioritizes effort and tries his best to motivate his players to be the hardest workers, not just in games, but also in practice.

2. Competitive excellence. While Urban Meyer knows that effort is definitely the most important part of a team's culture, he also knows that maximum effort by itself is not enough. You also have to train smart and execute well in games in order to get the most out of your effort. This is why competitive excellence is Meyer's second tenet of his team culture. Competitive excellence is the ability to play your best in games when your number is called. This elite level of performance requires an elite level of preparation. Meyer helps his players prepare their best for games in two main ways. First, he emphasizes the need to practice like you play. Without practicing with purpose and intensity, you'll never perform up to your potential in games. Secondly, Meyer preaches the importance of repetitions, especially mental repetitions. Meyer knows that every repetition matters, but football players can only practice so much without wearing down their bodies. This is why athletes need to take mental reps in practice and do mental exercises such as visualization outside of practice. The main lesson here is that the better you prepare physically and mentally, the better you'll perform in games.

3. The Power of the Unit. While effort and preparation are important, it is team cohesion that holds a team together. Without great trust and brotherhood among players, ego and selfishness can tear a team apart. But when teammates truly love each other and care about the team's goals, great things happen. As Meyer says, "There is no more powerful force than a group of men who share an uncommon commitment to each other and to achieving their mission." For this reason, Meyer tries to develop "combat motivation," which is the motivation to fight for your teammates. It is this love of teammates that motivates athletes to work hard and push through the grind even when they don't want to. This type of motivation and team cohesion can be developed in a few ways:

  1. Talking about shared goals as a team.
  2. Training hard together as a team.
  3. Spending time together off the field.

Blood, sweat, tears, memories, friendships, and shared goals are what strengthen the bonds between teammates and makes them fight harder for each other.

These are some of the best lessons I've learned about leadership and team culture in this book. I believe almost every coach and athlete can benefit from adopting these key lessons. However, like I said earlier, all leaders and sports are different. While there are great lessons you can learn from this book, the biggest lesson is to think deeply about your own leadership philosophy and create your own unique culture that you believe is best for your team!