[MASTER CLASS] — What you can learn from Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn about building a successful team

This Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons are headed to the Super Bowl for the first time in nearly two decades.

The last time the Falcons played in the Super Bowl was 1999 against the Denver Broncos. After achieving one of the most successful records in franchise history (14–2), the Falcons lost to the Broncos 34–19. Now, the Falcons have a second chance at the title.

In his two short years as the Falcons head coach, Dan Quinn built a team worthy of making franchise history — winning the Atlanta Falcons first Super Bowl title. How did he accomplish this feat?

Coach Quinn spoke about his coaching philosophy and vision for the team in February 2015, when he was announced as the new head coach. In his press conference, Quinn outlined the principles that guide his coaching.

His principles have proven successful in two years time, and can help anyone looking to form a better, more successful team. Here’s what we learned from Coach Quinn:

1. Get Connected with Your Players

Coach Quinn is widely heralded in the NFL for his focus on connecting with players. “One of the things I love most about coaching is being connected with these players…First part of business is getting to know our own team.”

Cultivating a tight, close-knit team is key. “The best teams I’ve been a part of are teams that are the closest.” And while a close-knit team is essential, how you achieve this closeness is crucial to success.

To accomplish his goal, Quinn builds a genuine, personal relationship with each player. Achievement as a team is driven by individual growth. “There’s all sorts of guys and we reach them differently. Some guys you have to put your arm around and tell them, ‘What a good job.’ Others guys you have to find different ways to motivate.”

Ultimately, the first step to a successful team is connecting with your players. “Find out what makes them tick,” said Quinn. Take the time to build rapport and understand an individual’s abilities and motivations. It will promote trust and simpatico among players and coaches. Lay this foundation, and you can begin to build a team around the players.


2. Set a Vision for your Team, and Repeat it often

“Have a really, really clear vision about how [you] want to play football.”

For the Atlanta Falcons, Quinn’s message is, “Competition first. Find a competitive edge in all that we do.” He went on to define the play style and attitude he expects from the team. “It starts with effort,” he said. Later adding, “[and] toughness, the ability to finish.”

Quinn explained that as players and coaches go through the entire process–pre-season, in-season, post-season–messaging for the team will be the same.

“There are a lot of different ways to be successful. The one thing I have learned, and you can really feel it, is if it’s the same messaging and phrasing every day, that consistency shows up in players.”


3. Focus on the Now

As reporters attempted to ascertain the personnel and organizational changes planned for the franchise, Quinn rebuffed their questions. “Don’t reach too far ahead. Focus on now; what can we do right now to make each player the best player.”

Quinn discussed the importance of maximizing your current team and resources. Large-scale changes aren’t necessarily the answer to building an effective team. Instead, Quinn’s focus is, “How can I evaluate our team?”


4. Be a Developmental Leader

Perhaps the most powerful lesson Quinn can teach is developmental leadership. By focusing on the now and connecting with his players individually, Quinn personifies developmental leadership. In fact, he shares the aim of his leadership team is to, “be a developmental staff.”

Quinn challenges his coaches to ask, “How far can we take each player?”

Moreover, to build a truly successful team you must share the same fundamental belief as Quinn. “Know you can have an effect on how your team improves and develops.”


Coach Quinn is a master at developing teams and an exemplary leader who strives to “maximize each player”. Come Sunday, we will see if his successful team building is rewarded with a historic Super Bowl title. Yet, regardless of the outcome, Coach Quinn and the Atlanta Falcons have reason to celebrate. Making it to this year’s Super Bowl, the Falcon demonstrated the power of great teams.

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