College football kicked off last weekend. While it may be a challenge to predict who will win the Division I Championship in January, it’s a bit easier to predict what team will win–or come close to winning–the NCAA Division II championship: The Northwest Missouri State Bearcats

The key to being a champion: “Non-cognitive skills”

To understand the consistency of the success of Northwest Missouri State’s football team, Brian Davidson, founder of the Intrinsic Institute, conducted a wide-ranging set of tests on the team and its coaches. He focused primarily on “noncognitive skills” such as grit, resilience, self-control, hope, and conscientiousness.

The tests revealed the coaches displayed especially high levels of self-discipline, self-control, self-awareness, adaptability, grit, and resilience.”The data suggested these coaches possess the ability to persevere, be disciplined in their work and delay gratification, know their strengths and weaknesses, adjust well to change, and bounce back when faced with tremendous adversity,” says Davidson.

High moral character

When the researchers worked with the coaches to determine the dominant noncognitive trait a player needs to possess in order to succeed in the Northwest Missouri State football program, it was a “high moral character.” Players who received the highest intangible scores from the coaches were those who can:

  • Resist negative temptations
  • Think through possible consequences of their actions before making a decision
  • Control their emotions

Leadership is crucial

According to Davidson’s interpretation of the research, the success of Northwest Missouri State can be attributed to coaching staff composed of highly motivated, very disciplined, and perseverant individuals who can adjust when needed and bounce back when they get knocked down. But the coaches take it one step more: They create a culture of excellence, year in and year out, by seeking players with the type of leadership necessary to help them reinforce a culture of excellence throughout the team.

Mental edge

When comparing the Bearcat team to a lower-performing collegiate team, the Bearcats have an edge in such areas as self-discipline, grit, and self-awareness. Above athletic ability, Davidson says the Northwest Missouri State football program is consistently good because its entire program, coaches, and players, are focused on:

  • The desire to excel
  • A willingness to do the hard things very few people will actually see
  • A strong commitment to continuous improvement

Apply the Bearcats approach to your small business

Change the setting from football to starting and running a small business, and you’ll quickly realize that companies that succeed exhibit the traits of the Bearcats. It starts and the top, but requires the creation of a culture where everyone exhibits the desire to excel, a willingness to do the hard (and often unseen) things, and a commitment to continuous improvement.


Photos: Northwest Missouri State



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