Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Studies in (BAD!) Leadership: Gen. George Custer

Posted by admin March - 2 - 2021 - Tuesday

The Battle of Little Big Horn reveals a lot about how poor leadership can cause disastrous results. Studying American Indian tribes as early as the 3rd grade captivated me. As I got older and looked into the whole Westward Migration and the battles between white settlers and Native Americans, it became apparent to me that the Indians had a legitimate “beef” against the U.S. Army. When Sitting Bull pulled together so many Native Americans to fight the Cavalry, he proved to be a master strategist. Fortunately for Sitting Bull and the (predominantly) Sioux Indian tribes, they met an American general who proved to be one who failed miserably in exemplifying the characteristics that a good leader should possess and present! George Custer is worth looking at this week as an example of what NOT to do if you desire to be an effective leader!

1- Custer refused to listen to others. He viewed his judgment of situations to be far superior to any other commander on his staff. Thus, we would characterize Custer as being:

2- Arrogant and overconfident. He saw himself as superior— particularly when it came to his opinion of the Native American warriors. He underestimated his opponent’s abilities. It is so important to have a healthy respect for your opponent— regardless of how inferior you may think he is. When I was a HC, I would make a cut up tape of our opponent every week. That cut up included ONLY those plays where our opponent “made a play.” Even poor teams occasionally had a play worth including on my Scout Tape. I wanted our players to see our opponent at his best. My mantra was, “See? They are capable of making plays IF you let them! OR… if you go into the game underestimating their ability.” It usually got their attention. Rarely over a 15 year period did we lose a game that we should have won!

3- Custer was not entirely focused on the job at hand. For a soldier, his mission is to defeat the enemy! Custer was not focused on fighting the Sioux. His misguided concern was to trap and prevent their escape. Thus, he made his major blunder and split his forces.

4- Custer was simply out-coached; out-maneuvered; out-foxed! Sitting Bull lulled Custer into fighting on his own timetable and on his own field of battle. Custer failed to “scout” his opponent. He did not realize the strength and size of the Native American force that the Cavalry was to face.

5- The U.S. Cavalry lacked passion and commitment. The men of the 7th Cavalry were “tired of chasing Indians.” They were a long way from home. The Sioux, however, were defending their land. The mental frame of mind of the soldiers was poor. The Native Americans had something to prove.

So…. Custer divided his force and sent 2/3 of his men in different directions. If he had shown more patience and less hubris (arrogance), he might not have had his soldiers massacred. Because of poor planning and a bad attitude, Custer set up his men for failure. Unfortunately, for the 7th Cavalry, that meant that they lost their lives that day.

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