‘Four Quarters’ Mentality Working for Falcons

‘Four Quarters’ Mentality Working for Falcons

Jay Adams

Published October 1, 2012 at 3:44 PM

As the old cliche goes, football teams focus on one game at a time. They have a seven-day memory that gets wiped once the last game is complete, and players are trained to never look past the next seven days.

Not Mike Smith’s football teams.

Since his arrival in 2008, the Falcons head coach has preached to his teams at the start of each year that he wants them to focus on the season a quarter at a time. And, boy, has it ever worked.

The math here is pretty simple (even if you’re, like me, not remotely running the risk of being confused for a mathematician): 16 games, broken into 4 equal parts = 4 quarters of the season.

By taking on one quarter of the season at a time, Smith presents his team with digestible challenges to conquer. His goal is to win each quarter of the season, and he’s certainly done that in 2012 with a 4-0 start — tied for the franchise’s best start in its history.

Smith mentioned the mentality during his Monday news conference with the Atlanta media, but expounded on the idea and the intentions behind it.

“You’ve got to have focus on the task at hand, first and foremost, and that’s the next game but I think it’s also important for you to have some vision down the road,” Smith said. “I don’t want you to get too far down the road, but I think you can put an emphasis on it. … You compartmentalize them and present them to the team at the start of the season where they have an idea of what’s coming up in each quarter.”

In the first quarter of the season, Smith knew the Falcons would have just one division/conference game and face three AFC West teams. In the second quarter, which starts this season, the Falcons face three NFC East teams (Washington, Dallas and Philadelphia) and the Raiders, the final AFC West opponent. Easy bits of information that give players just enough to look forward to without letting them get too far into the future.

A tactic he picked up while coaching in Baltimore with Brian Billick, the four-quarters system has worked wonders during Smith’s tenure in Atlanta.

Through 17 “quarters” of seasons since 2008, Smith’s Falcons team have only lost one of those quarters — a stretch during 2009 when they went 1-3 in Weeks 10-13 of that season. During every other quarter, the Falcons have either been 4-0, 3-1 or 2-2.

So while other coaches are preaching to their teams the one-game-at-a-time mentality, Smith feels it’s OK to look forward a little bit, just as long as it’s not too far.

“Guys are going to look ahead, it’s just human nature. You’re going to look ahead,” he said. “But you want to have it where they don’t get too far ahead of themselves, and breaking it up by quarters, it gives an emphasis point.

“When we meet on Wednesday, the thing we’ll be talking about: we’ll be talking about the start of the second quarter of the season. The first quarter is behind us and we’re moving on to the next mission.”

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