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Psychology of Remember the Titans

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    The inspirational film, Remember the Titans tells the story of the 1971 high school football team of T.C. Williams High School. For the first time, these student athletes would attended a racially integrated school. Working together with a group of strangers is difficult as is. Before the Titans could think about strategy and winning, the players first had to overcome prevailing prejudice attitudes. Without the strong leadership of the head coach, Herman Boone, and assistant coach Bill Yoast, the team would not have been able to accomplish as much as they did. According to sports psychologists, the team’s growth and success throughout the film can be attributed to head Coach Herman Boone’s ability to change his style of leadership based on the maturation of his team. Specifically, Coach Boone adjusts his level of “supportive behavior” and his level of “directive behavior” in accordance to the task at hand, as well as to the “competence” and “motivation” levels of his team.

    Tuckman’s model of group development states that there are four stages of development that a team must go through in order to achieve their goal. Both Tuckman’s and Blanchard’s theories help to reveal the different components behind the success of the Titans. During the first stage, referred to by Tuckman as “forming”, team members often exhibit low competence but high commitment to the sport (Hersey & Blanchard 1996). In the film, the forming stage begins with the gathering of the two teams in the auditorium. Petey, Big Blue and some of the other black players excitedly talk about the impending season, joking that Petey will accumulate, “at least a thousand yards”. As the white players enter the auditorium, there is a clear racial divide, indicating low competency. According to the SLM, a coach should develop a “directive” style of leadership when his or her team is in the D1 stage. True to Blanchard’s model, Coach Boone responds by stating, “this is not a democracy, it is a dictatorship. I am the law” (time reference). In doing so, Coach Boone is firmly establishing his relationship with them as one in which he, “tells them what to do but without a great deal of concern for the relationship”(Hersey & Blanchard 1996). In contrast to Coach Boone’s abrasive S1 style of coaching during the forming stage, is Coach Yoast’s approach. In the beginning of the movie, many of the white football players and members of the community gather to discuss boycotting new football program. Gerry tells Coach Yoast, “I’m not playing for him.

    I started a petition, and I’m sitting this season out”. In a gentle tone, Yoast says, “Only place you’re going to sit is back in that chair, Gerry. I appreciate it though”. Instead of being angry about losing his position, Yoast expresses concern and caring for his players saying, “You know none of these boys can afford to go to some other district just to play ball. They sit this one out, they put their futures on the line” (Bruckheimer, 2000). Throughout the film, Yoast acts in a manner that is more congruent with a combination of S2 and S3 style of leadership, than with Coach Boone’s directive style. Storming, the second stage of Tuckman’s theory, is “the period of ‘testing-out’ the teacher” during which, “disagreements appear or are manufactured and roles are eventually allocated”(Atherton, 2003). For the Titans, this stage begins with the team’s arrival at Gettysburg College. Marked by fights between the informal leaders, Julius, and Gerry, Petey blaming his blockers for his own errors, as well as the formation of cliques, Coach Boone responds to the team’s low competence with highly directive behavior. Each time a player, “drops a pass…misses a blocking assignment or…fumbles a football,” Coach Boone makes that player run a mile [00:19:24 – 00:20:37].

    Although his repeated punishments may seem punitive, the results serve to establish the norms of productivity for the team. In addition, “the presence of these norms is also associated with increased cohesiveness” (Gammage, Carron, & Estabrooks, 2001). Boone continues his highly directional style of leadership, while Coach Yoast exhibits an S2/S3 style. Although he is not a drill sergeant, Yoast is always actively involved and is a driving force behind the team. He directs his players to work harder, while still interjecting some humor by saying things such as, “Jump on that ball carrier like a starving man on a Christmas ham!” [0:21:29 – 0:21:32]. Always thinking of the players’ well being, Yoast suggests adding some variety to the team’s training by integrating, “some trick plays, some stuff that might fire up the boys’ imaginations a little bit” [00:23:16—00:23:19]. He continues, “I think unless the boys start having a little fun they’re not gonna put points up on that board for you” [00:23:21—00:23:23]. Immediately following that conversation, Coach Boone asks Louie to state one thing he has learned about one of his black teammates. Louie has started to eat lunch with his black teammates and is able to tell Coach Boone about Blue, and Rev. Sensing Louie’s progression to a level moderate competency, and high commitment, Coach Boone responds according to the SLM, and acts in a highly supportive manner. Boone says he likes that Louie, “is a self-aware man,” and negates Louie’s belief of himself. Louie believes he will not go to college because of his stupidity.

    He continues [00:24:24—00:24:30], “But if you don’t go to college, it’s not gonna be because you’re not qualified, so I want you to bring me your test scores, at the end of every week, and we’ll go over them together, OK?”. Here the viewer sees, “A supporting style,” where there, “is a team approach between the leader and follower with the leader emphasizing support of the follower rather than control” (Blanchard the color model). Boone reverts back to his D1, highly directive, low supportive behavior, when he asks if anyone else can tell him something about a teammate of a different race, and no other teammate can. Boone’s punishment this time directly targets group cohesion as, “each one of you will spend time every day with a teammate of a different race…You will report back to me until you meet every one of your teammates. Until then, we go to 3-a-day practices [00:25:26—00:25:40]. In the scenes thereafter, viewers see more interracial friendships start to form. The important transition from the storming stage to the norming stage is spread across three consecutive scenes [00:29:15—00:34:55]. In the first scene, “Bertier and Big Ju”, Gerry stops Julius so that the two can exchange particulars, and complete Coach Boone’s instructions to get to know one another. Gerry tells Julius to state his facts, but Julius replies that he doesn’t want to, “‘cause honesty ain’t too high on your people’s priority list”. Two major points result from the squabble, one being that Julius feels as though his selfish playing is justified as none of the white players care enough to block for ‘Rev’. Gerry responds by telling Julius he is a waste of talent because he refuses to take direction for anyone, and consequently, his behavior has a negative effect on others. Although the argument is heated, each boy listens to the other as is indicated by his serious facial expressions.

    A team going through the norming phase may be able to express criticism constructively (Aherton, 2003). Later on, the viewer learns that the argument was indeed an example of constructive criticism, as Gerry takes Julius’ advice and as team captain, asks the defense to do their jobs. Specifically, Gerry confronts his friend Ray saying, “What was that, Ray? Whatever it is, it ain’t blockin’! If we get to Rev once, just one time, I swear to God, I’m gonna hit you so hard, by the time you come to, ooh boy, you’re gonna need a new haircut”. Gerry, who was once a “follower” in the context of the SLM, is now leading, setting the boundaries, and showing that he has evolved into a D3 stage of high competence. Coach Yoast adjusts his leadership to more closely resemble an S3 style in this scene. He says to Coach Tyrell, “wait, wait a minute. Let them handle this”. This is the last scene in the sequence that marks the team’s transition into the norming stage. “Lesson from the Dead” is the scene that occurs in between the two previously mentioned scenes. In this scene, Coach Boone wakes the team and Coach Yoast up at 3:00 AM to go for a long distance run through the woods. Viewers see an almost humbled Coach Boone, as he realizes that no amount of directing or yelling will get the boys to change if they are not willing.

    Thus he plays upon their emotions, taking them to a hollowed ground, when they are tired and defenseless. After a fair amount of time has passed, the team stops at the edge of an old countryside graveyard. This graveyard is no ordinary graveyard, but that of Gettysburg. Upon arriving, Coach Boone tells them, “This is Gettysburg…Men died right here on this field, fightin’ the same fight that we’re still fightin’ amongst ourselves…today…You listen… and you take a lesson from the dead. If we don’t come together… right now, on this hallowed ground… then we, too, will be destroyed. I don’t care if you like each other or not, but you will respect each other, and maybe…I don’t know, maybe we’ll…learn to play this game like men” (Bruckheimer, 2000). In the scenes following this sequence, viewers see the players express their team spirit by embracing one another, and no longer thinking in terms of race, but rather in terms of offense and defense. Yet once the team is taken out of the protective setting of camp, they soon find that the rest of the world does not approve of their integration. Newly formed friendships waiver, and the teammates revert back to their storming ways. Coach Boone and Coach Yoast do not change their leadership styles as they are more consumed by making preparations for the Groveton game. However, the players respond quickly to the discord by calling a meeting, in which they work out their differences [01:03:56—01:05:52].

    Their self-directive behavior indicates greater commitment. The next challenge that the team is faced with comes during the Groveton game. Prior to the game, the team takes the field and performs a chant, “we are the titans,” setting a positive tone for the game. Not far into the game however, Coach Boone is forced to think quickly and puts Ronnie in for injured Rev. When Ronnie expresses that he nervous and unsure of himself, Coach Boone gives Ronnie a pep talk, telling him that he is a good player and his team needs him to play. He continues, “you’re the colonel, go command your troops,” which signifies Boone’s movement into a highly supportive, coaching style. In, “the coaching style, the leader provides more explanation of what the job entails and solicits suggestions while still staying in control of the situation” (Center for Leadership Studies 1984). The team successfully overcame an obstacle, showing that they now have high commitment, and high competence. After the Groveton game, Gerry tells Coach Boone that he knows that Ray missed the block that resulted in Rev’s injury on purpose. Coach Boone stands behind his policy of not cutting team members, and demonstrates delegating style of leadership by telling Gerry to handle cutting Ray from the team [1:12:12 – 1:12:52]. It is here where the final stage, Performing, begins. The delegating style of leadership mainly consists of allowing the group to work on attaining the shared objectives without much direction, supervision, or support (Hersey & Blanchard, 1996). Another instance of Coach Boone delegating takes place when he gives a speech at half-time in the last game.

    The speech is concise, simply conveying Boone’s confidence in the team. Julius interrupts Coach Boone to remind Coach Boone that he told them he only wanted perfection, and that the team will deliver perfection. Viewers again see that the control is with the follower, when Coach Yoast tells Ronnie to go into the championship game, and Ronnie declines, as he knows Petey is more qualified. At this point it is clear that the players are highly capable and dedicated. In the end, the Titans achieve their ultimate goal of playing a perfect season. Throughout the film, viewers are given many opportunities to examine the psychological components involved in group dynamics. Although the movie depicts an extraordinary set of circumstances, the combination of Tuckman’s model and the SLM can be used to analyze everyday scenarios. Perhaps if people gave as much thought to their own actions as the players in Remember the Titans had, racial barriers, and other senseless problems could be broken, and humans work together as one cohesive group.

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    Psychology of Remember the Titans. (2016, Jul 25). Retrieved from

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