Nick Saban and the Power of “No-Retreat” Thinking

Nick SabanNick Saban has now won six college football National Championships. That ties him with Bear Bryant for the most national titles in the poll era of college football.

Every single player Saban has recruited in his 11 years at Alabama has won a National Championship. That’s unreal. By any objective measure, Nick Saban has established himself as the most successful coach in modern college football history.

While Saban’s extraordinary success can be attributed to many factors—such as his commitment to the processhis approach to positive thinking, and his relentless work ethic—one of the often-overlooked keys to the championship culture Saban has built is the “no retreat” mindset he has instilled in his players…


Success is a direct result of making a commitment to a task, having the conviction to follow through, and having the character and attitude to make the kind of choices that will allow you to have success.

Commitment is your dedication to your task, your organization, and your teammates. It is an unwavering display of loyalty to the process and to achieving the desired result.

Many centuries ago, Roman soldiers attempted to invade the island of England by attacking the cliffs of Dover. Just across the English Channel from France, the cliffs served as a close entry point for invading soldiers. But they were not easy to climb and overtake, especially when they were being defended.

For years, the Romans tried to take the cliffs, failing and retreating each time. They would get into their rowboats, which they launched from their ships, row to shore, try to scale the cliffs, and then return to their ships, time and time again.

Finally, a Roman captain made a decision. He ordered that on the next attempt, the rowboats be burned on shore so there would be no means of retreat for the soldiers. They would either succeed in taking the cliffs or they would perish.

With no option of failure, they finally took the cliffs.

Obviously, not all commitments are as dangerous or elaborate as the Romans taking the cliffs of Dover, but the principle is the same.

Commitment means following through on a process, despite the difficulties and decisions that may deter you.

The more options you have, the more possible retreat is made, the easier it is to break a commitment.

Once you have made a decision to commit, you are making a choice for yourself and for your team. There can be no retreat.


– Nick Saban, from his book How Good Do You Want to Be?

It’s one thing to decide on a goal and tell yourself you’re “committed” to seeing things through while also keeping exit strategies, alternate options, and backup plans always in mind. It’s quite another thing to make such an extreme commitment to achieving a goal that you don’t allow yourself any way to retreat.

When you have the mindset that there is no way to retreat, you will push yourself harder than you otherwise would have when faced with adversity. You will also force your mind to come up with solutions that you otherwise would not have thought of.

I’m all for being smart and adjusting plans as necessary when something isn’t working, but too often when things get tough we can convince ourselves that “Plan B” or “Plan C” wouldn’t be so bad after all. We question whether all the hard work and sacrifice is worth it and we start to focus more on exit strategies when we haven’t truly given our best effort or exhausted all our options.

When you have a big dream—whether it’s winning a championship or starting a new business—you’re going to have to take big risks and make big sacrifices. At some point, you’re going to have to go ALL IN and put it all on the line. You’re going to have to make the types of sacrifices and take the types of risks that most people aren’t comfortable with.

But that’s where you earn your victory. That’s where you earn the right to have your dream come true.

If it was easy and if there were other less-risky paths that you could take to achieve your goal, everyone would be doing it. But there aren’t.

Sooner or later, you’re going to have to drive through that “Darkness on the Edge of Town” and face the unknown with no option of turning back. You’re going to have to put it all on the line and risk everything you’ve got to make your dream come true.

And when you do—when you’re faced with that gut-check moment when things are at their hardest and you question whether you really have what it takes to be successful—that’s when you absolutely can’t allow yourself to retreat.

That’s the moment when those who have burned the boats behind them will have a tremendous advantage over those who have their escape routes planned.

Any big dream requires an extreme commitment. A no-retreat, no-surrender, no-way-out mindset that says, failure is not an option.