Playcall: A Woman's View

Poor Pete Carroll. The Seattle Seahawks coach brings his team to the Super Bowl for the second year in a row, takes a calculated but unsuccessful risk, and gets painted by popular culture as a failure. Was it really the worst call ever?

No doubt, Carroll is an accomplished leader. He is only one of three coaches to have won a Super Bowl and a national college championship. He advocates for practices such as yoga and meditation to keep players' minds clear and focused. Carroll is not afraid to take calculated risks.

In fact, he sees the infamous Super Bowl call as only part of his game management process. The call, like all the others made during the game was part of a process he states, and although the big mistake stayed with him it will become fuel for doing better, not kindling for self-flagellation.

What I found most intriguing, after I drowned out the scores of Monday Morning Quarterbacks with their trash talk, was Carroll's downright healthy reaction to it all. Would I have been so measured in his shoes?

As a woman, I'm not so sure.

Uncomfortable to admit, we women tend to downplay our abilities and overplay our mistakes. We do this to an extent that is far more pronounced than men. Does it mean that women are less competent, able to take on challenges and succeed compared to men? No, it just means that we traditionally act as our own worst critic and our own weakest cheerleader.

Claire Shipman and Katty Kay, authors of the 2011 book The Confidence Gap, broached the issue of male and female confidence in The Atlantic last year. It seems, according to Shipman and Kay, there is an insidious thread among many hyper successful women: a belief that somehow their achievements were the result of circumstance, lucky breaks or factors outside of themselves. Further, there was a nagging sense among these women that they really didn't deserve to be where they were and one day the rug would be pulled out from under them. To quote Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg: "There are still days I wake up feeling like a fraud, not sure I should be where I am."

The sad truth is that no amount of achievement and accolades will make that belief disappear. The implications of this crisis of confidence are far-reaching as well. When you believe you don't quite deserve to be at the table you quietly pull yourself back, sometimes to the point of not even entering the room where the table is set. Without confidence, competence has nowhere to shine.

Joyce Ehrlinger and David Dunning of Cornell University published a study in 2003 entitled "How Chronic Self-Views Influence (and Potentially Mislead) Estimates of Performance." The study focused on the impact -- positive and negative -- that one's self view has on their willingness to attempt new things. They found that perception about performance is a chronic view, regardless of actual results. Most notably, they found that women in the study downplayed their scientific abilities even though they tested equal to the men on a science quiz. Regardless of performance, the women still held tight to the view that their scientific reasoning was not good enough and therefore were willing to forego participation in a scientific competition.

What is equally compelling about the study is that the men judged their abilities and actual performance on the quiz realistically, with a variation between ability and performance of .3 on a scale of 1 to 10. The women? The variation was far more pronounced: a full point, or 1.0, on the same scale. In other words, women did not judge their abilities fairly.

This brings me back to Coach Carroll. As painful as the Super Bowl loss is, it is another game in a career of games. He gave himself the freedom to perform without the nagging voice of self-doubt. I suspect that his confidence and competence are pretty well-balanced.

As for us women, we should give ourselves the same freedom. Sure, sometimes the playcalls will fail. More often than not though, they will succeed and one success will foster another and another and another. The worst playcall is not the one that fails. It's the one that never gets played.