"He's a man of many careers and many titles--doctor, coach, congressman or Tom," said Raymond D. Fowler, PhD, APA's chief executive officer, as he presented Rep. Tom Osborne (RNeb.) with the Distinguished Psychologist in Management Award from the Society of Psychologists in Management.
"I'm a freshman again at the age of 64," Osborne joked about his newest career as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Although new to politics, Osborne brings to Congress years of experience as a manager, relationship-builder, mentor and teacher.
He is perhaps best known for his long and successful tenure as head football coach for the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers. Under Osborne's leadership from 197297, the Huskers averaged over 10 wins per season and made it to three national championships. To lead his team, he pulled from his experience as an NFL player for three seasons and his training in psychology. He received his doctoral degree in educational psychology from the University of NebraskaLincoln in 1965.
In his acceptance speech, entitled "Positive coaching," Osborne shared with attendees at the Society for Psychologists in Management meeting on March 2 in Alexandria, Va., many experiences from coaching, which he said "is a lot like management."
"If a player wasn't going to class, I looked beyond the behavior to be able to deal with the cause of the behavior," he said. His psychology training contributed to his ability to look at problems systemically as well as to his belief that "reward shapes behavior better than punishment." It certainly contributed to his team's winning attitude and dedication, he noted.
"The standard coaching atmosphere was like boot camp, [but] we weren't like that," he said. "We were positive, we tried to catch somebody doing something right and reinforce that behavior."
This positive attitude followed the team into the locker room and their interactions with each other off the field, too. While some coaches encouraged fighting and hatred of other teams, Osborne "came to believe that love is a much more powerful emotion," he said.
He instituted "unity counseling" with the team, using a sports psychologist to help create a positive atmosphere where players could air their complaints as well as set common goals--a positive philosophy that he uses today on Capitol Hill.
Martin E.P. Seligman, PhD, APA past-president, who stepped up to the microphone after Osborne to share his work on positive psychology, said Osborne was a "symbol of how positive psychology can be effective."