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5 Things Football Taught Me About Business

I was fortunate enough to be born with some size and a little bit of talent, which I was again fortunate enough to parlay into a football scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh. Like most college students, I learned quite a bit in the class room. Some of the more valuable lessons I learned and carry with me to this day, however, I learned from being a member of a football team. I know there are a lot former athletes who have gone onto great individual success in the business world but to me the unique challenge is getting a company, made up of athletes & non-athletes alike, to function and perform like a championship team. Here are the 5 most important things that football taught me about business.

1. Define winning by explaining the scoreboard:

In a game of football the definition of winning is simple, score more points than the other team. In business the definition of winning and how score is kept are much more complex. In its simplest form, the definition of winning in business is hitting budget and making money but the way the score is kept is often times hard for employees to understand. This is particularly true if the only scoreboard being used in a business is a balance sheet. It’s imperative that your team understands the “scoreboard” is the means by which success/winning is measured. Balance sheets are certainly one form of keeping score but how often does your business share the balance sheet with the entire organization? If so, it is understandable? Frequent employee meetings (monthly or quarterly) where the company’s financial performance is broken down into a simple & easy to understand one page slide will let the entire organization know what the score is and if you’re winning.

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2. Know your role and DO YOUR JOB:

A football team has clearly defined positions and everyone’s assignment is clearly defined for each play a team runs. A corporation does not always lend itself to such a clearly defined set of roles & responsibilities. Sometimes there’s ambiguity between departments or certain personnel as to which has the authority or responsibility in certain situations. Other times you’ll find finger pointing and overreach, as some employees stray out of their area of responsibility under the pretense of “only trying to help”. Well, like a good football team, assignment discipline is essential for success. Members of a great organization fully understand their roles and the contribution they make toward the company’s bottom line success. Further, they trust their fellow team members to do their job and by doing so, they are not distracted from the task at hand. Do your job, trust that your fellow team member will do his, and we all win!

3. (Perfect) Practice makes perfect:

As in all sports, but particularly team sports, practice is essential for success. A football team prepares all week long for a one hour game. The time required to coordinate 11 players on offense so that they’re all operating on the same page, at the same level, is no small task. However, when it comes to business, far too often practice or training is an afterthought. In business it’s difficult to find the time to train because the game is every day, 5 days a week, so it critical to make the time to provide training for your employees. It’s also critical that your employees understand that training isn’t a punishment but a reward. Just as in sports, practice sharpens your skills and makes you better, training programs sharpen your works skills and increases your value & earning potential.

4. Check your EGO and be willing to sacrifice:

As an old offensive linemen, I know a few things about thankless tasks that often go unnoticed, so it’s sometimes difficult for me to empathize with employees who feel they’re not always given their due credit, or the level of recognition they believe they deserve. Sometimes we let our personal career ambitions overshadow the importance of being a “team player”. Don’t get me wrong, making sure you’re valued for your work is extremely important, but it’s more important to make sure you’re valued for your contribution to the bottom line, because if the team isn’t successful then your personal success won’t be of much value to you for long.

5. Learn to be resilient:

Like football, the business world can be brutal sometimes. Your boss might get on your case, or a customer might put you through the ringer for something that wasn’t even your fault. Are you one of those people that lets a bad episode affect the rest of your entire day, week, or even your month? Are you that employee that everyone has to measure every comment to for fear that it will send you into a tail spin? Don’t be “that guy”, learn to build your personal resiliency. Keep things in their proper perspective, don’t let a negative interaction snowball into a soap opera. Teammates appreciate and respect tough, resilient people and so do employers. Resilient employees require less maintenance and therefore are usually more valuable to the organization.

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