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Lessons from the Gridiron

Comparison to work-life situations

Gail Oliver Cambridge | February 1, 2021

Are you a fan of American football? I love the game and can’t wait for football season to begin each year. This wasn’t always the case. The first time I was introduced to the game, my friend was watching it while trying to explain to me all the intricacies and different positions, whew! She was a sight to behold when she got furious about some of the play calls. She jumped out of her seat, shouted at the coach, waved her hands around, and flopped back down. I silently asked myself, “Wow, why is she so worked up about the game?” Fast forward…I am now the one who’s screaming at the TV!

As I watch a football game, I can’t help but compare the whole process to work-life situations. A lesson that stands out for me is one of amnesia. Whenever a bad play is made—interception, turnover, loose ball, or fumble—the player has to continue playing, forgetting the error he made. It must be difficult to just brush this off and resume playing one’s best. However, football players keep the end in sight, which is to win the game. We too can adopt this mindset of going on despite the obstacles we encounter. Someone hurts you and you’re walking around with anger and resentment. As you replay the incident over and over again, you put yourself in a tizzy when you should forgive and forget.

When you make a mistake at work, ask for a redo or move on. While you should learn from the error so as not to repeat it, there’s no need to linger on the disappointment. After a game, coaches and players look at replay tapes and rehash what “woulda, coulda, shoulda” been done and devise strategies for the next game. Perhaps, this activity helps build the players’ confidence as well. They are not intimidated even when the odds are against them, and apart from all the smack talk they truly believe they can win every game. Confidence, it’s a great characteristic for everyone.

Football is a true team sport. You can see the team’s shared delight when one of their own scores a touchdown, with the dance moves, backslaps, and high jumps…more so if it’s at the end of a close game. On the flip side, when a player fumbles the ball and it gets intercepted, he walks back to the sideline and sits down angrily or dejectedly. His teammates rally around with reassuring words and shoulder taps. This helps him shake it off and mentally prepare to get back in the game for the next play. It’s not only on the field where we see the players’ togetherness, but also in their collective work ethic, humanitarian efforts, and support of one another in their personal battles.

There are times in the workplace when one coworker gets (and gladly accepts) all the praise for a job well done although it was a team effort; don’t you hate that? The boss only sees the one doing the talking and give her the props, while ignoring the others sitting there holding their tongues. This doesn’t happen in football. First of all, players would call out the person. Second, a quarterback knows that although he is central to the game, he cannot win it without the support of the running back, tight end, wide receiver, guard, and the other six men on the field with him, along with the defensive side to make the team complete. Also, in each game you can see the coaches complimenting the different players on the good plays they’ve made and encouraging them after the bad ones. It’s not a one-man show.

We even see some Oscar-worthy acting when we watch football—players pretending to catch a ball when it actually hit the ground, pointing ahead to convince officials that they got the yardage after a third and one play, and doing chest bumps to communicate their side has control of the ball after a huge pile up where the ball is nowhere to be seen…and the look on their faces as they try to persuade a referee to change a call, priceless!

Lots of us engage in Monday morning quarterbacking, but let’s think about it. It’s no easy task to have your job performance on full display, your every move picked apart, and your emotions mocked. At the postgame interviews, players have to be calm and cool as they respond to the questions. Imagine their range of emotions, especially after a tremendous loss…that takes great composure. It’s like the situation with the coworker who took credit for the group work; her colleagues smile and pretend to agree with the boss while privately seething!

Are you doing a job that you love? Most of us could only hope! Despite all the intensity and pressure of football, it appears that these guys (when will there be gals?) do enjoy themselves, particularly when their team is ahead. However, their passion for the game is just as evident in the face of a loss. As I observe their gloomy expressions and slumped bodies on the sidelines when their team is losing, boy can I relate. You see, when my team is getting beat up, I turn the channel as my heart just can’t take it! Of course, I miss out if things turn around and they win, which is another life lesson because “it (whatever it is) ain't over till the fat lady sings.”

These are just a few takeaways we can learn from the game. Generally, players give it their all as should we in the game of life.


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