Balancing act

Balancing actSome time ago, a colleague introduced me to a quote that goes something like this:

Balance, dare I say it, is vastly overrated. In the end, you might want to consider the benefits of imbalance, and the achievements that come with pursuing a passion with a single-minded devotion. –Colin Cowherd

I chewed on it at the time, “getting” it but still somewhat skeptical. After all, single-minded devotion to, well, anything means the rest of the stuff in your life will suffer, right?  It seems to me that there’s a trade-off between being okay–or even pretty good–at a lot of things and being really, really great at just one. I’ve got a family, after all. Single-minded devotion seems like a luxury when there are so many demands on my time.

Then I went to a football game. As usual, my team’s performance was wildly inconsistent. We had a great first drive, then we fell apart for a big chunk of the game. The reason? We’re really good at passing (the focus of the first drive) and struggle a lot at running (subsequent play series). It was pretty frustrating to watch.

My uncle and seatmate is blessed with the ability to always look for the silver lining. When the outcome looked hopeless, he turned to me and said, I’m glad to see we are trying the run. We need a balanced offense.

Without thinking, I shot back, Who cares about balance?! I want to win!

Light bulb moment. I finally got it, skepticism discarded.

Figure out what you do well. Practice it. Hone it. Perfect it. Do it better than anyone else and own it.

There’s another part of that quote that sums it all up: And if that means they sacrifice balance along the way, they don’t care. They’ve found something more important: results.

Thankfully, my team figured that out. We eventually went back to the passing plays that we do best–and staged an amazing comeback to win the game. Results.

What have you done for me lately?

superbowl nolaI’ll admit it. I sucked on a few sour grapes watching yesterday’s Super Bowl Duper pre-game coverage. Listening to the commentary, anyone would think New Orleans is the best host city for the Super Bowl Game ever.

Pardon my personal bias, but I thought Indianapolis did a super fine job last year. The city put on a brilliant display of hospitality, and the festivities wowed visitors and residents alike. It was a terrific celebration. In fact, all the commentators said so. Just the way they said…so…this…year… Oh. I get it.

Besides the fact that it’s the commentators’ job to talk up the host city on national TV, Indy was last year. It’s over, and the world has moved on. And you know what? That’s exactly what it should have done.

Years ago, I knew a CEO who gathered his company’s employees together to report results after the close of each fiscal year. Year after year, the company broke records for both revenue and profit. You’d think the meeting would be one of celebration, but after giving hearty congratulations and expressing his gratitude, the CEO developed amnesia. That was yesterday, he’d say. What are you going to do for us today? Tomorrow?

We can’t bask in the glow of the past for too long, or we won’t move forward. Instead of looking behind, we need to look ahead. What goals are in front of us? What do we need to do to accomplish them? How can we do it (even) better next time?

Kudos to NOLA for putting on a super party this year, game time power outage notwithstanding. (Okay, that prompted a little Schadenfreude on my part.) There really is no other city that screams Party on! like the Big Easy. But twelve months from now the Big Apple will be the greatest city to host the Big Game.

Until the next one.

Crying won’t help

IMG_1448A couple of weeks ago, the Miami Dolphins lost to the New England Patriots in an AFC match-up. (Sorry folks, but here comes another football metaphor.) There wasn’t a lot about the game that came as a surprise–the Pats were expected to win, after all. To the Fins’ credit, the score–23-16–ended up fairly respectable.

Unfortunately, respect is exactly where at least one Dolphin took issue.

In that game, the Pats found a play that worked, and they used it. Over and over and over again. Defensive tackle Tony McDaniel felt that disrespected him and his teammates.

Wait, what?

Yep, it’s true. Here’s what he said: “It really [ticked] me off… It was disrespectful to us to run the same play over and over and be successful”, he said, via Brian Briggane of the Palm Beach Post. (H/T PFT) “Normally when somebody’s driving down the field you just think, ‘Well, they just had a good run there,’ but you run the same play over and over, as a competitor that [ticks] me off.” [emphasis added]

Here’s the deal, Tony. Football is your job, and it’s theirs, too. You all get paid to get results, same as I do in my desk job. If I find something that works, something that helps ensure my success, why wouldn’t I use it? In fact, why wouldn’t I use it over and over, as long as it still produces results? Or until I find something better? That’s not disrespectful; that’s just smart.

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, Tony. Or in your case, if it IS broke, do something about it. Something besides crying, that is.

Winning

Colts locker roomMy football team pulled off another unlikely victory this weekend. As I reveled in the afterglow, I cruised around the team’s website to prolong it as much as I could. Lately they’ve been posting short video clips of post-game locker room celebrations, and I found myself grinning broadly as I watched grown men–BIG grown men–jumping up and down and dancing. How fun is that?!

It struck me that football, like all professional sports, offers an opportunity most of us don’t get in our day jobs: constant, immediate metrics. Results. Every week, those guys either celebrate a win or mourn a loss.

Whoa. That’s a big difference from my daily routine. Of course, I have projects whose culmination can be measured in something akin to a win or loss, but certainly not as clearly. Even so, those are few and far between. Like most people, I spend my time keeping things running, plugging away at daily tasks and putting out fires. Sprinkle that with some strategic thought and ship steering (dinghy, in my case), and you have a picture of how I spend most of my time. Rarely do I go home and say I won today.

A weekly goal with definitive measurement? I think that would be fantastic. I’d love to go home knowing whether I succeeded or failed, and then gear up to do it all again the next week. Somehow, there’s got to be a way to make that happen even in a non-sports career. And I’m going to figure it out.

Paying dues

The problem with the concept of paying dues in a job, in a career, in life is that it implies that once a person has proven herself, she never has to put in the muscle again. I beg to differ.

The minute I become “too good” for something, I begin to lose touch with the people on my team. That doesn’t mean I have to do every job, every time, but it does mean that I need to be willing to roll up my sleeves just as much as I expect everyone else to do it. It keeps me plugged it, it helps me understand how the work gets done, and it underscores my credibility.

Surprisingly (or not), football got me thinking about this. Following last Sunday’s Patriots-driven embarrassment of my Indianapolis Colts, the winning coach took a lot of criticism for leaving one of his star players in the game too long. Very late in the contest, that player suffered a broken arm in a special teams play. Critics say that with the outcome of the game already firmly decided, the guy should have been sitting on the sidelines to preserve him for future match-ups.

I think that’s hogwash, and clearly so did his coach. One sports writer put it this way, and I agree completely: You’re not special enough to NOT play special teams. (Emphasis added.)

If you think you’ve paid your dues, be sure you don’t let them expire. You’re not that special.

Note: Like any good Colts fan, I HATE the Patriots. As much as it pains me to admit, however, they got this one right.

The one time I agreed with Rex Ryan

I can’t stand Rex Ryan. The head coach of the New York Jets is brash, rude, divisive, and generally just a jerk. Of course, that’s just my opinion, but he IS the guy who was fined $75K for telling an opposing fan to shut the f#$k up on national television. Form your own opinion.

Last week, however, I found myself cheering him on. According to news outlets, the team’s much-maligned back-up quarterback, Tim Tebow, fell victim to some nasty commentary from his own teammates. The problem was that rather than owning up to their opinions, they spread them anonymously. In-your-face publicly, but anonymously. I’m not a Tebow fan, but that’s just not right.

Really, guys, man up.

Rex called it “about as cowardly of a thing as there is.” He went on to say, “If you’re going to make a negative comment, that’s fine. We never say that it always has to be a bed of roses. But again, put your name on it. I think people will respect you a lot more.”

Amen, brother.

My dad taught me that lesson years ago. If you feel don’t feel strongly enough about something to put your name on it, don’t say it. Why should anyone take an anonymous comment seriously? (Find more life lessons from my dad HERE.)

As much as it pains me to agree with Rex Ryan, this time I did it wholeheartedly.

Here’s a link to the article if you want to read more: http://nesn.com/2012/11/rex-ryan-calls-nameless-criticisms-of-tim-tebow-cowardly-still-thinks-jets-are-coming-together/

The A-team

It’s here! It’s here! Football season is here!

For those of you new to my blog, I love pro football. The American kind, just to be clear. Besides filling my Sundays (and Thursdays and Mondays, with an occasional Saturday sprinkled through the season), it also provides me with a lot of blog fodder. Like today, for instance.

Last Sunday marked my team’s preseason home opener, and I watched with glee from my newly acquired, season-ticketed seat. Because our roster is burgeoning with almost 100 players and needs to be whittled down to 53 by the start of the regular season, preseason games often serve as tryouts. Almost everyone gets to play so that the coaches can evaluate each man’s performance in a real-world scenario.

First on the field was the A-team, the anointed ones, the top-notch guys whose spots on the team are pretty much given. The second-stringers followed, and finally the third-stringers. Everyone played hard to ensure a good on-field audition.

Of course (you knew it was coming), it got me thinking. A great receiver can make an average quarterback look good if he pulls down any ball that come near him. A terrific quarterback can make a decent receiver stand out if he hits him on the numbers every time. A mediocre running back will gain yard after yard if an outstanding blocker continually opens up holes for him. That’s the beauty of teamwork–players lift each other up.

It must work the other way, too. What happens when a really good quarterback has receivers who can’t hold on to the ball, no matter how well he throws it? Or when a field goal kicker can’t get the ball through the uprights because his special teams blockers can’t do their jobs and he goes down under pressure? Or when a running back can’t find a path because his blockers are weak?

I found myself pondering these questions as I watched our third string players on the field. There are some guys on that squad I really like, and I want them to make the cut. I thought, “Boy, I wonder how that quarterback would look if he could throw to Reggie Wayne? It’s too bad he doesn’t have the A-team receivers so he can showcase his talent.”

So is that it? Are third-stringers destined to be third-stringers forever because they are all lumped together? If so, that would be extremely discouraging. How does a player overcome that?

Here’s where I landed, as a fan and as a coach (boss) with people on my own team:

  1. The really good people will stand out no matter what. They can’t help it.
  2. Not everything happens at the game. In fact, players generally earn those game slots through their performance in practice. They have to work hard ALL the time to get there, not just when they’re under the spotlights. (This goes hand-in-hand with number 1.)
  3. Coaches/bosses have to be good, too. They have to be observant and astute and intuitive so they can identify potential talent even in adverse circumstances. They have to recognize good throws, even when no one catches them.
  4. A good coach will mix it up, putting different players together during practice so s/he can get a well-rounded impression of performance. And s/he has to be open to taking chances

Each one of us is sometimes a player and sometimes a coach. When it’s time to put together the A-team, will you have earned a spot? If you’re the person putting it together, will you select the right people? Oh, how I love football!