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!

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