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Calling Plays

The art of calling plays in football can translate to leadership. High school football kicked off this past Friday in Georgia. That means college football is not far behind! Up until this year, it meant coaching youth football for me.

For twenty-one years I coached at the youth level.  Nineteen of these were as a head coach.  When I served as the head coach, I was the offensive coordinator and called the plays. There is nothing like designing and orchestrating an offense.

Calling Plays
Huddling up the boys to call the next play.

I already miss the process of game planning, the excitement leading up to game day, and the chess match with the coach on the other sideline. The process sharpened me as a coach and developed leadership skills that translated to the workplace.

Calling plays is an art, so is leadership. Today, Here are eight valuable lessons I learned from running an offense and how they translate to leadership:

The Best Defense Is A Good Offense

When we were facing a team with a good offense, our defensive plan was to stay on offense as much as possible. We tried to remain in possession of the football for as long as possible by getting first downs and keeping the clock moving. It is impossible for the other team’s offense to score if they are on the sideline. There is nothing more satisfying to watch than moving the ball three yards at a time, keeping the chains moving, watching the clock tick.

Busyness can dominate our worlds. When we allow this to happen, we play from behind in the game. We tend to stay on defense. When we are proactive and can create positive momentum we go on offense in the workplace. When we are on defense, we are more reactive. We tend to operate out of fear of being behind. We do not know what to do because we cannot gain possession of our tasks and schedules. Stay on offense, play less defense.

Stick With What Got You There

As playoff time rolled around, you played teams for the second time. The urge was to change everything and come up with new schemes because the other team had seen your system before. Great coaches create new wrinkles, but stick with what got them there.

When we have success, the greatest risk we run is the urge to change a bunch of things. We should always be open to change, but we should focus on building on that success. This is how you take something from good to great. Stick with what got you there.

Execute the Fundamentals

It drove most of the parents nuts. As the season started, we worked on the fundamentals. On offense, if we could not get in a stance, we did not move onto blocking. If we could not block, we did not start lining up plays. If our backfield could not take a handoff, we did not work on plays. If we could not break the huddle and get in position, you guessed it, we did not run plays. You get the point. It was excruciating to watch, but when we lined up for our first game we always executed well. We may have only had six plays, but our fundamentals allowed us to execute what we had.

As we become more successful, we can forget the fundamentals that got us there. Sometimes we just see the end result of success and not all the blood, sweat, and tears that lead to the execution of that moment. The continued execution of fundamentals leads to sustainable success.

Give The Plan Time, It Will Work

The easiest thing to do when calling plays is to freak out. The first offensive possession was always critical to me. It sets the tone for the entire game. Sometimes the defense provided more resistance than expected. I found that when I stuck to the game plan, it slowed things down. It prevented me from panicking and abandoning the game plan.

One of my favorite movies of all time is Remember the Titans. When questioned on his limited playbook by an assistant coach, Coach Herman Boone replied with, “it’s like Novocain. Just give it time, it always works.” If we have a good plan, it will always work, it just needs some time.

Find People That Complement You

Offense was my world. In order to focus on offense, I had to have a good defensive coordinator. For the last twelve years of my coaching career, I roamed the sidelines with one of my best friends Lamar Almon. We started playing football together when we were seven years old and have known each other ever since. We are both intense, but in different ways. Mine was internal, intensely focused on strategy. His was external, high energy. We balanced each other well. When one was off, the other one picked up the slack. We had faith in each other and had each other’s back.

We all need a Lamar in our world. We need people on our teams that complement us. People who pick us up when we are having an off day, that have faith in us, that have our back.

Trust Your People

When the game gets tight. You have called every play in the playbook. The game is on the line. Just trust your personnel. Sometimes it is a simple game of advantages. Our people are greater than theirs. Know that you have the best people and trust them to carry out the mission. On the field and in the workplace.

Build Your Strategy Around Your People

A key piece to a good offense is designing one that fits your talent. I have watched too many coaches over the years try to run a system that did not fit their talent. They were more concerned about the appearance of looking complex, but lacked effectiveness. Over those twenty one years we ran similar overall schemes, but we always gravitated to the ones that fit our talent that particular season. If we were fast, we played fast. If we were big and strong, we played power.

Too many organizations try to squeeze people into a job description rather than design the job around the person. If you want to have growth for your organization, build your organization’s game plan off of the talent you have to work with rather than boxing them in with a sheet of paper.

Critics Only See The Outcome, Not The Intent

Critics have the luxury of seeing the outcome without knowing the intention. I called thousands of plays over the years, not a single one was designed to lose yards. None of the intended outcomes were designed to fumble or to throw an interception either. If I would have known the outcome of all the unsuccessful plays I called, guess what? I would not have called the play! That is why critics sit in the bleachers, coaches stand on the sidelines.

The deeper you go into your leadership journey, you will have critics. Leadership requires making decisions in real time.  None of us are granted the luxury of being able to see how things will play out before we make decisions.  Aristotle said, “to avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing.” That is what critics do. Do not let them impact your game plan.

Calling Plays Conclusion

In the last year I coached, we were playing to go to the Super Bowl. We were down by a touchdown in a back and forth game with a formidable opponent. I had a big call to make in a big moment. Called our bread and butter for the season, a run pass option (RPO). As we lined up, the other coaching staff shifted the safety out of position to double team the receiver who they thought the ball was going to. Instead, our tight end ran a seam route, right where the safety was suppose to be. TOUCHDOWN!

We tied up the score on that play, gained momentum, and ended up winning the game with under a minute to go. These are one of the hundreds of moments as a play caller that I will always remember.

The same goes for my career. We can easily get distracted by the plays that do not work out so well. The projects and programs that failed. As a leader, rest in the successes. Not all plays work as intended, but when they do, you remember them forever!

Ordinary to Extraordinary Intersection

Do you find yourself playing defense offense more? Are you sticking with what got you there? Are you working on your fundamentals? Are you giving your plan time to work? Are you surrounded by people who complement you? Do you trust your people? Is your strategy built on your people? Are you letting critics impact your game plan?

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