I’m one of those guys who turn to the sports pages first thing when I open the daily newspaper. Don’t get me going or I could talk all day about the designated hitter rule, zone vs. man coverage, three-guard offenses or a thousand other sports-related topics. This is a lifelong sports nut coming at you.
However, one thing has changed since my little league glory days when I hit a grand slam in an all-star game with both my dad and Stan Musial watching (long story). There’s nothing resembling hero worship left in me when it comes to athletes and coaches. Though I still enjoy watching them perform, it dawned on me long ago the sports world is populated by eminently fallible human beings. That’s because to reach the top ranks in any sport requires an all-consuming commitment to develop those athletic skills. Although there are notable exceptions, as a rule the demands don’t leave enough time and energy for the shaping of a well-rounded person. That’s one reason why sports pages are filled with so many police reports.
Nobody personifies sports fanaticism more than football coaches. The big names all seem cut from the same mold of fire-breathing workaholics. Maybe it takes that kind of obsession to be a winner in the NFL or NCAA. I wouldn’t know.
However, this I do know. Since at this stage of life I have little use for learning the proper techniques of blocking and tackling, football coaches have nothing to teach me that I have not learned better from persons in other walks of life.
During my career I have sat through at least a half-dozen speeches by famous coaches talking about the lessons their sport teaches that are applicable to the business world or to the great game of life. Their clichés are familiar to anyone who follows sports - “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog.” “Winning is everything.” “Teamwork builds character.” Yadda, yadda, yadda.
I think football coaches would do better to instill lessons from the business world in the grotesquely tattooed jocks they inspire to commit and endure mayhem. Such as:
- Size doesn’t matter, spirit does. I’ll believe that when I see feisty 150-pound linemen playing in the NFL. It’s true for people in your line of work, however.
- It’s all about teamwork. When football coaches blather about the importance of teamwork, mostly they are talking about blocking, a thankless activity that enables backs and receivers to rack up impressive statistics and the biggest paychecks. The people who play the blocking positions tend to be oversized galoots who are too slow and uncoordinated to entrust with ball-handling duties. I bet 99 percent of these oxen would rather play quarterback if they could.
For a real lesson in teamwork, check out the coordination among the members of a crack construction project team, or the handoffs that take place on a busy day with subs from different trades starting and finishing their work. Then bring in the contributions from the rest of the office and supervisory staff. It’s a beauty to behold in a well-run company, and there is plenty of opportunity for anyone to play the glamour positions no matter how big or small they may be.
- Winning is everything. If this is the case, then every year all coaches except the championship winner must be regarded as losers. How do they all explain blowing the big games? And if winning is indeed everything, then all those losing coaches must be regarded as abject failures who deserve to be fired.
In contrast, I know plenty of contractors that have made money every year in business and have customer satisfaction records surpassing 90 percent - a larger winning percentage than any coach I’m aware of.
- Loyalty. When your people get injured on the job or take ill, health insurance or worker’s compensation protects them economically. And they can be reasonably assured of still having a job when they heal.
In pro football, contracts are voided when crippling injuries render players unable to perform. And next time you’re listening to a college football coach prattle on about loyalty, ask him how many scholarships he’s revoked of “student-athletes” still able to attend class, but no longer of use on the gridiron due to a knee blown out on behalf of dear old alma mater.
- Motivating people. Heck, it’s easy getting people fired up to play in front of tens of thousands of excited fans and a TV audience. I’d like to see one of those football coaches figure out how to get a crew motivated to work on rooftops during bone-chilling weather or when it’s 100 degrees outside.
How much do you want to bet that screaming and humiliation won’t work?