How football taught me about teamwork

Teamwork was a consistent theme in my upbringing, largely in part, because my father is a football coach. I would like to share with you his key lessons about teamwork.

Lesson #1: Never hurt the team. This requires practicing three things:

  • Try your best.
  • Be loyal.
  • Communicate.

Lesson #2: Play the next play. This is not only a lesson that he teaches his “kids” but would also consider it a family motto. Play the next play means to never get too crushed about prior defeats, but also never get too cocky about prior wins. The most important play is always the next.

I wanted to share examples that helped to demonstrate these two lessons.

Jake was my dad’s quarterback at a small school in Texas. He was a fantastic athlete that shattered all sorts of records over the course of four seasons.

However, Jake did have a challenge with his speech in that he sometimes stuttered. This was exacerbated when he was nervous. The letter “s” was particularly troublesome.

Now, my dad implements a no huddle offense. As a quick technical explanation, this is just a way to speed up the game offensively, in hope of catching the defense off guard. The quarterback has the option to yell out a play call to his teammates as he sees weaknesses on the defense.

The need for speed and responsibility to call out the plays that, at times, started with the letter “s” proved difficult for Jake. So he had to come up with a solution.

At first it was profanity. He found if he could start by getting the s’s rolling that was helpful. He would say ”shit, shit, shit” and then 62 would come out more fluidly. He also start creating hand signals to help him to communicate to the team.

Upon reflecting on this story, my dad commented that it was amazing the improvement that Jake had made when comparing freshman year to senior year. By senior year, he no longer needed the profanity.

I love this story because it involves profanity, which I enjoy more than I should, but more importantly I think it touches on the three key points of lesson 1.

Try your best: Jake never came crying to my dad to slow down the game. He found a solution that would address the problem. Practice also helped him to refine and improve his approach.

Be loyal: I know I’ve spent a majority of the time talking about Jake, but one really big piece missing is all of his teammates. Jake had a challenge that required other team members to adjust. They had to work with their QB to learn additional signals, so that he was able to quickly get them the information they needed. Jake would have never been able to conquer this feat alone. It required the support and loyalty from his teammates.

Communicate: The point about Jake’s communication is obvious and touched upon in my last point. Jake had to communicate with his team members to work together to make a solution that worked for them. However, Jake also communicated with my dad, his coach, to identify the struggles he was having. My dad once overheard, “Jake is the most foul mouthed player I’ve ever heard!” from someone passing by. Because of my dad’s understanding of the problem, this comment was met with a smile and an honest explanation.

Last but not least, lesson 2 is play the next play. I will apply this football motto to some UX design scenarios.

Let’s say, I’ve spent a ton of time and energy creating a design that, after sending to development, realize has gaps or doesn’t work as well as intended. Play the next play. It doesn’t matter the mistakes you’ve made. It only matters what you plan to do about it.

So, I spend time ensuring that all those gaps are filled. Design and development work together to create a solution that works. In the end, we receive high praise from management for the work completed. Again, play the next play. Take some time to pat yourself on the back, but this single victory shouldn’t be your defining one. Apply the lessons learned to the next task at hand.

While I try to subscribe to this approach in life and work, I’m certainly guilty of getting caught up in a moment at times, usually the bad ones. However, I can look back on various moments where someone in my life has jumped in to remind me to “play the next play”. It’s in their own words and usually sounds something more like “It’s ok, let’s work on this together to solve it”. So thank you to everyone that have given me these reminders and reassurance.