I run my business like I coach football. When I’m away from the football field I spend my time running a web development company. When I’m on the football field I enjoy the strategy of the X’s and O’s much like I enjoy the technicalities of software development. However, being a software developer is very different than running a development company — much like being a football player is different than coaching a football team.
Today at work I fired a client. It was the first time I’ve ever done such a thing. I noticed I felt the same mixed emotions as when I bench or cut a player. The first checkpoint in my mind is always, did I do enough? Did I coach them to the best of my abilities? Did I outline the expectations of the relationship? Did the rest of my team let them down? The best way to answer that is to ask myself — did I make it past “the fine line”?
Getting over the line
The fine line is a moment that everyone gets to when they’re in a difficult situation. It’s usually a voice in your head, or a feeling of uncertainty. Marathon runners often encounter this voice, usually between the 18th and 23rd mile. The first time I encountered the fine line was in Ranger school in the U.S. Army. There are always faster runners, there are always better soldiers, but the ones who finish, the ones who execute are the ones who figure out “where to put the tired” when they are tired, or “where to put the fear” when they are scared. Everybody gets tired, everybody feels vulnerable, but knowing where to put that inside yourself so you can get the job done is what separates the average person from the best person.
Football builds mindset
Mindset is a hot topic these days. People are paying hundreds or even thousands in fees to hear about getting the right mindset from someone on stage or from a consultant. Instead of doing that one of the best things you can do is go on down to your local American Football club and join up. It’ll only cost you £50 in BAFA fees and the experience will be one of the most profound impacts on your life.
Mindset comes from doing, from putting in the work. It can’t come from reading a book or listening to a guru on stage. It comes from putting yourself to the test and sticking to the plan rather than reacting off-piece in the moment. Even with something as simple as meditation, it’s easy when you are in a quiet comfortable room. However, can you remain at peace in a period of stress?
Getting from average to great
The difference between an average coach and a great coach is equally about technique as it is for a player. However, it is less about the X’s and O’s and more about how to get the best performance out of the team and coaching staff. It’s about building a team culture, making sure the other coaches have when they need to do their job, and then sticking to that culture when the chips are down, when the game didn’t go well, or when people aren’t living up to their responsibilities. It’s about having a vision and building the environment so that people can excel and deliver that vision together.
On the football field, the fine line comes into play many times. When we have to practice in the cold and the rain, nobody wants to go. Great football players still show up. They do this because they know that if they don’t show up, their opponents will.
Pushing past the fine line helps you focus on that next play in the 3rd quarter when your opponent is jeering at you, when you’re tired and you’ve been knocked around all day. Being the best at something comes from putting those things to the side so you can take a few more steps, get the ball down the field a few more yards, by being a little bit better than you were last time you showed up.
Going from average, to good, to great is done by focusing on one play at a time, every time. Not just going through the motions, but executing the play when it’s needed, how it’s needed, and by using the techniques you were taught.
As the legendary football coach Woody Hayes once said, “you don’t need to be the best team in the country, you just have to be the best team in the stadium”. If you can out-play, out-work, or out-think your opponent in every play — the rest of life will take care of itself.