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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Making the First Down in Speaking Up and in Football

Football always looked to me like a game of violence.  I thought the players were just trying to knock down the guy with the ball and to damage as many others on the field as possible. 

I am now learning that football is a very intelligent game.  The fundamentals of football include

1.  Identifying the goal,
2.  Determining how to get to the goal,
3.  Motivating yourself (and the team) to get to the goal, and
4.  Being prepared to counteract any attempts to keep you from getting to the goal.

In football the field is immense (100 yards long).  Even if you have the ball in the center of the field, you still have to travel 50 yards to the goal line.  If you focus on the goal, the distance could seem overwhelming.  

However, that’s not how it is done in football.  Instead the ball is moved down the field by making downs of ten yards each.

The point of the football game is to keep your eye on the ball and move the ball to the goal line to score. Along the way, you must keep your energy goal-directed and you must get any obstacles out of the path.

Let’s see how this applies to speaking up for yourself.

Identify the goal

In speaking up for yourself, you can set an ultimate goal toward which you are working.  Keeping your eye on the ball means moving yourself toward this long term goal.  Here are some examples of long range goals that a person might set:

Margaret’s goal: “I will meet my goal when I speak up in a corporate meeting in front of at least 30 other colleagues”

MaryBeth’s goal: “I will meet my goal when I successfully negotiate with my husband and take an active part in the decision making in our relationship”

Steve’s goal: “I will meet my goal when I am offered a new job in a higher level position in my company.”

What might your goal be?

Determine how to get to the goal

On the football field, getting to the goal involves moving the ball down the field.  Built into football is the idea of taking small steps toward a big goal.  In football each ten yard increment is a first down.  You get four tries in working to make a first down.

If you don't make the first down in four tries, the offensive team goes to the bench and tries to come up with a better strategy for the next opportunity to make the first down. With each small step toward our larger goal, we make first downs in speaking up for ourselves.

Margaret knew that she needed to try for first downs as she moved toward her goal which was:  “I will achieve my goal when I speak up in a corporate meeting in front of at least 30 other colleagues.”  She set some “ten yard” goals for herself.
  • First play:
1. Margaret volunteered for a small committee (five people) at work on which some of the more vocal employees participated.
2. Margaret committed to speak up at least once in every committee meeting

When Margaret did both of these items, she gave herself credit for getting a first down.  She then planned her next play.
  • Next play:
1.  Margaret decided to write a memo to one of the executives on the 30 person corporate team about an action she would like to use to move an office project forward
2.  Margaret will follow up the memo with a phone call to the corporate team member to see what he/she thinks

When Margaret succeeds at this, she will work to develop another play in which Margaret will speak individually to several other members of the team about her action idea

As you can see, Margaret is steadily working her way down the field toward her goal.

Motivating yourself to keep moving toward the ultimate goal

Margaret wants to keep her energy and motivation high.  To do this,

  • She can reshape and define her goals, based on the previous play.
   If the play went well, Margaret will want to find the successful elements in it to apply to the next play.  If the play didn’t go well, Margaret will make a new action plan
  • She can stay focused on her ultimate goals so that each play is in the right direction.
  • She can develop reinforcement for herself.
  Just as the football player takes a moment on the bench between plays to drink some Gatorade and regroup, Margaret must take care of herself to keep her positive energy up
  • She can have someone cheering her on.
  It’s difficult to meet goals alone, but helpful and gratifying to meet a goal with someone noticing and cheering for you

Being prepared to counteract any attempts to keep you from getting to the goal

In football, the quarterback may attempt to run the ball and be pushed back several yards.  On the next play, the quarterback tries to make up the yards lost and add some more yards in the progress to the first down.

The defensive linebackers in football are positioned to stop the play.  Their job is to keep the quarterback from getting a first down.  Unfortunately in life there often are people who serve as linebackers who block our attempts to make progress.

A smart quarterback tries to see the linebackers and maneuver around them.

Margaret will try to anticipate the ways her attempts to reach her goal might be blocked.
  • She will learn how to counter the disrespectful person who may make fun of her efforts to speak up in the committee meeting.
  • She will practice assertive ways to make her position known in a powerful manner. 
  • She will ask someone else to read the memo she will write in her second play to give her feedback and suggestions.
In a football game if the play fails, the coach and the players simply look at it as a blown play.  It’s not the end of the world.  At the end of a bad play, the football players and the coach huddle and make a plan for the next play.

Note:  The players don’t stand in the huddle and worry about the play that was just made.  They don’t berate themselves: e.g., “if I hadn’t been so clumsy, I wouldn’t have dropped the ball.”  A blown play means that it will now take three great plays to make a first down instead of the four they had available at first.

So in the huddle, they just plan the next play.

After all, the goal is to make a first down on the way to a touchdown.

It’s up to you – plan your goals and begin making plays to get to the first downs as you move down the field!  If one play doesn’t advance you toward your goal, just plan for the next one.  Go for it and good luck!

(Thanks to Friday Night Lights for the inspiration for this article)

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