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Business lessons from the NFL

Published: 09/09/2019

Whilst our football season has been going on for nearly a month, the same can’t be said for its American counterpart ‘across the pond’. But now that the offseason (pre-season for us in the UK) is finished, it’s back to the weekly action of offence, defence, sacks, endless playbooks and all the other drama that goes with it. That’s right the NFL is back for its 100th season. 

And whilst you may not be a follower, there are actually plenty of lessons you and your business can learn from one of the most team-centric sport played today. 

But what is it about American Football (and its many many rules) that provides interesting parallels with a small business? Let’s find out.  

Get the basics right

American football may look complicated, but there is actually quite a lot which is fairly simple. A team is comprised of two main parts, an offence and a defence.

For the offence it’s about running with, or catching the ball, from a long distance (with the hope of getting a touchdown or field goal). For the defence, the focus is on blocking, tackling and stopping the offence from driving forward and scoring. 

These are the basics that every team must get right if they want to succeed. A head coach can come up with genius tactics, but if the players aren’t doing these fundamental things right, it won’t matter much. 

Take out: The same can be said for your business. There’s not much point in coming up with grand strategies for your business if you aren’t getting the basics right. It’s often doing the less glamorous things well that can keep a business going. 

That might mean responding to emails, making phone calls, taking orders or buying in new stock. Nothing out of the ordinary, but all these day-to-day things are vital to get right.

Lead like a quarterback

Whether you're an NFL aficionado or have never seen the sport, we think there is a good chance you have heard of a quarterback.

In American sports films, this is often the position given most attention, and there is a good reason: it’s the most important one on the field.

The quarterback will throw, or pass the ball short, and from there, his teammate can either catch it or run with it, in the hope of getting a touchdown. Without a good quarterback (like a certain legend Tom Brady), a team is going to find it hard to be effective.

Take out: The same is true in business. If you are running your own business, and employing staff, you are leading them like a quarterback leads his team. 

You should be communicating the strategy and making sure people understand their roles to make the business effective in order to achieve your goal, the same way a quarterback tries to get his team to score a touchdown. 

Reading the opponent 

One thing American football is well known for is the incredible amount of preparation that goes into every training session, which is often dictated by who the next opponent is. It’s not uncommon for players to watch hours of footage studying their opponents in order for them to get a better idea of how they might play. 

Preparing for opponents, with a great playbook of tactics, is what separates the good from the great (think of last years Super Bowl winners the New England Patriots as a prime example). The best teams are the ones who anticipate and prepare for opponents, whilst at the same time, utilising their own strengths. 

Take out: This is the  approach that a business should take when thinking about how to match itself up against competitors. It’s important to always know what your rivals are doing so that you can respond in the right way, without losing sight of what makes you different from them.

You or someone in your business can monitor your competitors websites on a weekly basis. Or if your business is on the high street, look at what other businesses close to you are selling in their stores. We aren’t saying spy on them like 007, but an occasional gander could help you know what you’re up against. 

You don’t need to be perfect all the time

What makes American football interesting is the difference between the regular season and playoffs. In the regular season, games are played weekly, but when this finishes, the team with the best record doesn’t win a trophy. This comes through the playoffs, which eventually leads to the Superbowl between two teams. 

You don’t actually need to be brilliant in every game in order to win the Superbowl. Last season the New England Patriots won, despite losing a number of games in the regular season, but they did just enough to get to the playoffs.

Takeout: This is also true of a business. Not everything in a small business can run smoothly all the time. Sometimes there are setbacks and things can go wrong. This happens, it’s about how you respond to situations that determine how successful your business is going to be. Who knows, you might do things better having learnt from mistakes.

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