Football from Pixabay a CC 0 photo courtesy of Skitterphoto - editedIn Football, Chess, and Life: Know Yourself

I realize many of you don’t care about American Football, but bear with me. Strategy is a universal skill that you can learn from anything that you know well, and I understand the game.

It may be cliché now to hear about American Football being chess – but both coaches and players absolutely must execute complicated plans of attack and ‘think on their feet.’ Football is a melee chess. Many of the same principles applied in a chess match are applied in the game.

Both games share the same spirit of complexity and improvisation – it takes clever strategy and sound fundamentals to win on the football field just as with chess, plus the ability to make your opponent pay for his inevitable mistakes.

Much like chess, offensive and defensive strategies are employed to break down the opponents guard and reach the end zone. On Offense, you either break open the center, or you tie the opponent to it and flank attack. On Defense you either commit to a strong central rush, or misdirect that you are going to do so. On both Offense and Defense, and in Tactical Themes, you can concentrate on being either dependable, or explosive.

“It is a matter of the Direct and the Indirect; there are only these two possible tactics, but in combination their number is infinite.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Having the ball, being on the offensive, or controlling the initiative is just as important in both games. The offensive team can make more mistakes in general, and can plan and adapt more effectively. Offensive strategy in both games uses a combination of potential threats to break down an opponent’s ability to respond to the real one. And like chess, Great Offenses can be built around the mobility of a few key players, where Defenses are most effective as a comprehensive package.

In both games misdirection is crucial; teams and players alike must think ahead and come up with moves that threaten multiple targets at once, to penetrate the opponent’s guard. Sometimes you may have to sacrifice an important piece/player to gain an advantage.A fake hand-off to the running back will cause the defense to target the running back in order to free up time for a pass. There are also sneakier plays that are reminiscent of gambits such as a QB bootleg, lateral or ‘Hail Mary.’ These are risky but have huge payoffs.

Stringing together the right combinations can lead to exciting offensive displays, or alter the tide of battle in the case of a break-open defense, and these themes go beyond the field to teach us invaluable life lessons, if we pay attention.

Reaching the end zone

It’s also crucial to think on your feet on the football field. Just like chess the ability to respond to an opponent’s immediate stance is a skill that every master must understand. Peyton Manning is one quarterback famous for his ability to alter plays at the line of scrimmage.

How can we apply these tactics to our own lives? In business it’s important to have a fundamental tactical and thematic understanding of any undertaking.

“Man, Know Thyself.” – inscribed on the Temple of Delphi

Once you start to implement your plans you may run into roadblocks and opposition, and it is therefore critical to know yourself, your opponent, and to know the field you are playing on.

Finding the right strategic balance may involve sacrificing time, assets or personnel. Keeping stakeholders (or spouses) happy and staying within budget are all integral parts of achieving success. In that case, calling ‘an audible’ may be necessary, whether it’s an emergency meeting, budget cuts or a clever marketing strategy to divert negative attention.

Reviewing great offensive juggernauts like the ’84 Miami Dolphins or the ’07 New Orleans Saints gives plenty of insight into powerful offensive strategies, but so can looking at shut down defenses like the legendary Pittsburgh Steel Curtain. Like those legends of football, what are your own thematic strengths? Can you leverage them? How can the same methods of quick thinking, misdirection and sacrifice be applied to achieve success? Does the situation call for a Direct or Indirect strategy?

Think about who you are before the game, and the answers will come more easily in the heat of battle.


Credits: Special thanks to Adam Krieger for his contribution to the ideas and structure of this post.

image: Football from Pixabay a Creative Commons 0.0 photo courtesy of Skitterphoto – edited.

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