Live Life Like Non-Zero-Sum American Football

I always loved coaching American Football. These days I play and coach rugby but my real passion for coaching is American Football. There are several reasons for this, mostly relating to the enormous impact you can have as a good coach. For those that come from a more common sport in Europe, a big difference in the coaches impact comes from the decisions the coach can make during a game.

For example, in soccer, the coach prepares the team for their next opponent, picks the right players for the game day, and get to manage a total of three substitutions during the game. In comparison, an American football coach will do the same when it comes to preparation and picking the right players. But's that's where the similarities end.

Ingen alternativ text angiven för den här bilden

An American Football coach will switch any players approximately 100 times during a game. Switching between playing offense and defense traditionally means changeing every single player on the field for a whole new set of players. An american football coach also gets the same 100 times to decide on the very specific tactic to be used during that instance of play. Both offense and defence has special tactics that coaches on each side use similar to rock-paper-scissors combined with chess. A good tactical decision by one coach, executed well by the players, will beat a bad decision by the opposing coach (even if it is executed equally well by the players of his/her team).


During the preparation phase of coaching, most of the time is spent creating heuristics. When a player sees a certain behaviour, a decision needs to be made. The more the decision transitions and becomes a reflex, the better. Experienced players come with a host of well designed heuristics that makes them better than more physically able younger players in almost every single sport.

The problem with heuristics is that they are predictable. If you have the chance to watch your opponent play, you can learn how they react to certain situations and you will design your strategy to take advantage of that. You can even incorporate certain movements during the first half of the game, to get the opponent used to what you are doing, only to take advantage of that newly trained behaviour in the second half of the game. In my opinion, heuristic training, analysis  of opponents tendencies and adjustment in your training and tactics to account for the opponent is an ongoing feedback loop in the sporting world.

Ingen alternativ text angiven för den här bilden

What if this was not only true for sports, but also business?

Business is not a zero-sum game so our language should not be about opponents and winning in that sense. But what if there is a heuristic how our customers, competitiors and business strategists are behaving that we could take advantage of to create something more amazing? Maybe there are way better heuristics out there to be discovered, using post-game analysis of our selves and others working on tasks we want to be better in?

Especially in team sports, we always work on heuristics. It's obvious to the whole enterprise. But in my opinion, it's not true of the business world. I think we should emphasise good decision making and find the heuristics that makes good decisions over time.

A good start is by reflecting on it with colleagues and friends. But that is too easy, everyone does that. I'm thinking of going even further. How about recording your meetings - especially looking at your body language and speech. Sitting together with someone a little bit more skilled (a coach) that would look through the highlights of your behaviour and pin-point where they see you making a good move. Trying to put the heuristic to words, explaining to yourself what you are looking and listening for in every decision. Even running simple exercises to help to engrain those heuristics into your brain once you know what you want to do (this is similar to my thoughts on why you usually don't learn anything from workshops - and what to do to fix them).

You can't make deep analysis of a situation when a decisions on how to act is needed right away. The best example of this is in social situations - you have to be able to reply and make the conversation move forward with milliseconds of time. There is very little real decision making going on, it's trained heuristics making your actions reflexive.

Maybe we should treat life like a zero-sum game version of American football - making sure we fine tune our heuristics by post-game analysis and actual training.

Not only reading or listening.

Do I practice what I preach?

I do recordings of my live events to look back at my material and learn. I sometimes use coaches to look at my delivery, but probably not as often as I should. I do use my friends in the Dream Tribe to reflect on previous and future decisions, which has led to a clear improvement in my decision making skills.

If you don't have your own circle of supportive friends, I recommend that you pick up the book "Friend of a Friend..." by David Burkus and use the advice there to build your own group. Or apply to join me in the new Dream Tribe groups we are setting up by visiting dreamtribe.io

In any case - you can't be all you can be all alone. Coaches and supportive friends make all the difference.

Discover more

← Back to blog listing
🥳 Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Something went wrong while submitting the form. Please try again.