31-0 At Halftime...
…How would you react? I suppose it would depend on whether your team was the one with 31 or the one with zero, wouldn’t it? In truth, how you react would depend on whether you are looking back—at the first half—or looking ahead at the half that remains to be played.
I thought about football as a metaphor for life…and for developing leaders…as I watched a most interesting football game over the New Year’s weekend. The Horned Frogs of Texas Christian University went into the locker room down by 31 points to Oregon’s Ducks, the Frogs having been thoroughly outplayed in every dimension of the game and unable to score a single point in 30 minutes of play.
What happened in the second half? Well, read on…but first let’s think through what might be going through your mind if you were a tackle or tailback, a safety or center on either team.
Looking Ahead from Failure
Imagine yourself, dirty, hot, covered with the sweat and mud of the battle, sitting on a bench in the locker room looking with honest eyes at your first half performance if you were a TCU player. Two reactions are easy to imagine:
You might be consumed by the pain of the experience. Since it’s football, there is likely to be some physical pain. But the mental and emotional pain would obliterate the physical. “Oregon destroyed us…in front of tens of thousands of our fans…and millions of people on national television who know nothing of TCU or what we have accomplished this year. My life as I know it is over…”
You might be defined by the experience: “I am slow. I am unskilled next to the players on the other side. I am outclassed. I am a loser. And all the nation now knows it.”
We could understand both reactions; indeed, many of us have been on that bench or in some equivalent situation and know the experience. But both reactions share this quality: they are focused on the past, not on the 30 minutes of football ahead. A coach who allows his players to be consumed in this way during halftime is not looking ahead. He will ensure the beating continues and the final score will be 62-0.
Looking Ahead from Success
Now, imagine yourself on the same locker room bench…still dirty, hot, and covered with the sweat and mud of the battle, but wearing an Oregon uniform. Two different reactions are easy to imagine:
You might be consumed by the glory. Though there is the pain of the game, none of it registers in your mind because of your euphoria over the results. “We destroyed those guys, and who would choose a Horned Frog as a mascot anyway? Now the nation knows the majesty of Oregon football. Finally, we will get the recognition we deserve from the national press who never stay awake long enough to watch games on the west coast!” [Writer’s note: sorry, my bitterness as a Pac-12 fan is showing…I’ll work on that.]
You might be defined and satisfied by your recent success. “We are dominant. We are so much faster than they are. We are top-tier players, the class of American college football. We are winners. And all the nation knows it.”
Again, these are understandable reactions but like the two above, are rooted in the past and not looking ahead. A coach who allows his players to be consumed with the glory of the first half is not preparing them for the possibilities of the 30 minutes remaining on the game clock.
What Happened Next
As you might imagine, there is an end to the story. TCU scored 31 unanswered points in the second half and beat Oregon 47-41 in a three-overtime thriller, matching a record for overcoming the largest point deficit in bowl history.
I was not present in either locker room and doubt either coach allowed their team to dwell on the first half failure or success. And, to be fair, Oregon lost their star quarterback and field leader to injury at the end of the first half.
But, one Oregon defensive player told a reporter after the game, “This whole year, especially on the defensive side, it’s been a struggle in the second half to finish games.” Might he (and perhaps his teammates) had a voice whispering in their ear…”you are defined by your failure to finish well”…the voice whispering louder and louder as TCU scored again and again in the second half?
Football As a Metaphor for Life
Football is just a game, of course. But like many sports, it can be a powerful metaphor for life. What does the horizon look like for you as you peer into 2016?
Are you consumed or defined by pain or failure from the past? Does that pain prevent you from looking ahead? You need not be shackled to the past. The best of mentors can help you face the New Year and new circumstances determined to be something other than you have been.
Are you smug and satisfied in your past success? Does the euphoria and pride in what is past prevent you from looking ahead for possible hidden shoals or unseen obstacles? Even a successful past can shackle us in unhealthy ways. The best of mentors can help you identify issues that might make the future different (like the loss of a star quarterback). He or she can help you face the New Year and new circumstances in a way that will allow you to continue to thrive, grow and flourish as a person in a future full of experiences and difficulties you have not yet faced.
Whatever your past, we at Leadership Design Group are here to help you thrive in the future. There is no time like January 2016 to get started. Let’s go…and grow…together as we look ahead into a flourishing future.