We've had time to regroup and get organized for another season – another chance for a championship. It's one of the more exciting times, because you've put pieces in place for another great year – like a piece of music that's never finished. It's also a sad time because it means saying goodbye to guys you have known and loved. A career in professional sports is a great lesson on impermanence because it's short lived even for the guys that get to stay around long enough to become legendary.
The offseason is also a time for reflection, for learning from your mistakes and making yourself better because of them. If you don't have an "offseason time," you should schedule one. It never hurts to self-reflect in today's age where technology super charges our daily lives. As we head into the 2015 season in a few short days, I am inspired to share with you:
1. Football has Power.
We are in the Bonding Business, we bridge differences, and we unite families and communities. The power of the NFL is in the emotional connection that we create with our fans. Last season, a couple drove five hours from their small town in Illinois to come to a Season Ticket Member lunch that we host every week. Not only did they come on a random Tuesday, they drove five hours in their car dressed in their full game day regalia (think: face paint, helmets, tassels, the whole nine yards). They spent two hours at our office and told us with tears in their eyes about how happy they were when we beat the Patriots in the AFC Championship game of 2006.
I am continually grateful to work for a brand that emotionally connects with our customer. There are plenty of other businesses that can say they have a great brand, but not many businesses can say that customers cry or scream when their product doesn't perform the way they want. As an example, think of Crest toothpaste. Is it a good toothpaste? Sure. Are you going to cry and scream if they change your favorite kind to a flavor you don't like? Probably not.
2. No man/woman is an island.
That is what you learn from being on a team. In our business this applies on and off the field. Human beings got where we are today because we relied on each other for help. There's nothing wrong with needing help, as much as our Puritan roots argue to the contrary. There is great strength in being able to ask for help and in knowing your limitations. The best players and coaches know their weaknesses, and how to mitigate them.
Alternatively: "The love that you take is equal to the love that you make". We practice this every day at our office. We ask our fans to invest their hard earned money and precious time into our games and our brand. Which is why we are happy to be a fierce advocate and supporter of our community. One of the things about Indianapolis that I am most proud of is the *how *in terms of the way we played host to the Super Bowl in 2012. We still hear from other owners and corporate partners about how dedicated, kind, and well informed Indy's army of volunteers were in hosting the Indianapolis Super Bowl. In fact, we had so many volunteers we had to turn many away. That's how dedicated people in Indy are to our sport. It's as our dad has always said: it's amazing what you can get done when no one gets the credit.
3. You have to have principles and/or a strategy in order to succeed.
However you define them, you have to have principles. Otherwise, what do you have to commit to in life? If you aren't sure about what you believe in you are more likely to base your principles on someone else's principles; which you means you will lack your own internal compass. Another scenario is being walked all over because you didn't have your principles in place. Both lead to poor decisions that result from a person or organization not taking the time to decide what their goals are, and what the guiding principles are to achieve that goal.
Every football team in this league is guided by principles, some of them are the same, and some are different. We don't always live up to our principles, but having them in the first place makes it that much easier to get back to your path. The more successful teams have principles that they believe in, and commit to, for the sake of one goal. The best principles in an organization are fostered by leaders that create a strategy in line with the organization's values. If you don't consider your organization's values you won't get the buy-in that's needed to be successful as a group.
4. You learn a lot more about yourself, and others, when you are losing.
This one is really important if you find yourself having to evaluate people. Unless you live on an island with Wilson the volleyball, you will have to evaluate others. I have learned from the game of football that the best time to evaluate someone is when things are NOT going well. It is in the times of loss and tribulation that we find out what we are made of, and who will get back up after being pushed to the ground.
A few summers ago I was out of town for a conference at a well-known university. During the conference I had the amazing opportunity to sit down with one of the coaches of a serious draft prospect that we were considering. I asked the coach what kind of coaching style this prospect responded to the best. Here's what he said, "If you want this guy to buy in with you, the worst mistake you can make is to overly congratulate him on a job well done. This guy doesn't like praise. Rather, he wants you to always be coaching him because he thinks that's your job."
Those that can lose with grace and poise – and are motivated by their mistakes to LEARN and become better – are the people that you want on your team.
5. Football is a game but then, so is life.
When you think about it, our business is built upon grown men throwing, kicking, and running a ball up and down a field for points. So, why is America so transfixed with watching these guys every weekend August through February?
As a child I watched how winning and losing affected my parents. We all know losing stinks, in any form, whether it's not getting that job that you really wanted, or you thought your boyfriend was the perfect person for you and they turn around and break up with you. The game of football is one huge metaphor for life, and we watch it because we can relate to it, all of us in our own way. Success may fade, but then, losing doesn't have to last either.
6. A crisis is an opportunity.
All the best coaches know this lesson well, and the great coaches are able to capitalize on this opportunity. It's one of the reasons comebacks are so exciting in our game. It's also a reminder that when all else fails: stay calm and remember who you are. Many of the things worth fighting for are won with hard work and perseverance. It is a glorious thing to be able to look into the eye of a storm and remain intrepid – to be comfortable with being UNCOMFORTABLE.
No matter how well you prepare for a game, there will be things that happen that you didn't expect. Maybe that's why everyone loves a good comeback. It's an inspiration that we hope to inculcate into our own lives.
7. Winning is ephemeral.
You will have it, lose it, cultivate it, nurture it and be forced to rebuild it over and over again. This sounds strange, but I think about some of our amazing wins the same way I think about some of the milestones and experiences I have had in my own life. It's almost like the birth of your child. You experience the anticipation before the child is born, the pain of getting them into this world, and the transformative thrill of meeting them for the first time. Obviously, birthing a child is more awe inspiring than a game, but there are similarities in the ambivalence of your emotions and wanting to freeze time so that you can drink every drop of that experience into your being. I think it's because winning a game means you have just witnessed a synergy of hundreds of individuals that in that moment become one with a goal, and achieve that goal together. Maybe I am a sap, but oh well ; ).
8. Great teams are a mix of art and science.
Often times the magic lies in the art of this game and how you build a team.
I grew up in the business of football. One of the more underrated areas of this business is the process of creating a team. Thousands of hours go into scouting, planning, and evaluating the individuals that will make up that team. The science part is the IQ, which are the numbers and the things we can measure about our athletes. Then there are the intangibles of these athletes, which is the EQ, or the emotional intelligence, that you get from social skills and having a feel for someone's potential and drive. You also have to know how they will fit with the group or team that is already in place. A good personnel department spots the IQ and EQ pieces, and applies them to the process of building a team. There was a time when some thought Ryan Leaf was the guy for us, and when you looked on paper one might agree. However, our organization saw something else in Peyton, and the rest is history. The art component of football is knowing when to trust your gut.
9. Respect Criticism in its Many Forms
This lesson is related to lesson No.1. Because football has the power to emotionally connect and bind us together we can also expect criticism. The same fan that is weeping with joy over an amazing comeback win is also likely to be very angry when we have a pitiful loss, or when you release his or her favorite player. Remember, both types of feelings mean they care, and that is what is so important. Our fans CARE, and we are so grateful for their investment in our team.
10. Never forget where you came from, or how you got here.
For our family it is about remembering and honoring our immigrant grandparents that came to this country with nothing but hope in their heart and the clothes on their backs. A lot of our players have a similar story told from a different point of view. The guys that excel and go into the Hall of Fame are the men that remember where they came from and honor their roots by helping others and giving back to the community. I think we all hope to leave this world a better place.