Monday, August 13, 2007

Welcome to Sports Analogy Week

I'm a lifelong sports fan, and as a result can't help but connect sports to business. This drove my old colleague Roberta crazy. "Why do you keep using sports analogies?" she told me repeatedly. "Don't you realize some people don't care about sports?"

So, in honor of everyone else--those who do care about sports--a week of posts on how sports and business relate. (Roberta, I look forward to you tuning back in next Monday.)

For today, a remembrance of the late great Bill Walsh, coach of the San Francisco 49ers during their glory years. What always impressed me about his teams was how prepared they were for pressure situations. For example, being down and needing a touchdown to win in the last few minutes of the game (which played itself out in Super Bowl 23 against the Bengals).

Why did his teams execute so coolly in such pressurized moments? Because they had practiced precisely that scenario, many times before. It was just a matter of executing the plays they already knew, in the sequence they were ready for. The following is from the recent obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle:

"We didn't beat guys up," he said in an interview in Football Digest. He preferred to save the contact for the game and concentrate instead on preparing for every situation that might come up in a game.

"The format of practice and contingency planning -- those, to me, are the biggest contributions that I've made to the game," he said.

Before Walsh, I didn't view preparation in business very highly (wiser people than I did, of course). In fact, I liked exercising my improvisatory skills a lot. But in thinking about Walsh's teams, and how they performed, I learned that these were skills--preparing before meetings, considering contingencies and rehearsing how to respond--I very much needed to learn.

(Photo of Penn State football by bilim via stock.xchng)