You Play to Win the Game - Leadership Lessons Westside Toastmasters, in Santa Monica
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Know Your Opponent, but Don't Dwell on Him

My dad always said, 'Don't worry about the garbage in your neighbor's yard. Worry about the garbage in your own yard.' Obsessing with whom you're trying to beat, whom you're competing with, is easy to do, in football and in life, but it's counterproductive. If you focus so much on what that other guy is doing well, you fall into the trap of forgetting what you do well. All of a sudden you don't play to your strengths; the others have already nullified your strengths because you were so concerned with their strengths. So now you're playing to your weaknesses.

In my third season with the Philadelphia Eagles, back in the late 1970s, John Ralston, the former Stanford and Denver Broncos coach, was Dick Vermeil's advance scout. He'd go watch our next opponent play that week and come back and give us an idea of their weaknesses and strengths. One week he had scouted Houston, and he came back and told us, 'They've got this guy named Billy (White Shoes) Johnson. If we kick the ball to the left, do not chase him. He will not be coming back.' I still remember that and laugh. Obviously, we learned we shouldn't kick the ball to Billy, but it wasn't something we thought about every single minute.

We watched a lot of game tapes back in those days, just as we do now. But now, a computer analyzes all that for us. I had a projector at home, and I'd chart my opponent's tendencies in different formations. Sometimes the film was so bad you couldn't even see the number on a player's back. At practice, we'd have film sessions and the tape would break or the projector bulb would burn out and we'd sit around waiting for someone to fix it. I remember walking by the coaches' room and seeing tape strips hanging from the ceiling.

That's when I learned I couldn't worry too much about the team I was going up against (actually, I didn't have much of a choice, but I wasn't all that concerned).

Obsessing about an opponent, however, is an easy trap to fall into. I've seen it happen at a lot of NFL and college teams, where they work so hard on what the other guy is going to do that they forget to put in their own game plan.

Say you're in sales and your competition opens another avenue over here and you get so concerned with that little thing they've got that you lose sight of what you've already accomplished and what you're doing. You start concentrating so much on your competition that, you know what, what you have starts slipping. Before you know it, your strength becomes your weakness. This is not to say you should close your eyes to what that guy is doing. You always have to know, but you can't stay so focused on the other guys that you lose track of what it is you're doing. Don't be dominated by them. Always say, 'What are we doing to get better?'

I have a friend who is very good at her job at a public relations firm. She had all these top accounts and was taking the city by storm. And then her company went and hired a new employee to work in the same office. My friend panicked. She started wondering whether this new person was going to cut into her action. 'What if he starts going after my accounts? What if they ask him to do more than me? What if he's there just to push me out? How worried should I be about him?' When she called me one day, she started laying all this out to me, and I stopped her and asked, 'How much time do you think you've given to worrying about this guy?' She answered, 'Weeks. It's all I can think about. It's driving me insane. Every move he makes, I'm wondering why he's doing it, what's his motivation. Everything.'

I asked, 'Gotten any new accounts lately? Increased your communication with the ones you have? Done anything to strengthen your hold on what you've got?'

'Not much,' she said.

She had wasted so much energy thinking about what this new guy was doing that she had forgotten to pay attention to what she was doing. She had lost sight of what she had done to get herself to where she was. All she needed to know was that there was a new guy in the office and then go back to working on what had made her successful in the first place. You can't control what that new guy does; you can only control what you do. What he does isn't important. You know him, you know his name, you say hello in the office. You might even have coffee one day. But you can't make that new guy your focus. That will lead you straight into trouble.

I can't beat the Giants if I know only their game plan. I've got to work on my own.

You Play to Win the Game - Leadership Lessons Westside Toastmasters, in Santa Monica
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