American football is a game of strategy and confidence tricks that would make a flimflam man rosy. Commanders, sandbaggers and their minions spend the autumn evenings in tenebrous war rooms where game plans are fiendishly devised to out maneuver the enemy in every possible way. From strategic advantage to tactical matchups no scenario is left untried. The sanctum sanctorum of coaching is the “film” room where weaknesses discovered are to be exploited and unheralded strengths found to be capitalized upon. The duty bound code of honor among the initiated coaching staff is to never bare false witness for the film never lies. Run it again. Great leaders watch both teams in the skirmish with the cool balance of Janus the Roman god of the doorway who has two faces looking in opposite directions – outside towards the unaccustomed and inside to where we dwell.
Breaking down the game film is hard not because it is difficult to understand what went right and wrong but rather because it shines a spotlight on our personal association to a failure or success. Maybe the marriage didn’t work because we fumbled the ball or perhaps we got that big promotion because we just happened to be the only one open at that particular moment. The not-so-instant replay clarifies the vagaries and reveals the hypocrisies we hold dearly as the heroic. A review places us in the middle of the field with lots of other players moving around trying to perform in their own positions.
Sadly, some use the film room to break themselves down or find fault with others. Flawless execution is a state of perfection that is never fully achieved and a tragic watermark for those who hold themselves to such misplaced aspirations. Conversely, imperious reactionaries drizzle driblets of complaint and ridicule until all near the fountainhead are soaked but offer little in the way of comforting shelter. Such criticisms are meant to injure or subjugate and have little value other than spreading misery from the personal to communal like a cloying pathogen. The film room is only for continuous learning and improvement and we must secure the door lest we invite recriminations from such naysayers.
Championship teams seldom start in the middle of standings where parity pulls the roster and expectations to the mean, the standard and the distribution of normality. Commodities are born from conformity. Winning seasons begin with an intolerable string of games lost until someone of compelling influence breaks ranks with a matter-of-fact view of the circumstances. They show the film, calculate the statistics and tally the score with dispassionate continence of a tax examiner. Coaches are fired, players are traded and rookies are called up early to show their quality. The old playbook is discarded and the new one installed as things go from bad to worse and beyond. The fans yell obscenities and the prognosticators see only dread and doom.
And then it happens. Someone scores and we have something to build on. We win one and get some momentum. We put together a respectable season but now must pass over the mediocre places where good enough prevails. We must remember our failures and accelerate them to find our genius and extend it with each new contest. This is how we learn to win.
Look back at the winning and losing seasons. Consider all the essential aspects of the game: health, family, relationships, happiness, career, money, learning, spirituality and the other key players. Review and revise and revise and revise:
- What worked? Why?
- What didn’t? Why?
- What adjustments need to be made?
- What simple rules or truths can be divined from this review?
- How can these be incorporated into future plans?
Tinker and tweak until something works simply and systematically, and develop the discipline to make this practice routine.
Reviewing what really works and doesn’t encourages us to consider how we may best use our abilities, tendencies and circumstances to our benefit. It allows us to clearly view our hopes, dreams and aspirations without the customary blind spots. The process of after action review may even embolden us to prepare for a few lucky breaks so when they inevitably arrive in their own good time we are capable of capitalizing on our good fortune.
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