September 5, 2011    /    by

Why Computer Geeks Need Sports

Where did you first learn what it means to out-hustle the competition? How did you develop that strong will to win? When was the first time you worked hard with teammates to accomplish a goal? For many readers, the answer is likely to be playing sports.

Where did you first learn what it means to out-hustle the competition? How did you develop that strong will to win? When was the first time you worked hard with teammates to accomplish a goal? For many readers, the answer is likely to be playing sports.

Or, if you were not an athlete, what brought your diverse high school or college student body and faculty together when so many forces pulled them apart? What often unites liberals and conservatives today in your city? That’s right, the answer is cheering for your favorite local baseball, football, basketball, hockey, soccer, or other sports team.

What got me thinking about this? It’s that time of year again.  Signs are popping up all over mid-Michigan proclaiming, “GO GREEN! GO WHITE!”

With Labor Day weekend comes:  Back to school for the kids, cooler temperatures, trees just starting to change colors, and another kickoff for college and pro football teams. But whether you’re a gridiron fan or not, technology managers and other technology professionals can learn plenty from what happens down on the field all across America.

Yes, geeks (or nerds or information technology professionals or whatever other label you want to use to describe your high-tech office career) have been challenged for years by inspiring words that come from what the British call “the pitch.”  Do these phrases sound familiar?

  • “When the going gets tough, the tough get going. “
  • “You can’t keep doing the same thing and expect a different result.”  
  • “You’re never as good as you look when you’re winning or as bad as you look when you’re losing. “
  • “We have to be able to handle prosperity or adversity.”

When was the first time you heard these popular slogans? For me, it was in high school and college football locker rooms.  No, I was never very good in college as a quarterback at Valparaiso University. Nevertheless, my first attentive audience came from a packed room of guys listening to me describe opposing offensive and defensive formations. As a scout-team lead, I built strategies to model and simulate opposing teams to help our starters become better prepared for various Saturday afternoon situations. That early experience was invaluable to my current role which is full of regular adjustments to government technology strategy.

Here are a few more “lessons learned” from sports:

  • “Hustle and heart, set us apart.”
  • “Never give up. The game isn’t over until the fat lady sings.”
  • “We’re better than this people! We’re better than this!”
  • “A team above all. Above all a team.” 

These exhortations came from our little league or high school coaches. True, sometimes the tone of our half-time lectures wasn’t uplifting and would probably offend many in office settings. And yet, I learned what it meant to really work through difficult circumstances. As my current colleagues know well, I still use many sports analogies at the office on a regular basis.

As a passionate fan, I remember the winning streaks and losing streaks. From the 1970 Baltimore Orioles to the 2010 Michigan State Spartans, sports demonstrated the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. I still watch and read transcripts from the pre and post game press conferences that talk about how pride comes before a fall, or how it hurts to lose a close game or get blown out.

There are also incredible sports stories that motivate me when I’m down. I ponder the words that great players like (NFL quarterback) Kurt Warner said at their retirement press conference. What did he remember most about his career? How did he achieve the results he did after stacking cans at the grocery store and being an NFL nobody? What was his mindset during the long hours of practice that paid off? Why is character so important in everyday relationships?

Or perhaps you’re burned out. You’ve made some major mistakes in your life, possibly including drug or alcohol addiction. You feel as if you’re at a career dead-end. You can’t find the right job. The story of Major League Baseball’s 2010 American League Most Valuable Player (MVP) Josh Hamilton is worth reading. I’m energized and motivated every time I hear it. We can all learn from these experiences.

Oftentimes, my “self-talk” from my sports days quietly preaches to me at work: “Don’t get too high.” –or- “You’re better than this, get back up!”

If you're at all like me, the concepts learned from sports instinctively pop in your head at key points in an important conversation. Whether a bad day at the office, or conversely after a successful presentation (big win) or even a promotion, we think about various sports experiences - the good, the bad and the ugly when both playing and watching favorite teams.

There are websites full of these sports quotes. But my experiences with sports are not unique. How many meetings have you attended that started with informal comments such as: “Did you see that game last night?” Without a doubt, offices are full of “Monday morning quarterbacks” who second-guess decisions made the day before on TV. 

 Or perhaps you’ve heard, “I need to leave a bit early today, my son has his first freshman high school game at 4 PM.” Situation like this offer a great opportunity to get to know colleagues and their families in new ways.

So embrace sports in your office. Wear the local team colors at the cookout before the “big game.” Find out what the pros and cons are to an “all-out blitz.” It may matter in relationships more than you realize.

Vince Lombardi once said: ”Football is like life, it requires perseverance, self-denial, hard work, sacrifice, dedication and respect for authority.”

Ruining a great quote, I’d add strategy, passion, give and take, teamwork, leadership, the element of surprise and a whole lot more. Yep, many of the same qualities that are required to succeed at work. And besides all these practical benefits, playing and watching sports is fun.  

I’m convinced. Computer geeks need sports. At least, this one does.