The first game of the NFL season (New Orleans Saints vs. Green Bay Packers) was played on September 8, and it was a high-scoring, highly entertaining, fan-friendly football extravaganza – the Packers won 42-34 after nearly 700 yards of passing, a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, and a goal line stand on the last play of the game.

Many sports pundits had wondered if the quality of play during the NFL season would suffer as a result of the nearly 6-month lockout that cancelled most of the NFL’s regular offseason training and team activities. The first game would indicate that the players are doing just fine, even without those extra days of practice.

Writing in Slate, sportswriter Stefan Fatsis made a simple but significant observation: the Packers and Saints players looked like they were having fun. Players having fun is rarely a priority in the NFL, which is often known as the “No Fun League” due to its strict rules, overbearing workaholic coaches, and general mood of rigid discipline and exacting professionalism.

The NFL preseason is especially tough, as Stefan Fatsis describes in his Slate article: players are constantly fearing for their jobs, which motivates them to try extra hard at every practice, which often leads to season-ending injuries before the season is even under way. There’s a reason the NFL calls its preseason “training camp:” it’s a lot closer to Army boot camp than it is to baseball’s carefree-sounding “spring training.”

But because of the NFL lockout, this year the teams did not have as many off-season workouts and practices as usual. Perhaps this caused a reduction in wear-and-tear on the players, and an increase in on-field fun?

Lessons for Small Business Owners

  • Are you having fun in your business? Sure, you need to make a profit, but is your company in danger of turning into the “No Fun League?” Are you making your work unnecessarily hard for yourself (and your employees)? As Stefan Fatsis writes in Slate, “coaches make NFL football more taxing on players than it needs to be, and more complicated than it needs to be.” Are you doing the same for your business? What’s your business’s equivalent of “offseason workouts?” Would your business really collapse if you took a vacation now and then?
  • Are you a “player’s coach” or a grim taskmaster with your employees? Many NFL coaches are making the game too much like work. One complaint from Nate Jackson, a former NFL player who writes about football for Slate, is that the coaches try to turn the players into robots. Nate Jackson has written of NFL coaches that “If they could control their players with a remote control, they would.” Even though these are world-class athletes with a ton of talent and individual initiative, the coaches tend to stress the importance of the team’s “game plan” and “system,” and try to get all the players to comply with a narrow idea of how the game should be played. Are you guilty of this kind of attitude toward your employees, or does your business make room for individual creativity? Are you able to get the most out of your employees by listening to their ideas, encouraging them to innovate and create, and helping them take ownership of their roles in the business, or are you limiting their results by trying to turn them into, well, “robots?”

It’s important to have a plan and create systems for your business. But some of the most successful small businesses know how to trust their team to make the big plays.