Communication Lessons from First-Grade Football

Have you ever seen first-grade football? When they put those helmets on for the first time it is sort of like watching a bunch of bobblehead characters run up and down the field. 

And can I just say; God bless those coaches!! I’m not sure I could do it. Trying to move those boys through drills is like trying to nail jello to a tree. They tell the boys to move left and they move right. They tell the boys to go forward and they go backward. 

I watched for twenty minutes one practice when the coach was trying to get the players to run around a cone. It seemed simple enough, seemed clear enough, seemed like this is something all of them could have done. Yet, time and time again those boys ran on the inside of the cone. So many of them could not figure out how to run on the outside of the cone. 

Finally, one of the coaches stood on the inside of the cone and forced the boys to run to the outside by blocking their other option. After one pass through the line, none of the boys had a problem again. 

As I watched this exercise play out I was reminded of something one of my mentors told me: It is impossible to over communicate. 

The coach had said it clearly; the players all shook their heads in understanding, yet when it came time for execution they didn’t get it. This is especially true when the players (or the people) have never seen it done before. 

The more I thought about this the more I was intrigued by the truth in this experience. If you want to take people where they’ve never been, not only do you have to tell them (repeatedly), but you also have to show them.  You have to stand there with them, and remind them that this is why we are doing this thing. 

This is a great reminder for me because in my own head the vision of the event seems so clear, seems so simple, but that isn’t the case. Just because I understand the complexity of an event doesn’t mean anyone else does and assuming that they would is just a lazy way to lead. 

Maybe you are trying to get people to run on the outside of the cone, maybe you are trying to lead an organization of hundreds, one thing is clear: It is impossible to over communicate.