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In business, as in football, learning how to take a hit is part of the game

Decades ago, I coached football. Years before that, I played football. Sometimes I joke that I used to be a really good athlete about 30 pounds ago.

Football is a true contact sport. Hitting—physical contact—is a major part of the game. Hitting isn’t incidental to football; it’s the point. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the game, let me offer a simplistic explanation of the Canadian version.

Two teams of 12 players each, clad in body armour from head to toe, stand opposed on a field about 110 yards long by 65 yards wide. The team on offence, which has the football, tries to run or pass it down the field into the end zone. They get six points if the ball reaches the end zone—which is called a touchdown—one point for a convert of that touchdown or three points for a field goal. 

The team has three attempts, called downs, to move the ball 10 yards down the field in order to get another set of three downs so players can keep moving it. If they fail to move the ball 10 yards within their three downs, they can punt it to the opposition or turn it over to them at the place where they fell short.

Now here’s the contact part of the game. While the offensive team is attempting to move the ball down the field and into the end zone for a touchdown, the defenders are doing everything they can to tackle the player with the ball. The defending team aims to knock that person to the ground—and perhaps hit them hard enough that they fumble so they can get the ball and start their turn at offence.

Everyone who plays football knows that one of the main objectives is to tackle the player with the ball—to knock him or her to the ground. So whenever that person is tackled, they doesn’t get upset. It’s part of the game.

Years ago, my agency was vying for a large marketing contract. It looked like we were a shoe-in; it was ours. I was already working through in my mind how we were going to do a fabulous job. Then word came that we didn’t win the contract.

“What? You’ve got to be kidding me. You’re joking, right? This is a joke!”

It was no joke—we didn’t get the job. I was gutted. It was a huge body blow that left me really discouraged.

Then I thought about football…

Tackling is part of the game. What would we think of a player who, after getting tackled, stormed off the field because he was upset that someone knocked him down?

“Buddy, get real—getting hit is part of the game. If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”

Leadership, business, life—they’re all contact sports. We have to expect opposition. Circumstances, finances, fears, insecurities, bad decisions, failures, competitors and myriad other issues will oppose us. We’re going to get hit, sometimes really hard. When that happens, we can’t just lie down and sulk—it’s part of the game. 

We have to pick ourselves up, take a deep breath and rejoin the huddle with our teammates to call another play. Don’t get offended. Don’t get discouraged. Don’t give up. Get back on your feet and try to figure out what went wrong so you don’t do it again.

Leadership, and life, are contact sports. Getting knocked down is part of the game. So let’s get up, call a new play, and get back in the game.

David MacLean empowers CEOs, entrepreneurs and executives to dare greatly in his role as chair of The Executive Committee (TEC) Canada. David also writes and speaks on Wholehearted Leadership: inspiring, encouraging and equipping leaders to harness their most valuable asset—their HEART. You can reach him at david@wholeheartedleaders.com