Bill Walsh, Blogging, Coaching, NFL, Pete Carroll, Philosophy
Training camps have started and with the Hall of Fame game out of the way, preseason football starts in earnest in the coming week.
Dan and I have been podcasting roughly every other week for a while now, and this blog has been bubbling under since April , but if I don’t get it written soon then it won’t happen so embracing Andrew Brandt’s maxim that deadlines spur action, let’s talk a little bit about our plans for the upcoming season.
The idea for this blog post was hatched over a pub table as we started to make plans for the new season, and it is slightly scary that this was already nearly four months ago. I’m now heading into my fourth season of blogging about the NFL and I have always tried to find ways to improve as a writer and make the blog better. Dan was involved from the start through our pick competition and after a season and a half came to me with the idea of us doing a podcast, which I was very happy to do as long as it was his baby and so Dan became a podcast producer.
I like to take time off during the offseason to refresh, and so whilst still following the draft and free agency, I lay off the writing although if I can I’ll read some books about coaching/American Football. One of the books that left a lasting impression on me was Pete Carroll’s Win Forever – as it crystallised one of the things that I had come to believe about successful sports teams. I do not believe there is only one way to run an NFL franchise that can bring you success, but I do think it is important that there is a coherent approach, and it is surprising how often it feels like there isn’t one guiding a team. In his book Carroll lays out how he came to believe it is vitally important for a coach to set down his coaching philosophy so you can explain it and enact it, and he takes you through his and invites you to come up with one of your own.
I could never get mine down below the twenty-five word target, which given some of my posts on here and the fact that I write novels, perhaps should not be a surprise. But it did set me thinking.
So, whilst talking about our plans for the new season, how to balance the work involved with our day jobs and other hobbies, I thought we should try to flesh out the guiding philosophy of the site.
In the about page of the site, that was pretty much written when the site was setup back in 2014, I set out the goals as follows:
“This site shall be a place of reasoned arguments, opinions, and factual writing unless things go very wrong for the Bengals. There will be traditional film study and analytics, as both have things to offer the football fan, and it gives me the opportunity to be wholly wrong in more than one area.”
This has not changed in three seasons and whilst is still a reasonable place to start, the way that I write on this site as I’ve tried to improve what I do and make it more manageable with the rest of my life has definitely evolved.
So I took the notes I had used to try to craft a philosophy having read Carroll’s book and started to adapt them to the blog. I also asked Dan to make a list of his personal characteristics, which turned out to be not too dissimilar to mine:
Gee: competitive, obsessive, patient, engineer, drummer, writer, goal orientated, scientific approach
Dan: driven, competitive, persevering, improvement oriented, fanatical, organised.
It probably makes sense given our shared interests in football and music, our time spent together in bands, and the similarities in the above lists that during our time working together on the podcast there has been hard work, but never been any conflict. There has been plenty of constructive criticism, but nothing coming close to an argument.
Using the above lists I fleshed out the other notes I had been taking and having worked it through with Dan, I will now lay them out for you.
“In an infinite universe, all things are possible, but anything worth doing is too complex to guarantee success so all you can do is commit to the best possible process to optimise your outcome.”
It is not quite Bill Walsh’s book title, The Score Takes Care of Itself, but I love physics and I wanted to stress the universalness of the guiding philosophy.
Dan put in his list of characteristics improvement orientated, and I very much believe in practice and the idea that you improve through multiple incremental steps. This is something you will often hear mentioned by sports teams with a technical focus such as British cycling, but for me it is also born out of being an engineer and trying to take a scientific approach to things.
As an IT engineer, when you have a strange new problem to solve, you don’t just dive in and start randomly changing things. You have to do your research and then work through the problem systematically, changing one thing at a time so you can eliminate possibilities and identify the true source of the problem. I think this approach to diagnostics and problem solving can pretty much be applied to anything.
I also think it is important to focus on what you can control, i.e. the content and how you produce it. So we will focus on continuing to assess and improve what we do so the site does not stand still but keeps moving forward.
So if this is the guiding philosophy, how do we do this and what are we actually aiming for?
The aims are fairly straightforward:
- To entertain and inform
- We will not be afraid to be wrong or tackle big issues, but we will not lecture
- Endeavour to tell the whole story and embrace nuance.
Mostly these speak for themselves, but I will expand a little as these aims are born out of something I wanted to embrace about blogging. I have never set out to chase traffic, this site was setup to help me get better at writing by giving me a structured outlet to practice, but this also meant I was free to write how I wanted. You will probably have heard me talk about the hot take culture on the podcast, but in case you have not I dislike it intensely. There is nothing wrong with taking a position, in fact there is no point in endlessly hedging and saying nothing, but this should be a position you genuinely believe in rather than an a point made to artificially create an argument between two people or generate traffic. Life is infinitely complex, and this can be reflected in sport, and so should in my opinion be reflected in thoughtful commentary, which can still be fun!
It also doesn’t hurt to demonstrate that it is possible to disagree respectfully and to engage in thoughtful discussion rather than dismiss out of hand any point you disagree with. A cursory look round the internet might show how seldom this idea is observed these days.
Given these aims, what are the rules that we put in place to ensure this happens? Well in truth, given the way we work that comes down to two things:
- Produce the best content you can
- Own your role and trust in each other
Rule one works because we are both trying to improve what we do with a guiding philosophy born out of an existing approach rather than trying to apply an external idea we’ve borrowed and trying to make fit. Stated on its own, rule one is meaningless, but within the context of what I have laid out it is all that is required. Essentially it is a reminder.
Rule two was born out of necessity, but is also grounded in something I’ve come to believe through over twenty years of playing in bands. When Dan came to me about the podcast, I had to be practical as I was already watching games and writing a blog whilst leading a busy life and not wanting to be disowned by my partner. I wanted to try it, but I made sure to let Dan know that it had to be his project. He writes the notes and plans the pod, edits our separate recordings into a coherent conversation and sorts out distribution. We collaborate on news stories in terms of discussing stories, but he basically runs the show and does a great job.
The best bands I have been in have been based around everyone having an equal say, and using the best idea no matter whose it was. This only works if you take care of what you are meant to, and trust the others to do the same.
Circling back to football, it is also how a team has to operate as on every play, elven people are working together to carry out a set sequence of actions, which works best if everybody focuses on their own role and trust the others to do the same i.e. teamwork. The rule should speak for itself, but it is good to have the reminder.
So there you have it, the Tao of The Wrong Football.