Five Leadership Lessons You Learn Playing Offensive Line Worth More than the Touchdowns You Won’t Be Scoring This Season
You may not get to score touchdowns, your name may not be called out for making tackles and you may even hang your head a little when you tell someone you’re “just” an offensive lineman, but there are lessons you are learning now which will last you and help you for the rest of your life.
Lesson #1: You are learning to take joy in the dirty work.
If you’re playing on the O-Line, you may have a rock solid core under a little play-doh, but you probably don’t have a six pack. As O-Linemen, we weren’t put on earth to look pretty, we were put here to make other people look pretty by doing the dirty work and then to take joy in their successes.
In a world full of people with big ideas, it’s the people who are willing to not only do the dirty work, but to learn to enjoy it who actually make those big ideas happen. And if you’re the one with the big ideas yourself, with every rep in the weight room and every snap of practice when you put forth your best effort while everyone else is complaining, you’re becoming someone who can do what’s necessary with the right attitude to make your dreams a reality.
Lesson #2: You are becoming keenly aware of how your decisions impact other people.
If a quarterback and running back miss a handoff exchange, your team could lose a fumble and maybe lose a game because of it. If you miss a block, one of your best friends could end up with a concussion or a broken body part.
One of the attributes which separates an average leader from a stellar one is how well they are able to understand the impact their decisions have on other people. What other sport and what other position can you think of where an athlete’s actions actually impact the lives of his teammates more than an offensive lineman?
Lesson #3: You are developing resiliency.
How many times have you completely taken your man out of the play with a great block only to have a running back cut the wrong way and be tackled by the guy you thought you’d just destroyed? And whose fault is it? If you’re an offensive lineman, it’s always your fault. No matter how well you execute your responsibility, your teammates will still screw up, and you’ll still get blamed. This is part of being an offensive lineman. And it sucks, but it’s also a very powerful, long-term leadership lesson that your glory hound teammates aren’t learning.
As an offensive linemen you are by definition a leader--you are at the very front of the offensive formation. Without the hole you create, there is no glory for any other position. The valuable lesson you’re learning is how to deal with other people’s opinions about you while simultaneously maintaining your willingness to give your best effort on the next play.
The best leaders are masters at resisting the temptation to reciprocate blame when someone first puts blame on them. Rather, they smile when being criticized, listen and learn from the situation, then put it behind them and do all they can to improve on the next play.
You will receive your credit, but only if you learn to do your best and not be stopped while constantly being blamed for things which you aren’t at fault.
Lesson #4: You are learning the ability to work for delayed gratification.
Offensive linemen do receive credit eventually, but it’s after the winning is done. It’s not in the weight room. It’s not on the practice field. It’s usually not even during the game. But when the game is over, when the season is done, and when your glory-hound teammates aren’t walking around with a limp in a decade, they will be very grateful for the effort you put in.
Leaders are faced with the same difficulties. While your backfield teammates are learning to do the best with what’s given to them, and blame you when it doesn’t work out, you are learning to do your personal best.
You must accept responsibility not just for your mistakes, but the mistakes other people blame on you while improving each step of the way. Doing the best with what someone else creates for you and blaming the creators is something employees do.
Entrepreneurs learn to work for “recognition at the end of the season” - exactly what you’re learning as an offensive linemen.
Lesson #5: You learn to listen well and react quickly.
Have you ever committed a false start? One of the loneliest feelings in the world is leaving your stance too quickly only to find yourself finally receiving the full attention of everyone in the stands while the ref twirls his hands like an old-fashioned lawn mower.
Your teammate may or may not give you a pat on the butt, a head nod, or say “good job” after you pancake a defensive end (who never saw the trap coming)... but you can count on feeling like everyone hates you when you jump the snap count.
So what do you have to learn to do?
You have to learn to listen. You have to listen to the snap count when the play comes in from the sideline. You have to listen in case there is an audible. And you have to respond to a sound faster than the defensive line and linebackers can react to a sight.
Learning to listen well while in constantly, changing, pressure-filled situations is a hallmark skill of a leader. And it’s one you are developing each day you play offensive line.
Although you may not receive much glory now for what you are doing, you must remember to form the habit of doing the best you can each day and don’t blame others--including coaches--for not seeing your immediate value. Instead, focus on listening, learning and improving and your rewards for playing offensive line will continue to pay off far longer than the last time you ever take off your cleats.