Blink and You’ll Miss It (and then Move On)

In sports, the outcome often hinges on who seizes and maximizes the rare and fleeting opportunities.  I’m personally acquainted with how this phenomena manifests in soccer – a tight match, or even one in which you’re being dominated in possession, can turn if you make the most of a single opportunity.  Unfortunately, or fortunately (if you’re into fun challenges), these moments are infrequent and can appear and disappear in the blink of an eye.  Knowing the potential of a single opportunity to change the course of a match, the temptation is often there to ‘force the issue’.  Let’s say you accurately recognize an opportunity (e.g., an open passing lane, a perfectly timed run, a mistake by the opposition).  In the simplest examination, you have two options:

  1. Act on it; or
  2. Don’t

Sounds simple enough.  Of course, the reason pro athletes make gobs of money is because it’s actually very hard to correctly act on opportunities when facing the best competition.  You can act on the opportunity, and maybe things work out and maybe they don’t.  But what if by the time things have ‘clicked’ in your mind the window of opportunity is already closing?  More often than not, even skilled players take the action they would’ve taken if the opportunity was still there, even though they intellectually know that it’s gone.  I see this, and have fallen prey to it myself, time and time again.  There’ve been countless post-games where, on the drive home, I’m thinking to myself “Argh, why did I try to thread that needle when I saw the lane closing?”  I believe the answer has several components:

  • Knowing that the upside to a converted opportunity is so huge, it’s just so tempting to still go for it
  • A compulsion that “because I recognized it, I have to act” (almost to prove that it was recognized in the first place)

In an odd way, trying and missing is almost like a highlight.

[a related topic is what I call “the home run ball”, in which rather than make the correct play, someone tries to make a low-potential, high-reward, spectacular play that would make the highlight reel]

Unfortunately, going after a closed opportunity is a terrible idea.  In most sports, it results in a turnover, and in many cases it presents a window of opportunity for the opposition.

It’s really hard to spot something that makes your eyes widen, have both the skill and the presence of mind to recognize that you’ve missed it, and the discipline to move on with a mundane (and correct) play.  But it’s the correct thing to do, and in the long-run it’ll lead to greater successes.

Sports parallel life in many ways, which is a major reason for their popularity.  Life presents us with opportunities, too.  And, as in sports, these opportunities are often fleeting.  Of course, with opportunities in life the ramifications are more serious (e.g., applying for your dream job, asking someone out, etc.), so it can be quite upsetting to miss them.  We can look to sports for some guidance, and in doing so we can make two important observations:

  1. Individual opportunities come and go, but…
  2. New opportunities will always turn up

In fact, again as in sports, we can implement certain actions to increase both their frequency and duration.

It’s tough, but letting a missed opportunity go is the correct tactic, and going after it when the window has truly closed is a fool’s errand.

In sports, we improve our performance through coaching, learning from our experiences, and exercising the discipline to trust that we are doing the right thing.

If we apply the same approach to life we won’t be living in the past; as a happy corollary, we’ll have much more energy to apply to recognizing and seizing opportunities when they do show up on the doorstep.

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Posted in Everything, Soccer

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