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What We Can Learn About Execution from the NFL

By Jillian Broaddus and Chuck Cusumano

When we think about preparation versus execution in sports, the ratio is somewhat obvious. The best athletes spend their entire lives – multiple hours of training, 7 days per week, for years on end – for one brief moment to shine in the Olympics. Professional teams spend nearly 365 days per year preparing to perform in a dozen or so games per season. Malcolm Gladwell even proposed that it took 10,000 hours of practice to master any one skill.

However, we want to share two other sports stats which delve deeper into the importance of execution, even during the game itself:

  • The average length of a full NFL game is about 3 hours and 12 minutes.

  • The average total minutes of action in any game is about 11 minutes.

This means, after the off-season practice, the summer two-a-days, and the daily drills, even during the actual game, the ball is only in play less than 6% of the time. There are over 3 hours of standing around, preparing for downs, and calling plays, and mere minutes of execution.

This may seem crazy, but can you imagine if plays were being run 20, 50, or 70% of the time? The players would be running ragged, unable to keep up, and fumbling left and right out of sheer exhaustion.

If you couldn’t already tell, there are parallels here to our own lives. Most of our days must be spent planning to ensure we can execute efficiently when the time comes. The majority of our minutes don’t need to be “action minutes.” It’s unrealistic and unhealthy, in the long run.

So, if you're feeling drained, remember this sports analogy: Are you allocating enough time to prepare the plays?

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