Man drawing a game strategyUsing Football to teach decision-making?

It sounds weird, sure. But almost every male teen in America watches football (and plenty of adults,) and it’s a good way to hold their interest while you introduce foreign concepts like calculating risks and benefits before you make a decision.

Here’s an example.  The “Instructor” can be a group facilitator, or patient educator.

Group exercise:

The instructor tells the group: “You’re the coach of an NFL team. There are two minutes left in the game. You have the ball, first down on your own twenty. You’re behind by seven points. You need a touchdown to tie and force overtime.”

(INSTRUCTOR: draw overhead view of football field on board, with your team starting on the twenty-yard line.)

No time outs left — you need to go eighty yards, score a TD. The clock’s ticking. Do you:

a) Try for the long bomb in hopes of getting most or all of it back in a chunk? or

b) Advance with short passes, keeping the drive alive with first downs?

Let’s do a simple risk/benefit analysis of each strategy:

Potential benefits of going for the long bomb? (Instructor: Make list on board of groups’ suggestions.)

Will invariably include:

a) Chance to get the score quickly

b) Don’t have to worry about the clock

And the potential risks associated with the long bomb?

a) You’re less likely to complete the pass

b) Easier to be intercepted

c) You could wind up turning the ball over in four downs

d) Score too quickly and the opponent might come back to beat you with a field goal (getting in field goal range is a lot easier than a TD).

Now the benefits associated with the short pass strategy:

a) Easier to complete the throw

b) Risk of interception is lower

C) First downs allow you to control the clock and keep the ball away from the opponent.

And the risks?

a) You might run out of time. It does become more difficult to complete the pass as you get closer to the goal line.

But on balance, the short pass strategy is safer, and most coaches will choose it. Doesn’t mean it always works, of course. Or that the long bomb never succeeds. Still, the shorter pass is the percentage play.

Of course, if you’ve only got fifty seconds, it’s bombs away. Even then, you realize the odds are against your success. But you’re out of options.

The high-percentage strategy takes more practice, more discipline, and more teamwork. Anybody can drop back and throw the bomb. It takes discipline and plenty of practice to execute a series of plays and manage the clock.”

That applies to life in general. Most of the time, the better strategy takes more discipline and patience. But it pays off.

Notice we didn’t consider which approach was more fun or more exciting, since that doesn’t affect the score. The point of the game is to win. You win by knowing the odds and trying to take advantage of them. Even if that means resisting emotional impulses.

Sounds obvious, right? Not to a 15 year old in a juvenile detention center because he stole a car to go joyriding, or got talked into breaking into a neighbor’s house to steal Oxys, or showed up at school with a .38 to threaten some other boy who made fun of him at lunch.

To that kid, it may be a revelation.


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