Sales Coaching Lessons from Working with NFL Coaches

Apr 8, 2015 | Sales/Sales Training

By Susan Foley, Vice President, Sales Training

iStock_000005298667_MediumIn Philadelphia, back in 1979, I needed to find a job in less than a week in order for my new mortgage to be approved. I hit every employment agency in town and I was sent to meet the Business Manager at the Philadelphia Eagles’ ([former] Veterans Stadium). I was overqualified for the position, but I needed the job. They hired me; I didn’t know what I was getting into.

[Background: pre Title IX and going to a parochial school for 12 years did not give me the exposure to team sports that I needed then and love so much now.]

So, there I was, handling phone calls (note: Mondays after a loss are not good days to be answering the phones!), completing OSHA reports, handling players’ insurance and helping the PR department. But what I was really hired for was to prepare the weekly game plans.

You’ve probably already realized the Head Coach at the time was Dick Vermeil.

Back then, computers were new and there were only six teams in the NFL utilizing this particular game planning system. Imagine a young woman, who was later repeatedly teased by another coach, Marion Campbell, for initially not really knowing what a down was, sitting in a dark room with all of the coaches, watching game film and breaking each play down into code. Later, I’d take those codes and enter them into the system, send them via phone to someplace in Canada, and patiently wait for the printout. Sometimes it came quickly, other times late in the evening. When you have a tightly wound head coach pacing at your back at 11 p.m. a couple of days before a big game, it can be a little stressful.

Not having had the opportunity to play team sports before, I didn’t value the process. I couldn’t figure out why it took so many coaches to get a team together to play a game. On TV all you see is a lot of grown men in headsets jumping, yelling and acting a little crazy on the sidelines. But sitting in that dark room with those geniuses (most of them went on to become head coaches of other teams), I started to see football not just as a game, but a complex puzzle of strategy, in addition to understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each player and opponent, to create the opportunities for each successful play that would end up winning the game. Who knew? Once I put it all together, I was able to see the plan in action in a way I never expected.

One day, in the room where I was entering the prior game breakdowns into the computer, Coach Billy Joe asked if he could share the room with me. He brought in a young new recruit who was clearly upset and anxious. I overheard as the player reluctantly expressed his fear of never being able to memorize the 3-inch book of plays that was sitting in front of him. I expected the coach to act like those sideline coaches I saw on TV and start giving him the Marine boot-camp version of an intimidating sergeant. But this coach did the complete opposite.

He outlined how much he respected this particular player’s talents, and then reminded him of plays he was watching recently when the player did well. He communicated to that player that he understood he was a natural player, and had learned the sport differently. And then he proceeded to work with that player on each play, not from the binder, but by playing his opponent. As they silently squatted, bumped, cut left and right, behind me, Coach Joe helped the player remember the plays in the way that the player was able to learn and memorize. That player, who shall remain nameless, went on for many years to lead a successful career in the NFL.

Each Coach I had the honor to work with continued to teach me about the value of teamwork. They taught me that there are individuals who are talented, but nothing is stronger than the team as a whole. When I decided to leave the Eagles in pursuit of my passion, I took away with me much more than season tickets and a prime parking spot. I had a true understanding of why the term “Coach” is so valued in sports. It’s like saying, “sir” or “Mr. President.” It’s a term of respect and affection from people who value their leader’s passion for the game, thrill of the win, and experience they bring and share with others to reach success.

As Vice President of Sales Training at Love & Company, I love working with senior living sales people to help them find and enhance their inner talents, strengthen their weaknesses and fine tune their gifts, so that collectively, they become an even more robust retirement community sales team. I like to refer to it as “coaching” rather than training. Hey, I learned from the best!

Post script: I’ll have you know by the end of the season I could call the plays before they finished lining up and I could identify a blitz in the blink of an eye. And Coach Campbell always kept me humble with his teasing! In 1980, the Eagles went to the Super Bowl. I still take credit for that, too.

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