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The #ExecutiveFunction Skills Expose on #AmericanFootball

 

The art of recovering from a football tackle on your way to get the ball might seem like no big feet through the lens of a camera. Just a guy getting himself off the ground. As sordid an example as american football may be when it comes to exemplifying executive function skills development, it is actually a great analogy and concrete illustrator of the exercise of such skills.

Character and a treasure trove of experience in this strategy-filled game does lead to executive function and hemispheric strengthening, especially if done in a planned way. The coach, OR LEAD ORCHESTRATOR, creates and teaches action sequences to his quarterbacks, running backs, linebackers, lineman, and so on. The coach is like a scientist experimenting with choreographed, orchestrated movements that are geared towards successful touchdown in a goal-directed manner. The players each must monitor, gauge, modulate, exercise self-control, use foresight (anticipate/ predict) according to the metrics practiced for their position. The coach creates a platform. On this tarmac the coach has different frameworks that he can jet off depending on the moment. 

During practice, everyone on the team works different parts that come together during actual scrimage. To be ready for game day, just like a general in Sun Tzu's, The Art of War, the coach and team prepare for multiple game fronts, conditions and scenarios so that on game day, the team as a whole can recover 'off the ground' quickly, and deal with momentary failure by being acquainted with the art of springing out of it. 

Hence, during practice sessions, the coach delegates other coaches and team to monitor, identify, regulate, modulate, focus, sustain attention, auto-correct, practice anticipating, and self-realize, how they can improve where they might have made mistakes, and how to deal with it better next time. Many football coaches replay recorded past games of the team and shows his or her team on where they were successful and where their where mistakes made. Then they go out to the field and practice it. Their is guidance, discussion, feedback and an emphasis on the growth mindset, which places slightly more emphasis on fine-tuning an effective process, rather than having the focus being the end results. 

It is great to win games, but it is far greater to put together a team that has a great process that leads to success. These are skills which are critical for personal and professional development.

Football players practice these skills in a repetitive fashion, during practice and game time. The quarterback has to exercise a keener sense of self-awareness which is an executive function skill, as well as a great degree of mental flexibility. Sometimes game plans are thwarted by the other team, or your own team makes mistakes. For example, the quarterback has to make decisions in the field while away from the coach. He usually handles the ball, and it is him that the players initially protect during actual game activity.  Lastly, the quarterback has to also habituate himself to a tremendous use of right hemispheric traits, such as seeing the 'big picture,' and making split-second decisions based on immediate opportunities to unleash the practiced strategies and game plan taught by the coach.

Football players habitually practice mistakes from last weekends game, learn new strategies, strengthen and practice past ones, and do so within a coordinated group environment with a central common goal...win games, win it all! But they focus on the process, the process, the process. 

The art of recovering from being tackled is an important analogy that can be extrapolated to a non-specific axiom: namely, your ability to recover, how you recover, and how you maximize recovery with the focus of getting back on track with your winning process is a smart tactic to know and be trained on. Successful football players are just like successful serial entrepreneurs in that sense; does failure signify a message for quitting all operations, or is it not that these two actors must try again, try a different strategy, and change some metrics that lead to short/ long term success? 

Not every venture is successful, and not every hike of the ball produces a touchdown for that team. The ball usually moves in staggered increments. Entrepreneurs usually fail a lot before having a winning idea that is effectively 'brought to market.' Habitually factoring in old and new information in a strategy-focused game involving over 20 football players is in itself strenuous exercise of executive function skills by which both coach and players benefit. 

The ability to focus on your player duties during live ball game play, as well as coordinate yourself to the actualities of the live moving ball and how you, your coach and teammates all practiced with sustained attention during practice time leads to a higher usage and exercise-toning of over two dozen executive function skills, including impulse control, or what is also called, response inhibition.

All said and without fail, it must be mentioned that helmet on helmet contact is being attributed to a significant rise in concussions that is correlated to the head bangs received while scrimmaging. Growing up I remember receiving the new team member initiation from the head jerk in the team and all initiates were basically head butted by this humongous 15 year-old guy. When you are hit this hard, even with a helmet. It gets to be 'too much' for the head; it rings, every sense feels 'soft' and 'muffled.'

My understanding of how american football integrates executive function skills stems from my experience playing the game from 8 to 17 years of age.  I was an all-star player throughout my kid-football 'career,' and was normally the leader in tackles each season. I played and was taught to play every position. It was a lot of fun. Looking back I noticed that what we mainly did in football was tolearn how to capitalize on mistakes, failures, and errors, as well as create multiple gameplans in order to win the strategic and tactical adavantages during the course of the game. 

In my family, my father, was a Rose Bowl player, and All-Star player in college, as well as in the U.S. Army.  My maternal cousins all where All-Star players themselves, with my uncle (their Dad) leading by being Head Coach to his sons across years of playing. For practice, I use to put in 2 hours a day, 6 days a week of hard work for about 4 months of the year. My first team at the age of 8 and 9 was the Parkville Steelers. We lost every game for two straight years (my entire time in that division).

Win or lose I look back and realize that children in sports like football, soccer, water polo, lacrosse, rugby, and many other strategy group sports, get a literal boost in brain power development due to the constant critical thinking that goes on on a constant basis. From this, I deduct and infer that:

1.Executive function skill (and hemispheric brain connectivity) can be 'naturally' developed in a cross-training fashion.

2.Emphasizing the auto-correcting of processes in the moment, and teach the use of adhering to daily metrics, rather than overly emphasizing the end result and possible rewards. 

3.Setting a pace and smart-sequencing a daily routine of action-steps using short term and long-term planning ahead methods is more valuable than having short or long-term success. The high-quality process of being effective and efficient IS the golden egg maker, it's not the other way around. This guides one and is pivotal for daily process success.

4.Having a professional, experienced coach like Executive Function Skills Coach Bill, MA around, even if by video chat, can help guide, correct, and streamline bumps in your 'roll-out'  of bullet point number one, two and three.

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