The Career Lesson Bill Belichick Learned After Being Rejected for a Job

The person who has to lead the fight against complacency, Belichick had learned, was the man at the top. Some three years into his career, after he had finished working at more or less entry-level positions in Baltimore and Detroit, he was at something of loose ends. The group he had been a pat of in Detroit had all been fired. His colleagues at both places had understood how talented he was, that he was a young coach with the rare ability to take film and turn it into a living profile of an opposing team, that he produced scouting reports of exceptional value. Because of his Ohio connections, Don Shula, then one of the two or three ranking coaches in the game, was a possibility. Shula, too, had come out of the Paul Brown alumni association, and Steve Belichick, if he had not actually played for Brown, was connected to him because Bill Edwards had once roomed with Brown and had been an assistant coach under him. The name Belichick would be known to Don Shula in Miami. So Bill Belichick had contacted Shula, explained what he thought he could bring to the job, and given his references, which were already glowing, especially for someone in his mid-twenties. Shula was gracious and listened carefully. Then he said, “I’m afraid you’re exactly what I don’t want. I don’t want someone like you doing film. I want my coaches to do it themselves. I don’t want them delegating responsibility to their assistants and distancing themselves from what is happening. I want them right on top of it.” With that Shula apologized, and there was no job offer–it was an interesting lesson; Belichick had been rejected for being able to do something important too well.

The Education of a Coach, page 27

Bill Belichick learned a valuable lesson after only three years of coaching. It seems unlikely that this would even be a thing, but he was rejected for a job because he was too good at something crucial to the game of football.

The temptation to specialize is real. We hear it from all over.

The temptation comes backed with enough logic that some fall prey to it.

Become an expert at one specific thing, and you’ll be very valuable to an organization.

In Belichick’s case, he thought being the best advanced scout would open up doors.

Instead, he faced rejection precisely because he had become so good at one thing.

Years later, Belichick had changed his stance.

“The less versatile you are, the better you have to be at what you do well.”

Bill Belichick

The Don Shula interview and many other experiences led him to understand the value of not just being a one-trick pony. Instead, Belichick looked to master every discipline of football. He’s known as a defensive mastermind, but his understanding of and innovation on the offensive side of the game is up there with some of the all-time greats.

Belichick didn’t stop with becoming a master scout.

He continued on and built a wide range of skills.

You should too.

No matter what you do, look to build a broad range of skills. Read widely. Understand things outside of your discipline. I bet you’ll start making connections you would have never expected.

You may never break down film in your life, but you can surely benefit from Belichick’s lesson learned.

The Infinite Game of Coaching

There’s a game within the game.

You may coach baseball, but you are not playing the game you think you’re playing.

You see, in the game of life, you’re either playing a finite or infinite game.

What is a Finite Game?

I learned about finite and infinite games from Simon Sinek, author of the upcoming book The Infinite Game, on a podcast he did with Cal Fussman

To paraphrase him, finite games have a beginning, middle, and end with agreed-upon rules. There are a winner and a loser.

The game of baseball is a finite game.

One team wins; the other team loses.

What is an Infinite Game?

An infinite game is vastly different.

Infinite games have no defined start and end.

There’s no winner and loser.

Business is an infinite game. So is your career.

You can’t win business. Just like nobody wins their career.

Infinite games require your own scorecard because there’s no defined set of rules. No agreed-upon terms to let you know when you’ve won (or lost).

Infinite games require a long-term mindset.

The good news? You get to decide which game you want to play.

Finite vs. Infinite Players

The choice is yours as to what kind of player you will be.

You get to choose which game you will play.

So what defines a finite player or an infinite player?

The finite player focuses on winning, being #1, beating their competition.

The infinite player will approach life differently. They keep an inner scorecard. Their concern is to become better than they were this morning and consistently upgrade their skills and understanding of the world.

Finite players play to beat the people around them. Infinite players play to be better than themselves.

The finite player gets caught up in the wins and losses of today, the promotions of next quarter.

The infinite player thinks 5, 10, x years down the road. They know where they’re going, but they don’t quite know how they’re going to get there.

The finite player gets caught up in what and how.

The infinite player starts with why.

The finite player will do anything for a win.

The infinite player cannot possibly lose.

Coaching: Finite or Infinite Game?

Coaching is interesting.

On game days, we and our teams take part in a finite game.

The National Anthem resounds through the stadium, the first pitch is thrown, and the game starts.

After a predetermined amount of time, the game ends with a winner and a loser.

Baseball is a finite game.

That’s okay.

But coaching, that’s different.

While the games are finite, coaching is best played as an infinite game.

The finite coach is over-concerned with wins and losses.

The infinite coach sees beyond the immediate external scoreboard and chooses to play a different game.

They want to win games, of course. But their true measure of success goes beyond wins and losses.

They’re concerned with impact. Player and personal development. Leaving people everywhere better than when they first met.

They’re not gunning for a promotion, sacrificing others upon the altar of their career.

They recognize that when it all ends, they won’t “win” their career.

They’ll simply be content with the impact they made and the men and women they helped along the way.

I want to be an infinite coach.

On Coaching Significance & Satisfaction

As young coaches, we aspire to make an impact. We want our work to be significant. 

Filled with zeal, we’re concerned with becoming the best. At first, it’s a noble pursuit. We want to become better than we were yesterday.

Then, something shifts.

We become concerned about others. Our kaizen approach to coaching disappears and we begin playing finite games.

We try to become #1. We play the game perpetuated by our hyper-driven culture and become okay with taking others down on our way to the top.

We crave external, superficial significance. Each promotion is another win for us.

We forget that in all finite games, our win is someone else’s loss.

Traditionally, baseball coaches have seen significance as wins, draft picks, and promotions. In today’s age, significance now includes social media followers and viral tweets.

All of this stuff is noise. A viral tweet has a resemblance of significance, but it’s as filling as Skittles after a deadlift workout. The sugar-high of social media significance makes us crave more, but more never provides the fulfillment that we are after.

But what if I told you that those things aren’t what makes a coach significant?

At its core, coaching is about helping other people.

You get to empower others to become better at what they do. As a result, you are rewarded with a deep sense of satisfaction.

You know that what you’re doing matters.

You’re playing an infinite game in a world full of finite players.

The way to satisfaction isn’t getting to the top of your field. There will always be another hill to climb.

It’s about maintaining an inner scorecard. It’s about playing the game you’ve decided to play. 

True impact comes through becoming a signal in a world full of noise. It’s about making complex things simple. It’s about helping men upgrade themselves on a daily basis.

It’s easy to contribute to the noise.

But becoming a coach of significance is reserved for the few who will choose to go deep, invest in relationships, and make an impact on the lives of others.

Which will you choose?