6 Things NCAA Football 09 Taught Me About Life

Want to play video games and learn lessons you can apply elsewhere in life? Look no further than NCAA Football 09, in Dynasty Mode.

In Dynasty mode, you coach a college football program through multiple seasons and you can only improve your team long term by mastering the recruitment process.

NCAA Football 09 Dynasty Mode Recruitment Rules

The relevant rules for recruitment:

  • Recruit enough players to play each position, or you will have to choose a walk-on from your college class
  • You have 25 scholarships to hand out and 35 slots on your recruitment board
  • You have  10 “hours” a week to recruit (in real life, this takes about 3 minutes).
  • The computer will spend any leftover time recruiting players on your behalf
  • Players will rank aspects of each school based on how good they perceive it to be and how important it is to them. Their perceptions will affect how easy/hard it is to recruit that particular player.

Life Lessons – Goal Setting, Prioritizing, and Persistence

As I got better at NCAA Football 09, I’ve noticed that my strategy based on the various rules hold broader lessons for my life.

Lesson #1:  If you don’t go after what you want, you won’t get it. Spend your time chasing what you really want.

Example:  Automatic CPU Recruitment The first season I played, I didn’t want to do any recruiting.  I spent none of my 10 hours per week, the CPU automatically recruited for me.  At the end of the year I looked at my new players and what did I have? Garbage.  The players were terrible and the computer didn’t pay any attention to how the players would fare in my lineup down the road.

Real Life: Life happens to all of us sixty seconds at a time, whether we are ready for it or not. Make the most of your time, and make sure you choose how you spend it – going after what you desire, or you’ll just get the scraps that happen to fall your way.  I’m reminded of this quote:

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs (emphasis mine)

Lesson #2: Recruit and fill the roles you must with what you want, or they will be filled for you.

Example:  Walk Ons –  After I stopped letting the CPU control my recruitment, I recruited for everything but one particular position: center. I ignored it  and had a walk-on fill the gap. This turned out to be a disaster. While the average player on my team was a 65 or 70 (on a scale from 40-100), my walk-on was in the high 40s and useless. 

Real Life: I have always tried very hard to find jobs and companies that challenge me and that further my career.  If I hadn’t made a conscious decision to do this, I am sure I would have taken any job that came my way that paid the bills.  I also try to surround myself with friends who are intelligent, interested in fitness and health, and successful – if I don’t make a conscious effort to surround myself with quality people, I’ll just take whoever I can get.  Every day we can make a choice: do we fill our lives with what we want, or will we just accept whatever life provides us?

Lesson #3: Play to your strengths – know what you are good at, and where your advantage lies.

Example:  Recruiting Players: Their Priorities versus My Program – I noticed that some of the players I recruited were a better fit than others (e.g., my Athletic Facilities were Excellent, and it was their Most important criteria).  These player were an easy sale and generally ended up signing with me.  For other players, their athletic facilities interest might be “Average” – they were interested, but it wasn’t their top criteria, no matter how good my facilities were.  These were much tougher sells, and occasionally I could swing them, but it wasn’t easy.

Real Life: I’ve learned that I have an easier time achieving goals and getting things that are in line with my strengths. I experienced this firsthand when trying to get my first real job.  When I finished college, I wanted to develop software.  My strongest competency was Java development, but I was hungry to develop any software database work, software in other languages (C++, Python, Perl).  I was pretty good all around, but I had a hard time convincing managers to hire me – they always found someone that was better than me for that specific position, with the specific skills they wanted.  I finally landed a job at DirecTV, and developed other skills, but furthered my Java software development skills.  My next two jobs since then?  Both heavily Java based, and both relatively easy to get.

Lesson #4: Just because you can chase a large number of opportunities doesn’t mean you should.

Example:  Recruitment Board SlotsWhen I started recruiting, I noticed I had 35 slots.  I immediately filled all 35 with players I wanted and tried to recruit as many of them as I could. With only 10 hours a week, however, I was spending less than 20 minutes a week on each player.  I would later learn that realistically, it takes between 1 and 2 hours a week consistently to recruit a quality player.  Unable to spend a sufficient amount of time on any of the players, you can guess what happened – I often didn’t get most of them.  I had to prioritize, and as I’ve gotten better, I now typically only recruit about 8-10 quality players a year at any given time.

Real Life: We can do anything we want in life, but we can’t do everything we want all at once.  I used to have a large todo list – not anymore. Since implementing the system outlined in Getting Things Done, I now have a “Someday” bucket.  While I have many items on the backburner, at any given time I keep my commitments and priorities to the most essential – everything else, I let it slide.

Lesson #5: It won’t come easy, but if you set your mind to it, you can usually get what you truly desire.

Example:  Recruiting Poorly Matched, But Desired PlayersSometimes, all I want is a good quarterback – but there are no quality quarterbacks available that want to play for me. I learned that while I couldn’t recruit the one quarterback I wanted with just an hour every week, I could if I spent 2-3 hours a week.  One year I spent one third of my whole season’s recruiting time, every week, on a single player – a running back that was faster than anybody else.  My persistence paid off, and the last week of the season, he finally signed on.  He was the cornerstone of my team for the next four years.

Real Life: If you want it bad enough, sure you can have it – but you need to put in the effort- and perhaps make some sacrifices.  My freshmen year in college I was skinny and tired of it.  I am an ectomorph (translation: people with my body have difficulty gaining large amounts of muscle), but in spite of the disadvantage I started out with, I wanted to improve my physical appearance and bulk up.  I made my workouts a priority (including the days of final exams), ate lots of food, drank 6-8 glasses of chocolate milk a day and slept 8-10 hours a night consistently.   My commitment paid off, as I gained more muscle, about 40 lbs, in a shorter time frame than I ever have since.

Lesson #6: It ain’t over till it’s over.


Example:  Recruiting Players That Have Already “Committed” In NCAA 09, there are two types of commits – a soft commit and a hard commit.  A hard commit means the player has signed and there’s no turning back – he’s playing for your team.  A soft commit on the other hand signals that a player has made up his mind, and is about to commit to a team – but there’s still a chance they can change their mind.  Whenever a player has a soft commit to another team, if I really want them, I recruit them hard that week. If they stay as a soft commit, I keep hammering on them – and about half the time, I can swing them to a soft commit to me, and then a hard commit to me.

Real Life: It’s almost never really over, and a client/hiring manager/etc saying no is only a temporary setback – the equivalent a soft commit.  As an undergraduate in college, I wanted to run for student government. I inquired in September, but they told me elections are held at the end of each school year, in April/May, and to come back next year.  One day I noticed they had put a small sign in the window about special elections. I learned that because some senators had dropped out, I could run for office and complete their term. I won, entered the senate, and had the opportunity to serve a year longer than I would have if I had just thrown in the towel the first time they told me no.

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Life Lessons from Unusual Places

Some of the ways I often learn things is through books, my favorite blogs and of course my parents – the older I get, the smarter they are!  Just like this example though, I’m sure many of you have learned things in non-traditional areas, that have carried broader lessons in your life.

What video games do you enjoy?  Are there unusual ways/places/experiences that have shaped your life?  Or any life lessons you’ve learned from people in your life you’d like to share?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

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