Go Where the Ball Will Be
When I was eight, I joined a soccer (football) team called the Purple Dragons. Not a great team, but I tried my best. Alright, truth. “Tried” is a strong word to describe my effort.
What was it like being on this team? Once a week after school, we had drills and strategy discussions. On weekends, we competed against the local teams, and our record was around one win and ten losses. I did not enjoy playing, but my parents felt it was suitable for exercise and sportsmanship. I suppose this is true, but all these years later, I cannot remember any life-building experiences.
Well, there was one little gem. In one of the games, I vividly recall the coach telling me to “Stop chasing the ball. Go where the ball will be!” “How?” “Guess where you think the players will kick the ball.” “Umm. OK.”
So… I wildly ran around trying to anticipate the other player’s strategy. There were three outcomes. The first was that my flailing attempts failed miserably. Second, the running left me tired. Third, the coach yelled at me more. So, I returned to chasing the ball and ignored the sage wisdom to go where I thought the ball would be.
The lesson my coach was attempting to teach was not to copy the other players. My goal (I made a sports pun) was to take control of the game. Of course, I did not put this together until I was in my mid-twenties.
It is tough to be the leader because they get all the blame when something fails. It is much easier to follow. For example, if pink jeans are popular, buy an armload. How about these new reality television shows? Try watching them all day long. Do you see how much money people are making on Enron stocks? Buy a thousand shares.
The big problem with following is that the result will be a generation behind. This means that a person must see what the leader is doing, copy their idea, and then produce it, which takes time. But what if a person is good at copying? Companies made millions in the ‘80s selling designer jeans. It was a simple formula. Put a stylish label on ordinary jeans, make a flashy commercial, and rake in the cash. The only skill involved was quickly copying the latest fad.
While some duplication models are successful, developing an incredible new gizmo is always more profitable. Sure, there are risks; not every wiz-bang invention will work or sell. The real takeaway is that the greater the risk, the greater the reward.
All these years later, I still think about what my coach said. I put effort into investigating news stories, asking questions, and making bold choices. This is my best attempt to go where the ball will be. Yes, life can be scary, but not as frightening as getting to the end of our lives and realizing we have been following the ball.

You’re the best -Bill
May 15, 2024
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