There once was a football player named Lagidorp who deeply loved his team’s playbook. He not only studied it diligently but encouraged his teammates to do the same. Lagidorp—or “Lag,” as he came to be called—was a running back, and his many duties included blocking and short receiving routes as well as carrying the ball. His first year with the team, Lag worked enthusiastically to fulfill his responsibilities. But during his second year, the difficulty of some aspects of his job began to get to him. While he loved carrying the ball, he found route running to be tiresome and blocking for the quarterback to be downright unpleasant. “Why should I be stuck with picking up defenders that get past our offensive line?” he thought to himself. “I’m a running back, not a blocker.” Soon Lag found that some of his teammates had misgivings of their own about the duties laid out for them in the playbook. And they would sometimes share their criticisms with one another. So Lag’s love for the playbook waned, as did his respect for Coach, who devised the playbook. Whereas earlier in his career Lag could trust Coach about the demands the playbook placed on him, now he found it very difficult to do so.
Eventually, Lag decided to ignore or de-emphasize some of the more demanding or “unreasonable” plays—those which required him to block for the quarterback. “This is just too ‘old school,'” he would say. “Today everyone should know that running backs shouldn’t have to block huge defensive lineman.” Predictably, however, Lag’s approach resulted in some quarterback sacks, including one that cost his team a game and another that injured the quarterback. Naturally, several teammates and assistant coaches chided Lag for his poor play. While he publicly acknowledged his mistakes, Lag privately resented their “arrogance” in correcting him.
As time went on, Lag found others outside the organization who shared his resentment toward his coaching staff, teammates, and especially Coach, for their unreasonable expectations. Lag would often consider ways the playbook could be improved and how, if he were Coach, he would do things very differently. By the end of his fourth year Lag had had enough, and he quit the team. The last straw came when several teammates confronted him about his refusal to “play by the book.” “You guys are part of the problem,” he told them. “If you want to blame me for thinking for myself, then so be it.”
So Lagidorp joined another team—a team in a different kind of league where players wrote their own playbooks. By some strange coincidence, though, all of the players’ playbooks ended up looking very much the same in this league—with very few responsibilities for helping teammates and where most plays emphasized “doing what comes naturally on the field.” However, while the players claimed to enjoy this freedom, they did not improve as players but deteriorated in their skills. Nor did they work well as teammates—if you could call them such—especially since they had no Coach.
There were also many more injuries in this alternative league. This did not bother Lag much at first, but as the casualties mounted, he began to recognize that something was wrong. Still he continued to play for his new team—until he had an injury of his own. In the middle of his second season on the new team, Lag blew out his knee. The injury called for reconstructive surgery, which meant a long rehabilitation. During this time away from the game, Lag reflected on the previous five years. He realized how foolish he had been in questioning his Coach and the playbook. He also saw how unfair he had been to his teammates who, for all their flaws, were really doing the right thing in admonishing him.
So as Lag did his rehab he resolved to return to his original team. He contacted one of his former teammates, who was thrilled to hear this. Eventually, Lag humbly approached Coach, apologizing for his irresponsible behavior and asking if he could try out for the team again. “I was very foolish in the way I behaved,” he said. “I’m ready to be a good teammate and play by the book. In fact, at this point, I think I’d rather be a water boy than play in that other league.” Coach forgave him, saying “We’d love to have you back on the team, assuming you really are ready to do all of the work. It’s too bad it took an injury to get you to see the light. But, in the end, you’ll probably be better for it.”
So Lagidorp tried out for his former team and made it back on the roster. This time he didn’t seek the limelight, but he played a crucial role on the team and was especially pleased to block for his quarterback. “Anything to help the team,” he would often say—and not just in public but even privately to himself.