Zig Zag Theorem: The 3 Moves of Career Advancement

6/07/2022 by Mike Ammons, Ed.D

As long as I can remember I have been a fan of the National Football League (NFL), amazed about the grace, agility, speed, and power these athletes would display on the football field despite being covered with pounds of protective equipment. But there has always been one particular player that fascinated me, that is the position of running back. Thinking back to my earlier years as a youth playing football in the backyard with friends, whenever I had the ball firmly tucked under my arms like I saw on my television screen, I would envision that I was on a break-away run, heading for the victorious end zone just like my running back heroes, Earl Campbell, Tony Dorsett, and Billy Simms. Despite how great these players were during their prime, shortly after there appeared a running back who would totally change the paradigm of the characteristics of a dynamic running back, the great Barry Sanders who played for the Detroit Lions from 1994 to 2004. Watching Barry play was like watching a present-day Marvel movie where he would display superhuman prowess and agility on the gridiron.


The Lateral Move

In 9th grade algebra I was taught that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. As you navigate your career path, you may also think that this principle applies to you but as you may have already discovered, like many aspects of life, all things are not a straight-line journey. Reviewing the highlight reel for Barry Sanders I notice that he would often shuffle his feet from side to side in a stutter step fashion, throwing off the timing, aggression, and balance of the oncoming linebackers and safety’s from the opposing team, causing them to misjudge his distance and speed. On initial assessment it would appear as if these lateral movements are useless and wasteful and that he should focus on moving straight ahead to gain as many yards as possible. While from a practical and observational perspective this assessment may be true, however, when you have the vision, initiative, and mobility of Barry, you understand that a side step properly positions you for your next step - forward.


The Jump Step

If you love and enjoy football as much as I do then you will understand from a visual perspective and from what coaches may describe as best practices, that it is not ideal for an offensive player, particularly one who is carrying the ball, to run the opposite direction of the first down marker. The purpose of a designed play is for the running back to identify the gap, based on the blocking scheme, and hit the hole as fast as possible, ensuring that the maximum number of yards are gained with the potential of a first down or even a touchdown. For Barry Sanders it is different, I am not sure if he borrowed or invented it, but nonetheless he perfected the jump step where he would defy the basic fundamentals of physics by pausing midstep, shift his hips, readjust his footing, and easily escape a would-be tackler avoiding a negative play. Like Barry, there may be brief moments in your career where you have to employ the jump step, choosing to make a lateral move or accepting a job offer with a lower salary just to acquire the skills and experience you need to move you forward.


Hit the Crease

Watching Barry Sanders move gracefully on the football field making all of the other 11 players look like they have alligator arms, wearing cement shoes, and are stuck in quicksand, attempting to grasp any part of his jersey in a wasted attempt of a tackle, is a thing of kinesthetic beauty. To top it off, after avoiding countless number of initial tacklers, being able to see the gaps in the defense, he can hit the crease at full stride, stepping rhythmically easily down the field to score a touchdown. At some point in your career you will have a similar experience where everything will come together seamlessly, compensation, culture, and collaboration, enabling you to achieve your career goal. Like Barry, you will have the opportunity to display your talents with an organization that values you and fully compensates you for your contributions. So, I encourage you to hit the crease at full speed, go do meaningful and impactful work!