Words & Sports

What You Can Learn from Young Ezekiel Elliott Playing Special Teams

For Your Business

In both college football and the NFL, young players often start out on special teams before going on to positions like running back, wide receiver, or safety. It’s not that special teams are unimportant—they can and do decide games—but since these positions carry a higher risk of injury, the really valuable players don’t stay in them very long. Nobody associates special teams with stars.

But stars do play special teams.

Take Ezekiel Elliott, for example. Yes, even one of the best college football running backs of the past ten years and the number four pick in the 2016 NFL Draft started off by playing special teams.


Still don’t believe me? See this video: 

Elliot was recruited as a running back, but when he got to college, Ohio State already had a star running back. Elliot had to prove himself by doing something else—so he played special teams.

So what does playing special teams have to do with business? I am glad you asked.

In business, we see talented people come along thinking that they can jump immediately into working with the anchor clients, pulling in big deals, and achieving the success they know they deserve. And perhaps they do deserve it, but the rest of us, their supervisors, colleagues, and clients, don’t know that yet. Like Ezekiel Elliot, they have to prove themselves.

I knew an individual who wanted to take on the most elaborate estate planning cases imaginable right away. It’s great to have that burning desire, but none of us knew whether this person was up for the challenge. At first this individual tried to prove himself with the big deals. When it didn’t work it was recommended he get back to basics. That didn’t happen. As a result, this individual ended up moving on to take a position with less impact, less compensation and less upside—all because he was unwilling to play special teams.

What if this individual had proved themselves first by delivering on small clients, learning the business, helping those already involved in large estate planning cases whatever way possible? What if they just gave it their all to prove to everyone they belonged? At the very least, it would have been better than hearing no all the time.

Every business has things beginners do to pay their dues, either because the tasks are easier or lower risk, or sometimes just by tradition. But it’s the way to start out. It’s the way to make your name. It’s the way to build your strength and develop your abilities.

Sure, starting out slow and small can be humbling. Playing special teams for a while might not fit your view of yourself as a star—but it’s better than starting out as the number one running back on day one and not gaining a yard.

Now some people can play well from day one—some people do have that kind of talent, but most don’t. Even people who do have the skill usually have to prove it. Ezekiel Elliott did play on his first day in the NFL, but that’s because he had already proven himself back in Ohio State. He didn’t get to be treated like a star just because he thought he should be.

It’s okay to take a step back and prove your value in any way possible—in special teams, or even sitting on the sidelines waiting for a chance. When that chance comes, however small and insignificant it might seem, give it your best and show what you can do. A taste of humble pie can go a long way towards your success.


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Image of the Ezekiel Elliott interview was taken by WOSNsports under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License