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Fun At Work: How The Chicago Bears Keep Their Players Engaged

The film rooms for the offensive and defensive lines of the Chicago Bears has a different feel to it this year. Every lineman who comes into the rooms knows there’s a possibility something great might be just around the corner.

I’m not talking about blocking for a long run or protecting on a great pass. That’s what offensive linemen do. It’s part of the job, usually done with little fanfare or credit. But in Chicago, there’s something special brewing under head coach Matt Nagy.

This year, Bears linemen know they might just score a game-winning touchdown.

Take Bradley Sowell for example. This past Sunday night, as the Bears were locked in a tense showdown with the Los Angeles Rams, Nagy called what might be one of the gutsiest goal line plays of the 2018 NFL season.

On third-and-one, with the Bears clinging to hope, Nagy called for a pass to Sowell, an offensive tackle. The points would go on to cement the Bears’ upset of the Rams and serve notice to the rest of the league that they aren’t just thinking playoffs—they’re thinking big.

Despite the playoff talk, the story of the game was Sowell’s touchdown and why not? There’s so much to love about the play:

  • The Bears practiced it all week, but the idea for calling the play came from the Bears’ second-year quarterback, Mitch Trubisky. He found Nagy on the sideline and told the coach it was the perfect opportunity to make the call.
  • Nagy sent in three defensive linemen as decoys, including defensive end Akeem Hicks, who lined up in the backfield next to Trubisky as a power running back. Hicks had scored a touchdown earlier this season from a similar alignment, but on this play, he was a decoy; Trubisky sold the hand-off, pulled it back, and tossed a high ball to Sowell in the end zone.
  • As for that high throw, it was Sowell’s idea. “I’m 6’ 7”, so I told Mitch to throw it high, where only I could get it,” he said after the game.
  • Sowell executed a flawless touchdown dance after his catch. The moves were choreographed by Sowell’s 6-year-old daughter during the week, after the big man had a sneaking suspicion he might score during the game.

As a former offensive lineman, I can tell you NONE of this is normal. Despite the number of innovative minds in the NFL, there’s a genuine tradition within the sport, an internal consistency to the game that holds true across the years.

Sure, salaries might balloon spread-offensive sets might creep in more and more, but the NFL is still a league built on certain truths.

Control the line of scrimmage. Run the ball. Stop the run. Give your best and most athletic players the chance to make plays.

It’s that last line that makes Nagy’s experiment in Chicago so interesting. A first-year coach, Nagy brought with him a reputation for being a creative offensive mind. The expectation was he would aid the development of his young quarterback, Trubisky, and help the Bears build toward respectability again.

Instead, Nagy has galvanized the Monsters of the Midway by serving notice to his players: Be Prepared. It’s a message Sowell has taken to heart.

“With Nagy, you never know. Just show up each week and you may be in there, ready to roll.”

It’s easy to assume that because NFL players are paid to play a game, they never get bored. It’s something we tell ourselves as we fight our way through yet another traffic jam, or face yet another meeting on internet protocols.

What we wouldn’t give, we think, for the chance to make money just by playing a child’s game.

The truth is the NFL is like any other job. Sure, there are the physical and mental demands that come with being a high-level athlete who must perform significant feats in front of millions every week, but there’s also endless meetings, not to mention repetitive tasks. The work it takes to stay in the league can be a grind.

That’s why Nagy’s wrinkle is so brilliant: he understands that the grind is what makes you great.

So why not make the grind fun? Why not think outside the box, stoke a little passion, get more people involved and engaged with the team’s mission? After all, it is just a game.

What about you? When is the last time you made things fun for the people on your team? When was the last time you ignited passion among your people by making the grind enjoyable?

I talk to companies all the time about creating “feel-it moments”, times when the mission of the team is directly connected to the work the team is doing and the people the team is serving. At no point in my talk do I ever tell people that they can’t have fun along the way.
In fact, I encourage it.

What would happen if you committed to bringing fun to work in 2019? You don’t have to build a teeter-totter in the lobby or swap out your conference room setup for an air hockey table (though that would be cool); you just have to channel the same creative spirit that Matt Nagy has tapped to get this year’s Bears team all-in on the mission.
Let the big man score. Think outside the box.

Who knows?

2019 might just be the best year you’ve ever had.

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About Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), longtime Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated, 11-time New York Times best-selling author, leadership expert and executive coach.

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