Why You Need to Maintain an Offensive Mindset, in Business as Well as Lacrosse

Offense hasn't remained just a lacrosse position for this entrepreneur; it's become the lens through which he views the world.
Why You Need to Maintain an Offensive Mindset, in Business as Well as Lacrosse
Image credit: Tetra Images | Erik Isakson | Getty Images
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I'm so passionate about maintaining an offensive mindset that it's my number one rule for my own business; and I devote an entire chapter of my new book Stadium Status to the strategy behind it. That strategy involves what I call The Law of Sevens.

Related: Are You Playing Offense or Defense in Your Business?

This means that your audience members need at least seven different ways to connect the dots between your brand and what you do. They also need a minimum seven impressions or offers before they are moved to make a purchase decision or commit to the value proposition you offer. In sum, the Law of Sevens is about always being on offense.

My philosophy as a coach (and now as an executive coach) is that the best defense is a good offense. It's the ultimate differentiator because most teams and people spend way too much of their time on defense. Why would you want to be on the offensive all the time? Five reasons:

  • Being on offense is proactive; being on defense is reactive.
  • You're on your toes on offense, but on your heels on defense.
  • You dictate the pace of the game, whatever game that might be.
  • You create momentum.
  • You're attacking not defending.

Back in the day, as a college lacrosse player, I was an attackman, which meant strictly playing offense, as my position didn't cross midfield into the defensive zone. When I first started playing lacrosse in high school, I chose the position; it didn't choose me.

It was my preference (and not because you only had to run half the length of the field), because it was a proactive position. You attacked the goal; you didn't sit back and wait for things to happen "to you" or "against you."

When I went from player to coach, I took this philosophy to the extreme. I wanted our defensive players and even our goalie to approach their roles, too, with an offensive mindset. So, our defensemen and goalies practiced shooting drills every day with the offensive players. If a defenseman crossed midfield with the ball, I wanted him to put pressure on the other team, attack the goal and see what opportunities he could create.

I charted time of possession, because we wanted to dominate the time anyone had possession in every game. Later in my career, I even timed how long it took us to clear the ball and get it on offense -- the faster the better.

The mindset I tried to drive into my players was that the ball can only be one of three places: on the ground, in our sticks or buried in the back of our opponents' goal. Which meant that we didn't sit back on defense; we attacked. I wanted my defensemen to assume an offensive mindset. We didn't sit back and react; we took the game to them.

Trapping, double-teaming, applying constant pressure on and off ball: We dictated the tempo, and the opposition had only one choice: keep up or give up.

What's important here is that offense didn't remain just a lacrosse position for me; it became the lens through which I view the world. I try to live my life on offense rather than on defense. I'd rather be making something happen than waiting for something to happen.

Related: A Strong Balance of Confidence and Paranoia is the Best Offense

How can you make sure you're on offense all the time? 

By choosing it. You can choose how you want to approach any given situation: by being proactive or reactive. I coach my clients to be offensive. I'll ask them: Are you moving toward something positive, or are you moving away from something negative you're trying to avoid? (If you've ever hit a golf ball and tried to avoid the water hazard instead of focusing on the center of the green, you know what I'm talking about.) Offensive means attacking the green, defensive means avoiding the water. It's the difference between playing to win versus playing not to lose.

Teams and companies that take a defensive posture under pressure tend to play not to lose. A fascinating study by McGraw-Hill Research's Laboratory of Advertising Performance, analyzing 600 companies, 1980 to 1985, found that in that time period, companies that were aggressive recession advertisers enjoyed sales increases of 256 percent over those that didn't keep up their advertising.

Similarly: Research by University of Illinois professor Hayden Noel on companies during the '80s recession found that those that cut back on advertising suffered long-term losses, with some never recovering. Companies that maintained their advertising saw increases in revenue of between 20 percent and 80 percent during that same 1980-to-1985 span.

The reasoning is simple: Companies that got reactive (defensive) instead of proactive (offensive) suffered self-inflicted wounds. That's why I believe in offense.

I left coaching and started my business in 2008, during the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression. The speaking industry alone contracted by 50 percent, 2008 to 2009. What did I do? I made sure I stayed on offense and applied the Law of Sevens.

That meant that I maintained a media presence, brokering a deal to have a radio show in Boston. I realized it would be less expensive and more valuable to have my own show than to advertise in other platforms: I essentially had a 60-minute commercial on Sundays for four straight years.

The lesson here? Offense wins, regardless of conditions. When times are tough, you need to remind prospects about the value of doing business with you. If your competition stays on the offensive, and you don't, you'll lose. If your competition gets defensive and doesn't advertise, you can gain revenue and market share by staying on offense. Again . . . Either you control the process or it's going to control you.

Related: Robert Herjavec: Why You Should Never Play Defense in Business

Do you have at least seven ways for customers to connect the dots to you? If not, it's time to generate some offense.
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