How playing high school Football in Nebraska, boosted my career in Sales!

What do a busy sales career working for large multinational companies, have in common with playing high school football in a small town in Nebraska? This all of a sudden became clear to me, when I started analyzing everything I did exactly 20 years ago. And what positive impact this has had on my professional career in sales and personal life.
My year in Nebraska was made possible by an organization called E.F. (Education First). An organization that facilitates foreign exchange high school years for students. I highly recommend them. They have been around for years and have lots of experience and a great network of schools and host families around the world. Check them out if you have kids that have a similar dream. It’s a safe choice.

Little did I know how much Nebraska would mean to me, when I boarded that flight from Amsterdam The Netherlands to Lincoln Nebraska back in 1998. I was about to live for a whole year in a small town community in the USA: Benedict, next to York in Nebraska, An area where Big Red and football are important cornerstones of society.
Coming from a mid size city in The Netherlands, I thought that this would be the best place to experience the true Midwest and play proper American style football. I got matched by E.F with a wonderful host family in Nebraska.
Looking back 20 years later, It was a great year with many ups but also some downs. It was tough at times, to live so far away from my family and friends. But the lessons learned as described below helped me through the year. The lessons appeared to be tremendously valuable and are still applied everyday, in my professional career and personal life.

1:   Discipline
One of the biggest adjustments I had to make while playing football in the USA, was getting accustomed to the high level of discipline in the football team. In the beginning I liked to argue with the coach. That didn’t go very well and did not last very long!
After running many PT exercises after training (PT = physical torture!), I asked the question to my “American Dad” why the coach was always angry with me? He explained to me, that when the coach asks you to jump, you don’t argue and will just do it or ask ” how high”? I guess that at age 17, I could really use some of that “Nebraska style” discipline and I learned a lot from it.
I learned that working hard and doing what you are being told, will lead to respect from your coach. Which will lead to more playing time and confidence, that you will get the job done. I started listening more and I got more playing time on the field, hence enjoyed playing football a lot more.
Interesting, but this works exactly the same way in sales. Be disciplined, listen, deliver results, work hard. And you will see that you will get more and more exposure to bigger deals. You will achieve more personal success.

2:   Winning as a team
In sales no one wins just by himself. You always win as a team and you only win together. This is very much applicable, when you are part of an American Football sports team. Every member has his unique set of tasks and responsibilities to serve the team. By working closely together, studying your playbook, discussing strategies and many hours of practice, you will grow as a team and overcome obstacles together.
In Sales, you will need your colleagues as team members just as much. Think of executive support, technical pre-sales, engineers, service delivery, project managers, finance, sales and customer support.
Playing football in Nebraska taught me the importance and power of a well-orchestrated team. It taught me that you must always keep on investing in building relationships with all departments.
I think that sales account managers are the quarterbacks of an organization. They are responsible for executing the strategy, but it is also their responsibility to keep a team together, build bridges and relationships across all departments.

3:   Self confidence
When you are the customer facing representative of a large company, you’d better be 100% self confident in who you are, what you are trying to sell and who you represent.
The people of Nebraska are extremely proud of their country, schools, traditions, religion, agriculture, outdoor life, family, friends and sports.
Before my year in Nebraska, I had never experienced anything quite like that before. It felt great being part of the strong small town community and I felt welcome from the start.
During that year, I managed to significantly improve my English language skills. After playing football in Nebraska, no one could intimidate me and I was not scared of anything.
The year in Nebraska and participating in the many activities at the local High School in Benedict, super-charged my self confidence to a whole new level.
I am very thankful for these experiences and benefit from them everyday: feeling strong and self confident in business and in private life.

4:   Perseverance and passion
Throughout your sales career, you will experience many ups and downs. You will lose deals, that you thought you would win for sure. You may feel desperate and defeated at times. But no matter what curve balls life will throw at you, you will succeed if you tough it out, keep pushing and stick to your strategy.
I learned this lesson the hard way it Nebraska. It wasn’t always nice. But I saw people working hard, believing in the common goal and working together as a team.
In Nebraska and small town communities like Benedict, people stand up for each other. They have each others backs. Working hard and being truly passionate about what you do and believe in, will ultimately always lead to one result: success!
Playing football, training in the heat of late-summer and cold Nebraska winters taught me just that. Be bold, be passionate, Believe in yourself, work hard, don’t quit and you will win and succeed in business and in life.
I would like to thank the people of Benedict Nebraska, for welcoming me in their community, during the Summer of 1998 until spring of 1999.
Special thanks to Benedict Public School’s students, my friends, coaches and teachers. And my host family that year. Thanks for being patient, your open-minded spirit, taking care of me, welcoming me in your family and for enabling me to reach my goals and have a fantastic year. I would like to thank my parents, for the opportunity and financial support to have this great experience and live abroad for one year.
I hope to visit my Nebraska friends and family again sometime soon, because it has been exactly 20 years ago!


Thank you Nebraska, the greatest State in the United States of America!

Gerrit Jan de Vries

I am a commercial expert in data center, interconnect and global connectivity. I write about sales, tech, investing and books that will help you grow and earn more money.

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