Last night during the Towson-Kent State college football game, Towson muffed a punt received from Kent State to close the first half and Kent State’s Andre Parker picked up the fumbled punt and took off…toward the wrong end zone.
This is odd for plenty of reasons.
(It’s funny to see Parker’s reaction when he realizes what he had done as he’s walking back to his sideline. Let’s get that one out of the way.)
When presented with unusual circumstances, it’s very easy to revert back to instinctual responses. It was unusual to see a muffed punt, but players are taught to go after loose balls that may or may not be live. Better to go after it and be told it didn’t matter than to assume it doesn’t matter when it actually does. Go after the ball no matter what, and that’s what Kent State did.
Towson also reverted back to instinct – when the other team has the ball, go tackle that player. However, what is also true is that if a player has the ball and is running toward his own end zone you should probably let him keep doing that because it’s entirely possible he will be tackled for a two-point safety. This isn’t something that is worked on in practice – how often does this actually occur? It also requires a split-second analysis of the situation and corresponding reaction, a mental state of concentration that those on the field were likely not considering. Anyway, it’s better to go tackle the guy with the ball and sort out the details later instead of taking time to think too hard about rules while the guy with the ball is potentially running for a touchdown.
But in the end? It didn’t matter at all! In college football, a muffed punt recovered by the kicking team cannot be returned (forward or backward) – it’s a dead ball at the spot it has been recovered. All that running for the opposite end zone by Parker went for naught – the Golden Flashes got the ball on the Towson 7 yard line, where it was first recovered by Parker.
It’s hard to break instinct when it comes to handling unusual activities – you do what you think works best based on your best guess and experience. So when it comes to optimizing processes and standardizing work, it is ideal to consider as many potential scenarios as possible. With standardizing processes and getting all process users to function in the same manner, you want to teach all users how to use the best practice known for completing the process with highest quality, productivity, and safety levels.
If you let users rely on instinct only, you will receive inconsistent results from inconsistently-followed processes. By analyzing all potential scenarios and training up to standards created for those scenarios, you can break the built-in instincts by showing everyone a better way of doing things.
Can you identify every scenario that could happen? Probably not, and it’s also probably not cost effective to fully try. Kent State and Towson probably did not practice returning muffed punts and making sure you’re facing the right direction – it’s such an unusual circumstance that the chances of it happening are far, far lower than it not occurring, and valuable practice time should be spent on scenarios most likely to happen.