Are You Playing Offense or Defense?

Are you playing offense or defense?

Whatever you’re doing in life at any particular time, you’re either playing offense or defense. I remember hearing Gary Vaynerchuck use this sporting analogy when advising how to hire great people. Being a sports fan, this concept resonated with me – but you don’t necessarily need to be interested in sports to “get it”.

In this post you’ll learn advantages and disadvantages of each method. But before we determine which side of the field you’re playing on, it helps to get some clarity on what offense and defense means.

In the context of sports, offense is:

  1. The means or tactics used in attempting to score.
  2. The team in possession of the ball or puck, or those players whose primary duty is to attempt to score.
  3. Scoring ability or potential.

And defense is:

  1. The means or tactics used in trying to stop the opposition from scoring.
  2. The team or those players on the team attempting to stop the opposition from scoring.
  3. Defending ability or potential.

If you’re playing offense, you’re proactively looking to score. Conversely, if you’re playing defense, you’re reactively trying to stop the opposition from scoring.

The keywords in this analogy are proactive and reactive. Being offensive minded means that you’re proactively looking for opportunities. Being defensive minded means that you’re reactively responding to threats.

So let’s bring this back to everyday living. Below I’ve created a table with some examples of what offense and defense look like on a day-to-day basis:

Example 1 – Email

Defense – Responding to old un-actioned emails

Offense – Proactively sending emails with purpose looking for opportunities

Example 2 – Working with managers

Defense – Do exactly what your managers tells you

Offense – Proactively reaching out to your manager with a proposed plan about how things could be improved

Example 3 – Cleaning your house

Defense – Tidying your home when it gets messy

Offense – Blocking out chunks of time to aggressively eliminate things that you don’t need

Example 4 – Finding a job

Defense – Waiting to apply for jobs that get posted on careers websites

Offense – Reaching out to prospective employers directly regardless of whether they have a job opening or not

Example 5 – Research paper

Defense – Start your paper two days before the deadline

Offense – Prepare your outline in advance, get feedback from teacher early and look to go deep on your topic

Is it better to play offense or defense?


When looking at the examples, it’s clear that everyone must play defense for any chance to win.

We all need to respond to emails, execute requests from management and tidy our houses. Much like how a boxer must protect his face before he can get a chance to land a punch. Sometimes you might need a whole week setting up your defense. Maybe a year. But if all we do is play defense, we’ll always miss out on the opportunity to score.

Being offensive minded on the other hand means doing things that move the needle forward in your life. You’re essentially grabbing life with your own hands and making things happen as opposed to waiting for things to happen to you.

In this mode, you take the initiative to make things happen. At the same time, to much offense without any defense will mean that you’ll be extremely vulnerable and you’ll end up letting the everyday tasks and deadlines mount up to the point where it blows up in your face.

It’s important to recognise that both modes have their place and like any good athlete, you need to determine when it’s best to go on the offensive and when it’s more appropriate to hang back and protect your goal.

I know for me, I get caught up trying to play too much offense and subsequently burn out and let my defensive tasks mount. If I had a preference though, I’d always look to score 😉

What about you? Are you typically offensive minded or defensive minded?

2 comments… add one
  • Dan Erickson 22/03/2016

    I think we need a strategy that includes both offense and defense. I tend to play both. Right now I’m on offense as I do some home improvement projects.

    • Agreed! All the best with the home projects. One day I hope to get handy enough to do the same thing.

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