How to Succeed in the Red Zone

The term “Red Zone” was coined by then Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs. Gibbs used the term to describe the heightened sense of urgency on both sides of the ball when the offense gets close to scoring. He called efficiency in the Red Zone an important part of that team’s success.

The topic came up at our house last weekend when my husband and I were having dinner on the little table on the back deck. Sitting next to the waterfall and surrounded by beautiful, tall trees this should be the prettiest spot on our property. But at the moment, it is littered with construction debris: a ladder, buckets, bricks, the step that should be attached to the deck and mounds of dirt that needs to be landscaped.

I made the comment that every construction project ends just before its complete. My husband said, “I have the same problem at work. The guys stop just before they completely finish a project. Do you know why?” I said, “Yes, because that’s the hardest part.”

The last 20 yards of a touchdown, the last 385 yards of a marathon, the last 5 pounds of a diet. These are Red Zones of life.

In 2012, the NFL team with the highest Red Zone scoring percentage was the Green Bay Packers. They scored a touch down after reaching the Red Zone 68.52% of the time. And in the last 3 games, they scored 81.82%.

Interestingly, not one team hit the 100% mark until the last game of the season. In the last game, 12 out of the 32 teams scored a TD every time they reached the Red Zone. Why were they so much more focused in the last game?

We probably all understand the answer. It’s exactly what Coach Joe Gibbs said, the heightened sense of urgency the players feel when the offense gets close to scoring — and in the case of the last game, it is their last chance. The last chance of the year, sometimes the last chance of careers.

I have searched high and low for what makes one team successful in the Red Zone and others not.

Some say the more often you reach the Red Zone, the better you will be there. For runners, this could mean the more you race the better racer you will become, and there is probably some truth to this. But there must also be something you do in the zone that makes you the victor over others that have also reached the zone.


The accomplishment of 64-year old Diana Nyad is simply magical. A 64-year old woman accomplishing a dream 35 years in the making. A 64-year old woman succeeding in an extreme endurance sport. Her mantra through all 53 hours of swimming was “Find a way”.

She talked about how some athletes in endurance sports stop because it hurts too much. “Even people with an iron will quit when it’s really tough,” she said.

Too often in life, sports and at work we allow ourselves to quit only because it is too hard. To finish that project requires someone to find a way to solve the last nagging problems instead of moving on to something new and exciting.

To finish a difficult race requires that we dig deep in our body and soul and find a way to summon more energy, drive and will.

I liked what Diana said when she finally walked up on the Florida beach.

“I got three messages,” an exhausted and happy Nyad told reporters. Her face was sunburned and swollen. “One is we should never, ever give up. Two is you never are too old to chase your dreams. Three is it looks like a solitary sport, but it’s a team,”

Three messages appropriate in life, business and in sports.

The most successful teams find a way to succeed in the Red Zone where others fail.

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