You Have a Good One When you Forget you Have One

August 27th, 2022 Tom DiLiegro

The long snapper on a football team is a thankless, tedious, difficult, skilled, and overlooked position that is incredibly important for the success of the team as a whole. My son is a long snapper, a pretty good one. Despite my reservations about him playing football, I’m glad he did. There’s college money in it if you are good (take note, all of you with young boys)

I find him being a specialist incredibly ironic. Those who know me know that I am a critic of my industry. I’ve been to more than one industry conference where the benefits broker has been promoted as having a leading role in the strategy of an organization. Analogies mostly come from the sporting world with the benefits broker described as the “Quarterback/Head Coach/General Manager”.  I call BS on all of that. In many ways, a benefits broker has been a go-fer. One who fetches quotes from carriers and presents them to an interested HR manager or business owner. A far cry from what a head coach does for a football team.


The irony lies in that my comparison of what a broker does is more in line with that of an assistant special teams coach. One that is on the coaching staff, has a very specialized role, and often goes largely unnoticed unless something goes wrong during a game. After all, HR and benefits are important, but hardly could be classified as something that would make or break a healthy and successful company. 


Long snapping is a truly specialized position even in the context of “special teams”. The snapper is in the middle of a bunch of very large human beings who have the collective and singular goal of running through you to get to the kicker. You have to throw the ball in a perfect spiral from an upside down position to someone standing 15 yards behind you, targeting an area between his chest and thighs, shaded slightly to his kicking leg side, laces up, and the ball has to be delivered in under 1 second, ideally 0.6 to 0.7 seconds. 


Like most good long snappers, my son works at this tirelessly, regardless of weather or time of day. He said to me, “Dad, every time I go to practice, I learn something else I need to work on, a new technique, a new hitch to smooth out, or a motion that needs to be fixed.” After thinking  to myself, “This is definitely not my kid, and he needs to get a life”, I thought about work and the larger context of what we do. 


Like a long snapper, your benefits are working if no one notices them; when they simply just work. People only know the name of the long snapper when the ball goes over the kicker’s head or rolls back to the holder causing a missed field goal. The reason why those are rare is because the long snapper toils away in obscurity practicing his craft obsessively and constantly, while thinking about the next snap, partially with a constant fear that the next snap will result in disaster…productively paranoid, if you will. They practice and toil so much, partially to avoid the embarrassment it will cause them, but also for the drastic impact a bad snap can have on the entire team. 


I’ve met with many business owners and HR leaders who tell me that no employees join or leave an organization for the benefits. Benefits are “17th on my list” as I’ve been told. So with that being the case, a broker describing themselves as the head coach or general manager of your HR department, should reevaluate. 


A good advisor should be content to live in obscurity. All credit for a good, well-designed program should go to the decision maker at the employer, yet the advisor must be willing to accept and take blame and responsibility for things that don’t go well. They should be constantly on the lookout for threats to the company, to the plan, and to pitfalls employees could fall into when using programs that they put their names on. There should be no accolades because the expectation is for things to work, employees to be content, and organizational budgets to not be strained as a result of the benefit program. Those outcomes should be reward enough.


Coaches get hoisted on the players shoulders when things go well. Assistant to the special teams coach gets to go back to work on the next game.


Like a good long snapper, you know you have a good benefits broker, when you forget you have one at all.