I enjoy having conversations with my brother about two of his main passions in life: basketball and League of Legends. I love seeing him light up when he explains the latest League of Legends news or breaks down a basketball play. He has incredible domain expertise since he has played at a relative high level in each. He started (1) on the varsity basketball team in High School in both his junior and senior years, and at his peak, he achieved Diamond I ranking (0.06% of players hold this rank at any one time) in League of Legends.

I noticed one day that both of these games are 5v5 team games, each with their own “meta-game” or simply “meta”. The meta for a game is a set of generally held beliefs or principles about how people “should” (2) play the game that on average produces the most desirable outcome. These principles coalesce into 5 specialized player “roles” in both basketball and League of Legends. Each role balances the others out, all working together to win the game. The particulars aren’t important right now, so to keep it simple let’s just call one player role a “Support Hero/Champion” or “Support”, and the others are “Carry Hero/Champion” or “Carry” roles. The terms “Support Hero/Champion” and “Carry Hero” are borrowed from Real Time Strategy games like previously mentioned League of Legends or DOTA where a player controls a single avatar, typically called a “Hero” or a “Champion” that can cast spells and attack enemies.


Carry players are the ones “carrying the team” and “putting the team on their back” (3). These players make the big plays that the layperson can appreciate. Their names are well-known because they are the ones taking shots and scoring; something that very visibly turns the tide of the game. In order for these Carry players to have the opportunity to be big stars by taking shots, someone else needs to NOT take shots: the Support player.

The Support player is in a constant battle to ESTABLISH and MAINTAIN the necessary conditions/environment for the Carry player to thrive. If for example, the Support player(s) in basketball are having a hard time getting the ball across half court (due to a full court press, etc), this does not allow for the Carry player to set up and move into a good scoring position. It doesn’t matter how good the Carry player is at scoring if they never have an opportunity to touch the ball.

Of course, the Support player is no slouch in their individual contributions to the team either. They can hold their own with their individual skills, because that is ultimately how each person operates and contributes to a team: as individuals. In addition to maintaining an environment where the Carry is free to exert and maximize their scoring skills, the Support players also try to find ways to make the Carry better, more effective, and effectively MULTIPLY their success. That’s how I see Support players: FORCE MULTIPLIERS.

I like multiplication, maybe because I’m a nerd who played too much Warcraft III and enjoyed using units that made others more effective with spells or passive “auras”. Let’s say for example if a Support player joins a basketball team, and they’re able to add just 10% armor poi-I mean, more points on the board (~10 points in an average NBA game) through just their presence on the court alone, without scoring themselves. They could do this by passing and cutting to the rim 10% more effectively than the average player so that the Carry players have better opportunities to score. That’s the difference between winning and losing MANY close games according to the average NBA margin of victory.


I have only recently identified this invisible thread that has been pervasive throughout my life: my affinity towards being a Support player. I’m choosing to acknowledge it and embrace it.

I started my Support player career in youth baseball. I was always in the outfield. The coaches claimed it was because I was bigger, so I had a better arm to throw from the outfield. Looking back on it, it was also because I wasn’t as quick or as coordinated with catching ground balls as the smaller kids who got to play in the action-packed, quick twitch infield (4). I believe this began my mental distinction between me and the “skilled” players in whatever sport I played.

A similar story played out in my youth basketball days, where my main job was being a “space eater” by making it harder for the other kids to drive to the basket. I think I scored maybe a dozen points in my entire organized basketball career.

Ever since I started playing organized football (6th grade - flag football) I always played Center on the Offensive Line. The Center is the person who “snaps”/“hikes” the football to the Quarterback (the most important Carry player on the team) to start every play. Probably the most thankless position on the Offensive Line (5). I only got recognition when I screwed up and snapped the ball over the Quarterback’s head, or there was a fumble on the “under center” exchange (6). But I was a leader. I didn’t verbally lead much. I didn’t get up in front and yell encouraging, motivating things. I was very unconfident and insecure with myself at the time, but I knew that at least I could lead by example by working as hard as possible.

Please don’t take my recounting of my non-starring roles on sports teams as me complaining about my lack of success in sports due to me being slow and uncoordinated. I feel quite the opposite.

I feel very grateful to be born into a great, loving, supportive, upper-middle class family and have a great set of talents to work with to earn starting spots as a Support player (7).

I am grateful for the time I spent playing team sports and the lessons I learned by playing the roles that my coaches guided me towards (8).

With that frame of reference in mind, speaking out of gratitude, I’m going to illustrate how I’ve seen this Carry/Support dynamic plays out in the professional world.


I have seen a similar meta of Support and Carry players that applies to the workplace. I am on the “build engineering” / “continuous integration” team. This team of Support Heroes is responsible for orchestrating the process of running the right combination and sequence of software on the right hardware at the right time. We establish and maintain an environment where our Carry players (developers) can test their code before they merge it with everyone else’s code so we have a high level of confidence that their changes don’t cause any major bugs in our app.

To use a different sports analogy, the developers are like the “skill players” on an NFL team. We have a star quarterback (a software architect), who directs where the receivers and running backs (feature developers) should run to catch the ball and score points for the team. Scoring points in this context is developers creating new features that makes customers want to buy the product. If the offensive line (build engineering) allows defenders to disrupt the play in the backfield and the quarterback gets sacked or the running back gets tackled for a loss (bugs in the automated build and test system), we no longer have an environment where our skill players can score points and win the game. I’m embracing the challenge of playing on the offensive line again.

It is solely the lineman’s responsibility for protecting the quarterback and skill players from defenders. If a defender gets through and sacks the quarterback, it is on the linemen alone. But when a score is achieved by the skill players, it is solely the skill players involved in a play that get credited with the yards gained and touchdowns scored in their personal stat line.

Most people “follow the ball” when watching sports. That’s where the most interesting action is: anticipating the opportunity to celebrate a score. The drama of a quarterback scrambling to avoid defenders to then precisely deliver a pass to a spot where only his receiver get grab it is exciting!. Or the thrill of the running back evading and escaping defenders on his way to the end zone. The skill players who run with the ball are the obvious choice for who the camera zooms in on when they score and celebrate a touchdown.

What the camera often overlooks is the offensive linemen who were left behind in the play (9) who established and maintained the conditions for the quarterback to deliver the perfect pass, or for the running back to make a cut to daylight.

I want to call out and celebrate the efforts of “linemen” of the world, the Support Heroes. They are the workplace’s unsung heroes and need their time in the sun because they as a unit tend to shy away from the spotlight and just want to do their job to the best of their ability without complaint for the good of the team.


There is a dark side to being a “Support Hero”. By virtue of the position, they do not get a lot of credit. They are susceptible to take on more than what is required of themselves without complaint because that is what they believe is going to make the team successful. To the point where they break.

What really caused me to notice and analyze this “Support Hero” pattern throughout my life was when my brother described a situation where he was taking on way too much work and feeling overwhelmed without letting anyone know. I knew exactly what he was talking about because I had experienced same situation not too long ago. It isn’t in his nor my nature to openly boast about our accomplishments nor complain about our workload, we just focus on the task at hand and get it done, no matter how long it takes.

While this is “noble”, it isn’t adaptive or even productive in a corporate environment where there is “always more work to do”. If we do not let others know how much work we are doing, we will continue to take more on. The ironic thing is that when we take too much on, our overall progress and productivity slows to a crawl due to trying to juggle so many responsibilities.


Support Heroes more often than not need someone to tell them when to stop working. They need help to define and focus on the most important priorities, and then delegate the tasks that don’t require their specialty out. The most important priority to me is not necessarily the most important priority to my manager, so frequent one on ones (at least once a week) “meeting of the minds” time is crucial to get on and stay on the same page. This is where I have come to realize the importance and value of a good manager.

Managers are much like coaches in the NFL. They need to define the overall strategy translate it to tactics executed by their players. They need to define what is and is not a player’s role on the team so they can work most effectively to contribute the most value to the team and ultimately, to the customer. (10)


Support Heroes are a force multiplier in a team environment (which is effectively ALL environments where other people are involved). Support Heroes are the stone that sharpens Abraham Lincoln’s axe when he says, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. The axe is the Carry Hero who does the thing that accomplishes the goal, but they can be even more effective with a Support Hero to help sharpen them.

Support Heroes are reliable.

Support Heroes will never let the team down.

Support Heroes make everyone else better.

Support Heroes don’t score the points, but they help win the game.


(1) If you watch the first three plays on my brother’s personal HIGHLIGHT video, they are ASSISTS. By his count, he has about the same number of personal makes vs. assists. These are THE FUNDAMENTALS being played at a high level.

(2) I have an issue with “should” because at first glance, I feel like it’s limiting creativity. But I realize that “creativity loves constraint”, so players can get creative within the meta itself. The meta is simply a framework or a common language that everyone understands to build off so that 5 complete strangers can play together in a cohesive manner.

(3) Like Greg Jennings. Or Marshawn Lynch.

(4) I was alright at baseball. I hit two home runs, but it was pretty boring most of the time in the outfield.

(5) I haven’t seen a major motion picture about a Center, yet. I’m looking at you, Michael Oher. But, interestingly enough, the OL as a position on average, gets paid in the NFL, third to only Pass Rushers and Quarterbacks. The cited article has an interesting explanation for those three positions in particular.

(6) Probably the strangely socially-acceptable aspect of the sport. I played the position for 7 years. Looking back at it if I were to try to explain to an basically anyone outside of the US, it would be awkward to say the least.

(7) I was one of the strongest guys on the high school football team and I ran a 6:10 mile in middle school track. Point is, I wasn’t a “late bloomer”, I was lucky to have some physical gifts that gave me an advantage early on.

(8) I did try out for running back freshman year of high school football. That lasted two days.

(9) There are occasions when linemen deliver superhuman performances and are able to run ahead of ball carrier (who, by the way, is supposed to be the fastest guy on the field) downfield to deliver critical blocks, but that’s generally the exception, and not the average case.

(10) I’ll probably expand on this more in a future post where I dive deep into one of the most effectively run organizations on the face of the planet: The New England Patriots, even though I’m an Atlanta Falcons fan.