We all know Vince Lombardi as the Italian American football coach who took the Green Bay Packers to 5 NFL Championships in 7 years. (That picture is from one of his championship victories and is credited to the Washington Post). He’s revered as one of the greatest football coaches in history, and he’s also been credited as teaching the importance of learning the fundamentals before diving into the details. But to reiterate that here on this page would be the equivalent of copy-pasting from Wikipedia or his biography (that's lame. The copy-pasting, not his biography). So I’m going to take it one step further and tell you what Vince inadvertently did (that he perhaps never realized) which was the key to his victories and his team’s success.
Suit up. We’re starting at the 10 yard line.
This is a football
Vince Lombardi is famously known to have started off his coaching career with the Packers by teaching them everything as if they were “tabula rasa”. That's Latin for "blank slate", and the most entirely useless language I've ever had to learn (except for um...this moment when it came in handy). He covered every inch of the playbook, from the beginners basics to the specialty specifics. Now let’s take a look at why and how this method made his team number one so many times in a row.
What happens when we start with the fundamentals and work progressively up?
Well, since you asked...our minds process this cumulative input of information and they start to make sense of it. This is how we process information. So by starting from 1 and progressing to 10, our mind looks for and identifies the links between the information presented, and connects the sequence of events. This doesn’t have to be explicitly shown, but happens all the same. For example, this is the reason that stories are so well remembered. They follow a sequence of events: from an introduction, to the body that builds to a climax and finally brings us to closure in the conclusion. Now let’s take this back to the field and we’ll see how this one element (of beginning with fundamentals) can trigger 3 positive outcomes.
The first thing that happens: ...well it's too complicated to make it short and snappy so let me give you an example. Let's say a football player is taught to tie his shoes properly. He doesn’t need to be told how tightening each section of the laces on his shoes would properly support all the muscles in his foot and allow him to accelerate faster and more efficiently. He also doesn't need to be told that a solid and securely tied foot would lead to a better game played because ultimately your feet support your whole body weight. No. The learning happens automatically when the player realizes that they feel better while playing. Feel like they’re able to perform better. Feel in the zone.
The second thing that happens: The brain automatically makes the connection between the lesson and the outcome, and the sequence of events that brought it about. This is the power of the if-then ability. As players, this type of understanding would be deeply ingrained because the lesson would be immediately followed by supporting evidence for its effectiveness. This is the power of reinforcement. The sooner after the activity / lesson you are able to reinforce the outcome, the faster the lesson sticks. This happens because the brain is continually on the lookout to support or disprove any new information it is presented with.
And the third thing that happens: We begin to associate the person who initiated this powerful understanding in us, to be someone worth listening to. To a coach, that loyalty of conviction in a player's mind is invaluable.
All heart, muscle and grit behind the pigskin
Football is known as a contact sport. One where you find big guys (who can actually run) and who have a lot of heart. Although the quarterback is famously known to be the "brains" of the team, the sport is not known for breeding intellectuals. Until Vince broke that pattern. (And I doubt he even realized it).
Lombardi once famously said:
“ Every time a football player goes to ply his trade he's got to play from the ground up - from the soles of his feet right up to his head. Every inch of him has to play. Some guys play with their heads. That's O.K. You've got to be smart to be number one in any business. But more importantly, you've got to play with your heart, with every fiber of your body. If you're lucky enough to find a guy with a lot of head and a lot of heart, he's never going to come off the field second.”
What he probably didn’t realize, was the scientific truth in the words he spoke that day. That by starting off by saying “this is a football”, he was building a team of guys with “a lot of head and a lot of heart”. By igniting the power of sequential thinking via his "back to basics" teaching method, Vince built an army of football intellectuals who played with their head, and heart, and came up winners.
Ignite the power of sequential thinking by starting with the basics. @IdeasWithRaisa
So where does that leave us ? The non football players ?
It leaves us at square one: where we learn the basics of how to be freakin' awesome at life. So if we're going to be awesome and build an awesome life, (ie: one that's so awesome that we can be a braggy jerk about it), we have to learn the fundamentals of that area of our life we've chosen to be awesome at. To do that, we have to boil it down to the core. (PS: yeah I used awesome 4 times in that sentence. I'm not sorry. I'm also not sorry for using a PS in the middle of this post...in case you were wondering).
Below, I’ve boiled down the fundamentals of 4 random areas in life that you can choose to be awesome at. Take them, and run with it. You can only get better if you start from there.
Love: Pay attention. I don't mean “show up” or "be present". I vehemently despise woo-woo phrases like that, that do not give any clear concise point to take off from. You can show up, be present, and yet not give your undivided attention. That undivided attention is (at the core), how love is communicated.
Fitness: Be regular. Fitness is at the core, a hamster wheel. As long as it’s moving it’s there. It’s not a 1 month spinning class, or summer flag football team. The key to attaining the physical fitness you desire is at the most fundamental level, a game of attendance. The regularity counts more than the number of reps or the amount of weight your lift. Those will by default increase as your own level of fitness increases. All you have to do is be regular.
Entrepreneurship: Face the fear. Entrepreneurship is one area where you are constantly challenged. There is always growth, and with growth comes uncharted areas you’ve never faced before. Embrace the fundamental of facing one fear every time you work on your business.
Parenting: Acceptance and encouragement. It is not necessary for you to teach your child. They learn by observation, and trial and error. When a child knows they are accepted and encouraged, they will go forth and make sense of the world themselves, and you’ll raise a secure and confident child.
So, no matter where you decide to begin, start with the fundamentals. Because at the core, life is a football and that’s where the game truly begins. I really don't know what that means, but let's pretend it works so I can end this post. (And always be awesome. That too.)
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"How the mind works" by Steven Pinker
"Winning is a Habit" by Vince Lombardi