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What It Takes to Be Number One
By Vince Lombardi VINCE LOMBARDI JR.
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Simple Truths
All right reserved.
It takes commitment for winning to be an all-the-time thing. It takes commitment to do things right all the time. Total commitment means 100 percent effort 100 percent of the time—no loafing, no idling, no standing around, no goofing off, no calling in sick.
When we make a commitment, in essence we're making a decision to do something. The Latin root for decision is "to cut away from," as an incision during surgery. So when we commit to something, what we're really doing is "cutting away" all other options, all other possibilities. When we commit to something, we cut away all the excuses, all the rationalizations.
Coach Lombardi confessed that it was hard to define commitment. He simply said, "It was all there was. There was nothing left." He just knew it when he saw it. Upon arriving in Green Bay, he felt that perhaps half the Packers players gave 100 percent most of the time. To win championships, he told them, it would take all of them giving 100 percent all the time.
Commitment—singleness of purpose—was the principal ingredient of the success of the Green Bay Packers, and no one was more committed to winning than Vince Lombardi. One of his Redskin players, Gerry Allen, said, "Everything about him is pushing toward a goal. He never stops, and he's going to have it. He's going to get it. I don't know who is going to be around to share it with him, but he's going to get it because he never lets up."
Leaders make commitment a clear priority, leaving no room for misunderstanding. When my father arrived in Green Bay, he found very few Pro Bowl–caliber players. There was one such player, a wide receiver with considerable talent. But when Coach Lombardi spoke with the player, he got strong signals that the player's commitment was limited and would not be affected by anything the coach said or did. Before that player ever stepped on the field, he was traded to another team. The message to the other Packers players was clear: if you are going to play for Vince Lombardi, you are going to do it at a high level of commitment.
Sometimes Coach Lombardi's level of commitment was breathtaking. Once, as the Packers were preparing for a championship game to be played the day after Christmas, an assistant coach asked my father for a few hours off to do some shopping. He growled, "Do you want to be Santa Claus or a football coach? You can't be both."
When you commit to being an assistant coach at the professional level, you make a decision and you "cut away" all other options and possibilities. Banning Santa Claus may be an extreme example, but this incident is consistent with Coach Lombardi's sense of commitment.
Discipline can mean different things to different people. To Lombardi, it meant hard work and sacrifice. Hard work isn't just the number of hours invested or the blisters and bruises incurred. Hard work is discipline, the kind of focused effort that develops self-control. Discipline, born of hard work, helps you make the difficult decisions. It helps you embrace the pain associated with change. It helps you stay on track in the face of stress, pressure, and fear.
Discipline is also sacrifice, giving up one thing for the sake of another. Achievement involves choices, and choices mean sacrifice. Despite what today's advertisements tell us, you can't have it all. If you decide to get to the office an hour earlier to get your paperwork done before the phone starts ringing, you must either sacrifice an hour of sleep or go to bed or get up an hour earlier (even if that means skipping your favorite late-night TV program).
Study the great performers in any field—music, theater, sports—and you will find that they all possess an enormous degree of discipline, a sense of duty. They have learned self-control, and they exercise it.
All too often, our culture celebrates success without any sweat. Our media tend to focus on people who achieve their goals in a seemingly effortless way—the "overnight success." There are no overnight successes! "No one who shuns the blows and the dust of battle wins a crown," said St. Basil. All those people we celebrate for their "effortless" success have actually put a lot of hard work and sacrifice into preparing for their moment of victory. They may make it look easy; they may even talk in a way that makes their achievement sound inevitable. But if you look and listen carefully, you will see, just below the surface, hard work and sacrifice.
A consistent theme for Coach Lombardi was "paying the price." He felt that achievement required the habits of commitment, mental toughness, passion, hard work, and the willingness to make sacrifices.
It stings and it hurts when you fall short of your goal. The Packers didn't win every game; nobody does. Sometimes you just want to crawl into a corner and lick your wounds. You don't want to think about work this weekend, and you certainly don't want to go to that Monday morning meeting with your VP or your manager. But that's the price you pay (hard work and sacrifice) to get into the arena.
I end most of my speeches with this quote. Coincidentally, so do most of my father's former players whenever they have an opportunity to speak. Independent of each other, we have concluded that this quote embodies a significant idea.
What was it in my father's background, his upbringing, that prompted such thoughts as those contained in "What It Takes to Be Number One"? He was the son of hardworking parents who instilled in him the habits of discipline and sacrifice. At fifteen, he enrolled at Cathedral Prep, a high school run by the Catholic diocese of Brooklyn for boys who hoped to enter the priesthood. Ultimately, he left Cathedral, feeling the priesthood was not his calling, but the church remained a central part of his life.
My father then attended Fordham University on a football scholarship. Fordham was an intense academic environment run by the intellectually rigorous Jesuit order of priests. The priests pushed him hard to think about the world and his place in it. The Jesuits believed that humans could perfect themselves through hard work and dedication to excellence. In the late forties and early fifties, my father was an assistant coach at the United States Military Academy at West Point, where duty, honor, and country were the codes of conduct.
I believe it was these three influences—the church, the Jesuits, and West Point—that formed the filter, the life philosophy, through which passed everything Vince Lombardi thought, said, and did. And it was this filter that caused my father to believe it wasn't enough to be a football coach. He saw himself more as a teacher, a "molder" of young men. He made his name in pro football, but I believe my father would have preferred to coach at the college level, where there were more opportunities for teaching and molding.
Coach Lombardi was very demanding of his players, assistants, family members, and everyone else who came into his orbit. He expected the most they could give and the best they could give. One thing he demanded above everything else was personal responsibility. Being responsible meant being answerable and accountable for your actions and meeting your obligations and duties without prodding from a superior. Around him, you wouldn't even consider dogging it or "mailing it in." That was simply unthinkable.
He held his players to a particularly high standard. They were all gifted athletes who had a responsibility to use their talents to the fullest. "I will try to make each of you the best football player you can possibly be," he told his players time and again. "I will try with every fiber in me, and I will try and try." This wasn't the passion of a coach trying to win football games. This was the philosophy of a teacher who felt that all of us have obligations we can't shirk or avoid.
Every so often, a player with talent who didn't have the habits would arrive at training camp. Everyone knew it was only a matter of time before Lombardi took the young player on as a personal challenge. My mother, Marie, described this molding process best:
"When Vin is challenged to try to make a great one out of a ball player, I can only feel sorry for the player. Vin is going to make a hole in his head and pour everything into it. When it starts, the player hasn't got any idea what he's in for, and he hasn't got a chance. He'll get hammered and hammered until he's what Vin wants him to be. You can't resist this thing. You can't fight it."
Excerpted from What It Takes to Be Number One by Vince Lombardi VINCE LOMBARDI JR. Copyright © 2012 by Simple Truths. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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