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The Story of Vince Lombardi

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Teamwork is essential to achieve excellence in nearly any endeavor. Even if you have a team made up of the most talented individuals, getting the team to perform consistently at a high level is extremely difficult. 

Vince Lombardi was the greatest of American football coaches. His team, the Green Bay Packers won the first two Super Bowls (American football’s equivalent of the World Cup), in 1967 and 1968, as well as numerous other championships. But Lombardi was more than just a football coach. His methods and approach to excellence have been used as much in sports as in business and government.  

So great was Lombardi’s influence that at one stage many supporters even wanted him to become the President of the United States. Unfortunately, Lombardi died of cancer, aged 57, in 1970.

Lombardi said that “People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses or the problems of modern society.”

Lombardi’s approach to coaching was based on five key pillars:

  1. Equal treatment for all.
    Every player was treated equally and given the same opportunities to demonstrate they could perform. One of his players, Dave Robinson, said “The important thing is everybody gets equal treatment” and Lombardi wrote, “If you’re black or white, you’re part of the family and we respect every man’s dignity.”
  2. Extremely hard work
    Lombardi made every player work extraordinarily hard. Lombardi said that “The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.” Lombardi’s training sessions were legendary in their difficulty. Journalist, Leonard Shecter, who once observed one of Lombardi’s training sessions wrote that they turned highly paid athletes into “groveling, gasping, sweat-soaked, … without breath enough left to complain.” When any player stopped to catch his breadth, Lombardi shouted, “‘Up!’, and they must leap to their feet, running, running, faster, higher.” No team worked as hard as Lombardi’s team.
  3. Discipline and enthusiasm
    The players had to follow “Lombardi Time”. This meant being at least 15 minutes early for any meeting. Players were fired for coming in late. Also, being early was not enough, players had to show enthusiasm for being committed. Don Chandler, one of Lombardi’s players said, “If you come ten minutes early they’ve started without you,” and “they make you feel like scum for holding them up.” Lombardi felt discipline, hard work and enthusiasm were much more valuable than talent.
  4. Back to Fundamentals
    Lombardi believed that it was the basics, the simple fundamentals, that needed to be mastered by players. He did not get into complicated or fancy tactics. At the start of every season, even the most experienced and highest-paid player had to once again practice the basics, over and over again. Writer Mark Tiderman says of Lombardi’s approach, “If you want to be successful, you have to remember the basics and make sure you are executing the fundamentals. You never graduate past the basics. Yes, you build on them, but you never move past them.”
  5. Deep caring for each other in a team
    Despite the unrelenting hard work, Lombardi cared deeply for each member of his team and he brought together individuals who shared this sense of caring for one another. Both on and off the field the team fought for one another. Lombardi said that “Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”

Lombardi always wanted his team to win, but it was the continuous striving to do better that was really behind Lombardi’s success. Lombardi’s first speech to his team, when he was made Head Coach of the Green Bay Packers, applies to all of us. Lombardi said, “We are going to relentlessly chase perfection. Knowing full well we will not catch it because nothing is perfect. But we are going to relentlessly chase it. Because in the process we will catch excellence. I’m not even remotely interested in being just good.”

© Kaikhushru Taraporevala

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