In July 1961, Vince Lombardi stood before the Green Bay Packers football team on the first day of the summer training camp. He looked at the 38 athletes who only months before had come within minutes of winning the highest prize in football.
They weren’t slackers. They were among the best athletes in the NFL. The previous season had ended with defeat when the Packers squandered the lead in the fourth quarter. They’d lost the NFL Championship to the Philadelphia Eagles.
They were silent now, waiting for him to speak. What would Vince Lombardi tell them? Would he dissect the plays that had cost them the championship? Would he teach them a new play?
Would he offer new strategies?
How do you take athletes of their caliber to the next level? They waited in silence to hear a pep talk.
It never came.
Instead, Vince Lombardi lifted a pigskin in his right hand.
“Gentlemen,” he said, “this is a football.”
Didn’t he know who they were?
Didn’t he realize that they were among the cream of the crop in football?
Vince Lombardi ignored their failure. He also ignored their successes.
Those players wanted Vince to teach them how to write a bestseller. Oops…to win a championship. Instead, he started with the basics, things they’d learned as toddlers.
He started at the very beginning. Opened the playbook to the first page.
Max McGee, the Packers’ wide receiver joked, “Uhh, Coach, could you slow down a little bit? You’re going too fast for us.”
Lombardi smiled, but continued teaching the fundamentals of the game. Six months later, the Green Bay Packers beat the New York Giants 37-0 and won the NFL Championship.
From 1961 through a staggering career, Vince Lombardi earned the reputation as one of the greatest football coaches of all time. He never lost in the playoffs again. He won the NFL Championships seven years, three of them in a row. He never coached a team with a losing record.
Lombardi wasn’t the only coach obsessed with teaching and re-teaching fundamentals. John Wooden went back further than Vince. He taught his players how to put on their socks and tie their shoes.
It isn’t just sports where this idea of going back to the basics is a winning strategy. It has proven successful in a wide variety of fields.
Writers tend to focus on the need for one big break, while forgetting the hidden power of small choices, habits and repeated actions.
Without the fundamentals, the great plays are useless.
Stop waiting to be discovered, get a big break or find the right agent or acquisitions editor. Go back to the basics. Find a critique group that will force you to do just that. Attend writers’ conferences. Stir things up.
If you want your writing to soar to the top of the editorial pile, follow the advice of Vince Lombardi. Go back to the beginning.
Major on the minors. Master the fundamentals.
You’ll never squander your lead again.