The battle is won before it is fought- Sun Tzou, Art of War
I love football and if you happen to follow Chad on twitter, you know he feels the same. Don’t like football? Bear with me, I promise it won’t stray too far from the point. (Or skip to the final paragraph, I know a lot of you will).
You have probably heard that the New England Patriots are back in the Super Bowl for the 9th time in 17 years. Their quarterback, Tom Brady, has won an unthinkable 5 SuperBowls and is poised to take a 6th. While there are many who cannot stomach another SuperBowl with Tom Brady and the Patriots in it, I love it. He is, perhaps, one of the greatest inspirations in sport.
You see, Tom Brady wasn’t always at the top. When he arrived at the University of Michigan, he was the 7th backup quarterback. He didn’t play a single game for the first two years of his college career. He thought about transferring and worked with a mental coach to help him cope with the frustration and anxiety caused by his lack of playing time. Brady eventually earned the role of starter in his junior year and promptly lead Michigan to two Bowl game victories (a weird college football equivalent of playoff victories) and won 20 of his 25 games during his two years playing.
When he was drafted into the NFL, he was picked in the 6th round - out of 7. Brady had to sit on the sideline as the backup quarterback for his first season. In his second, he was finally given a chance when the starter was injured. That season, Tom Brady and the Patriots won their first Super Bowl.
Fluke? They won it again two years later against Chad’s and my beloved Carolina Panthers. And then a third time a year later.
So how is it that such an incredible talent was so overlooked, kept on the sidelines; basically written off - until he reached the pinnacle of his sport by leading his team to a SuperBowl victory in his FIRST YEAR AS STARTING QUARTERBACK? It wasn’t talent. It was dedication, preparation, and the hard work that is mandated by those two attributes.
I recently came across a YouTube video titled Inside The Mind of Tom Brady. Of course I watched it. And then watched it again. And I would encourage you to watch it as well but if you can’t, here is the SparkNote version. Brady’s mental coach and Assistant Athletic Director from college, Greg Harden does most of the talking. He talks of a young, skinny, non-athletic looking Brady walking into his office and declaring that he wants the starting QB role at Michigan. “It went from there to me telling him I could not get him the starting job…There’s nothing I can do about that,” Greg laughs. “My job was to convince him that if he ever started a game at Michigan, that he has got to be prepared to be the best player on the team. And if he’s doing his job, to be the absolute best possible competitor on the field, then he will have a shot…In this world called football you’ll have a chance to be on the field. Will you be ready?”
Brady is not a talented athlete, compared to those around him in the NFL. But he is prepared. He works hard. There are no miracles, shortcuts, or easy options. And the media coverage doesn’t show the sacrifices, the sweat, the drive, the early mornings and the late nights that it takes to succeed. We only see the shining finished product and then proceed to lie to ourselves that if it doesn’t come as easy or feel as easy as our heroes make it look, we can’t do it.
As if the lesson of preparation needed to be further driven home, the next auto-played video was centered around the Patriots 2014 SuperBowl win against the Seattle Seahawks. For those of you who don’t remember, Seattle was poised to score a game winning touchdown with 1 yard to go and 26 seconds left in the game. Seattle QB Russel Wilson threw a quick pass to his receiver…only to have Patriot’s defensive player Malcolm Butler jump the route and miraculously intercept the ball, effectively sealing victory for the Patriots.
I remember watching with my jaw on the ground. It appeared to be a lucky play, a miracle, a fault of the offense rather than a triumph of the defense. But the YouTube video showed that this exact play, and the way to defend it, had been discussed and practiced in the week leading up to the game. Malcolm Butler’s miraculous interception was no fluke. “Games are won and lost in practice,” a Patriots coach declares. Hard work and preparation.
If you have skimmed this article to skip the football bits, just read this. The battle is won before it is fought. Tom Brady and the Patriots are successful because they have prepared before game day. This truth also applies to cycling. You CAN complete your goals, be they a century, a Gran Fondo, a race, as long as you are prepared. Is there 7,000 ft of climbing in your goal? What will prepare you to tackle it?
It’s not a question of ‘if’ you can do it, it becomes a question of how badly you want to do it and how much you are willing to prepare.