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Prepare to Win

Author’s Note: Originally, I put this together as a power-point presentation for my son’s high school football team. The objective – tie in my 28 year Air Force fighter pilot background with some related/motivational football quotes. Looking at it now, I think there’s applicability for any individual, or organization, where leadership, teamwork and the pursuit of excellence are inherent.

My Air Force career was almost entirely based on "Fly, Fight and Win" … with the emphasis being on the word "Win". I remember walking into the flight brief for my first mission as a combat-ready, F-16 pilot and the flight lead had posted on the briefing board, "OBJECTIVE: KILL & SURVIVE". I quickly realized and became immersed in the seriousness and highly competitive nature of this business (think TOP GUN level competitive). While it was only a training mission, the focus was made clear – in air combat, losing is not an option and we train to win and win dominantly. It brought to mind the famous football quote commonly attributed to Vince Lombardi: "Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing." Taken at face value this quote has more applicability to combat operations, involving life and death situations, than football. The quote was actually first spoken in 1950 by UCLA football coach "Red" Sanders, who interestingly enough (and as if his emphasis on winning was not made clear enough already) later had this to say, speaking on his UCLA team’s rivalry with USC, "Beating USC is not a matter of life or death, it’s more important than that."

Some accounts of Vince Lombardi's version of the "Winning isn’t everything..." quote are more along the lines of "Winning isn’t everything; but the will to win is", which does seem more reasonable for football purposes. Another very famous football coach, Paul "Bear" Bryant seeing how players at his level all having the "will" took this even further saying: "It’s not the will to win that matters – everyone has that. It’s the WILL TO PREPARE TO WIN that matters", as individuals and as a team.

Throughout my Air Force career, I noticed that the most successful individuals and best leaders were those who were best prepared. They prepared mentally, physically and spiritually to not only do their job, but to excel in every aspect of their job and set the example for everyone else. This understanding and focus on being prepared provided the top performers/best leaders with an almost unshakeable foundation, enabling them to handle challenging and extremely stressful situations and succeed where other, less prepared individuals, were not so lucky.

Peyton Manning said, ” There were other players more talented, but no one out prepared me.” I cannot think of a better example. This preparedness doesn’t come easy. It requires great discipline and a commitment that ultimately optimizes any individual’s performance, separates the best leaders from the pack, and most importantly can elevate teams to greater heights.

This is not a new story, and certainly not only a football story. Over 2,000 years ago Sun Tzu emphasized that preparation for war was the key to victory and that by knowing your enemy and yourself you will not fail. Ultimately, through extensive preparation, the war can be “won before it’s fought.”

Taking this mindset to the football field, any organization, or highly competitive profession – know the adversary, know the challenge you are facing, and prepare to excel, prepare to lead, and prepare to win!


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