Any discussion about what it takes to transform boys into men should always include a consideration of the lessons used by great coaches to train boys and young men on how to be winners. Although I am not an avid fan of professional sports, I am a fan of the late Vince Lombardi who some claim was the greatest football coach of all time. Before I talk about what Lombardi himself called “Lombardi Time,” I want to give you a brief summary of his life as a coach.
Shortly after playing college football at Fordham University from 1933 to 1937, Lombardi accepted his first coaching position at St. Cecilia Catholic High School in Engelwood, New Jersey. He served as assistant football coach for 3 years and as head coach for 5 years. He then accepted an assistant coaching position (as offensive line coach) at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. After coaching for 5 seasons at West Point, he accepted an assistant coaching position (as offensive coordinator) with the National Football League’s (NFL’s) New York Giants.
In 1959, at the age of 45, Lombardi resigned his position with the New York Giants and accepted the position of head coach and general manager of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers. When he started with the Packers, the team had just completed the worst season in its history (losing 10 of 12 games, with only one win and one tie). In Lombardi’s first season with the Packers, he turned the team around and was named Coach of the Year after finishing with 7 wins and 5 loses. During the nine years he was head coach of the Green Bay Packers, Lombardi won five league championships. He also won the first two super bowls: Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II (1967 and 1968).
After a battle with colon cancer, Vince Lombardi died on September 3, 1970. He was 57 years old at the time of his death. During his lifetime, Lombardi was a devout Catholic who once said that he derived his strength from daily Mass and Holy Communion. It was reported that during his funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, several of the battle-hardened football players he had once coached openly wept.
A week after Lombardi died, the NFL renamed its Super Bowl trophy to the “Vince Lombardi Trophy.” The following year, Lombardi was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
On one of the walls in my office (next to my desk) is a framed picture of Vince Lombardi that I acquired over 20 years ago. Under his picture, is the text of a statement Lombardi once wrote where he described what it took to be number one. Here’s what Lombard said about being number one:
What It Takes to be Number One
Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while; you don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all of the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.
There is no room for second place. There is only one place in my game, and that’s first place. I have finished second twice in my time at Green Bay, and I don’t ever want to finish second again. There is a second place bowl game, but it is a game for losers played by losers. It is and always has been an American zeal to be first in anything we do, and to win, and to win, and to win.
Every time a football player goes to ply his trade he’s got to play from the ground up – from the soles of his feet right up to his head. Every inch of him has to play. Some guys play with their heads. That’s O.K. You’ve got to be smart to be number one in any business. But more importantly, you’ve got to play with your heart, with every fiber of your body. If you’re lucky enough to find a guy with a lot of head and a lot of heart, he’s never going to come off the field second.
Running a football team is no different than running any other kind of organization – an army, a political party or a business. The principles are the same. The object is to win – to beat the other guy. Maybe that sounds hard or cruel. I don’t think it is.
It is a reality of life that men are competitive and the most competitive games draw the most competitive men. That’s why they are there – to compete. The object is to win fairly, squarely, by the rules – but to win.
And in truth, I’ve never known a man worth his salt who in the long run, deep down in his heart, didn’t appreciate the grind, the discipline. There is something in good men that really yearns for discipline and the harsh reality of head to head combat.
I don’t say these things because I believe in the “brute” nature of men or that men must be brutalized to be combative. I believe in God, and I believe in human decency. But I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour – his greatest fulfillment to all he holds dear – is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.
If you show the statement you just read to any normal 13 or 14 year old boy, he will immediately understand and embrace the message Lombardi wished to convey. Show it to a 13 or 14 year old girl and she won’t understand it in the same way the boy understands it. One of the reasons for this is because boys have an absolute desire and need to be respected and it is only through hard work and discipline that they will ever be able to gain the respect they desire from others. That’s why Lombardi’s message of hard work and discipline appeals to boys.
Lombardi often talked about the “price” a man has to pay for success. He emphasized the importance of hard work, sacrifice, perseverance, competitive drive, selflessness and respect for authority. He constantly hammered on his players to master the basics and the fundamental rules that had to be followed before a mediocre team could ever be transformed into a great team.
One of the rules Vince Lombardi insisted that all of his players abide by required that they show up for all appointments and commitments at least 15 minutes early. He called it “Lombardi Time.” If a player failed to show up for practice or any other scheduled event by Lombardi Time, he was penalized and/or fined. No excuses. If practice was scheduled to start at 6:00 a.m. and a player showed up at 5:46 a.m., he was late.
By developing the habit of always being at least 15 minutes early for every scheduled commitment, the players were: (1) forced to learn how to properly manage their time; (2) prepared and ready to start practice (or an event) at the scheduled time; and (3) able to show respect for their coach and teammates by not forcing them to wait until they arrived.
Last week I told you about my experience at Randalls’ Food Store and how I was promoted after following my uncle’s advice. There was another thing I did (in addition to walking fast and keeping busy) that impressed the general manager of the store. I developed the habit of always coming into work early. I started coming in early after two employees that I knew (and liked) got fired. The reason they were fired was because one of the employees got caught “clocking in” for the other employee when the other employee was late for work. After that happened, I decided I was going to show the management that I wasn’t like everyone else – always racing into work trying to beat the clock. I was going to rise above everyone else by coming into work earlier than my scheduled time.
If you can convince your son to show up for work at Lombardi Time and to walk fast and keep busy, he will be viewed by his employer as a top performer. You have your work cut out for you in trying to persuade him to show up for work 15 minutes early. He’ll probably give you some resistance, but if he wants to crush his competition (fellow employees), he must be willing to follow this one particular fundamental rule that the greatest football coach in history demanded of all of his players.
Next week I’ll share with you the third and final fundamental that is necessary for a boy to become a champion in the workplace.