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5 Easy Tips On How To Be Successfully Prepared (From An NFL Coach)

[My new friend Umberto Leone was an Assistant Coach in the NFL for the Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders; he wrote the article on preparation below (with some editing for space by me).]

As U.S. President Abe Lincoln once said about the importance of being prepared:

“If I had 6 hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend 4 hours sharpening my axe.”

Coach Leone corralling the Cleveland Browns

As a former Assistant Coach in the National Football League for five seasons, as well as three years assisting on the collegiate level, my work-life revolved around preparation.

I learned some valuable tips & pointers on preparedness and look forward to sharing them with you.

Preparation Tip #1: Teamwork

You hear the word “teamwork” thrown around the sports world all the time.  Many athletes thank their teammates for the individual awards they receive.

Not only is teamwork a requirement on the field of play, within the preparation process teamwork is crucial.

As a coaching staff, each of the preparation duties is shared amongst the entire staff.

For example, one coach may be responsible for the 1st and 2nd down game plan while another coach’s responsibility is 3rd down and 2 minute.

Another coach may have the Red Area and Goal Line situations.

You must rely on the successful work of each individual coach in order for the whole coaching staff to be properly prepared.

Teamwork Preparation Questions For You:

  • Do you efficiently spread responsibilities among your team?
    Do they have assignments as specific as who’s responsible for 1st down decisions or what you do when you’re close to the “Goal Line?

Preparation Tip #2: Ask Yourself the “What If” Questions

To properly prepare you have to be able to ask and answer the appropriate “what if” questions; this helps you increase and broaden your mindset.

An increased and broadened mind allows you to think about a variety of possibilities and how to prepare for them all.

Coach Leone (on right) talks things over with Coach Mel Tucker

In football terms, some examples of the “what if” questions we asked ourselves each week to help us prepare:

  • “What if they start using a no huddle offense”?
  • “What if they fake a field goal or punt”?
  • “What if they give us a trick play “?
  • “What if they bring a blitz that we have never seen before”?
  • “What if its 4th and 1 and they go for it”?
  • “What if its 4th and 5, we are losing by 3 points with the ball at the 35 yard line, 45 seconds left in the game and we have no timeouts left – do we kick a field goal or go for the first down”?
  • “What if our QB gets hurt”?

When you ask yourself the appropriate “what if” questions, it will deepen and broaden your mind and thus drastically improve your preparation level.

What-If Preparation Questions For Your Team:

  • Does your team discuss “What-If” contingency plans?
  • Are you prepared in the event a key person on your team resigns?
  • Are you prepared for your largest customer or partner leaving you?

Preparation Tip #3: Role-Play

In football it was vital for us to think as our opponent would think.

We’d study ourselves in a way that the opponent would: understanding our weaknesses, knowing the areas that they would attack, and being able to prepare accordingly.

Brandon McDonald runs at Coach Umberto

For example, we prepared for the following game by studying our opponent on film (and over time collecting a huge database of their plays).

During practice our Scout team would utilize those plays and run them against our own team.

At times we would run the play a little differently – attacking the weak area of our team in a way that would make the opponent’s play more successful.

For example, if we are playing the Eagles, our scout team wouldn’t have a slow non-athletic QB: we’d put the closest version to Michael Vick we had on our team to better role play that position.

Role-Play Preparation Questions For You:

  • Do you have a database of plays you and your competition rely on?
  • Do you ever role-play any scenarios in your business?
  • If you have to have to fire someone, do you use a colleague to role-play the script with them beforehand?
  • If you are giving an important speech, have you ever tried practicing it aloud to another person whose opinion you trust?

Preparation Tip #4: Research & Study Hard

Though we only played one game every week, the amount of preparation that went into every game was astounding.

From the Sunday evening following the afternoon game, to the Saturday night team meal and sometimes even until the Sunday morning breakfast, we were preparing.

Legendary coach Joe Paterno once said

“The will to win is important, but the will to prepare is vital”.  As NFL Coaches, we all definitely have that will.

Without doing the research, your mind is not prepared to ask the appropriate “what if” questions.  Your mind is no shape able to role-play either.

Imagine being a football coach and never having seen the opposing team play a game.  You would have no idea what plays they like to do, what strengths and weaknesses they have as a team, etc.

Research/Study Hard Preparation Question For You:

  • Are you researching & studying your goals comprehensively enough that you have identified the major “What-If” and Role-Playing scenarios you could face?

Preparation Tip #5: Practice and Review

In preparation, once you are satisfied with your thought process — ideally by completing preparation tips 1 through 4 above –  you need to practice your plan…through action!

Learning by actions allows you to experience things you originally didn’t think about.

As a football coach, the daily practices we had were crucial to the team being prepared for each week’s game.  In addition to the role-playing practices mentioned above, we did individual position drills.

Each position worked on individual drills pertaining to their position:

  • Lineman worked on blocking fundamentals;
  • Defensive backs worked on covering fundamentals;
  • And wide receivers worked on route running.

And if we knew that the other team posed a problem for us on any of the fundamental levels we made sure we worked that fundamental area more intensely.

For example if they had small – quick wide receivers our DB’s worked more on foot quickness drills.

Practicing at different speeds was also important:

  1. We started practice with a walk-through in which we did at half speed the plays we were going to work the day in practice.
  2. Then we went to the individual/fundamentals part of practice so that we could run the plays successfully.
  3. Then we ran the plays at full-speed in a competitive fashion.

Practice & Review Preparation Questions For You:

  • Do you practice your skills & timing before YOUR big game/event?
  • Do you identify the fundamentals that you’re weakest on and prioritize those?
  • Do you take your sales & marketing “plays” and practice those at a slower pace to make sure you can nail them when it’s “game-time”?

Successful End Results

Our expectation was to be prepared enough that no matter what happened during the course of the game, we were able to handle it in a successful fashion.

Anything the opposing team did, from the most usual to the most extreme, our team was prepared enough that they could face it all and still be successful.

I believe these preparation tips I learned from the NFL could be used to help you with anything from preparing for a job interview to preparing a business plan to preparing for an exam.

The key is to get prepared for whatever key challenge you face.

A Recap Of My 5 Tips To Successful Preparation

  1. Teamwork —  Organize and utilize your available resources.  Be proficient and efficient.
  2. What-If Questions — Increase and broaden your mindset.  Evaluate rational scenarios.
  3. Role Play —  Put yourself on the other team.  Think as they think and prepare yourself accordingly.
  4. Research and Study Hard — The foundation for your preparation.
  5. Practice and Review — Learn by your actions before the real event takes place.

Following these 5 guidelines will go a long way to helping you achieve number 6 in this article – Successful End Results!

If you want to get in touch with Umberto Leone he asks that you do so through his LinkedIn profile.

3 Comments

  • Howard

    Excellent piece, Umberto. A real well written piece which draws together the worlds of professional sports and business …. two disciplines which are more alike than one would initially think. The correlations and lessons to be applied can surely be applied by professionals at any level. Thank you!

  • Hollie Ashby

    Great article. Sports world really translates to real life. These lessons are valuable to any professional or person seeking some direction. Thanks for your perspective, much appreciated.

  • Paul Loeffler

    Think it often gets lost on people how important preparation is to be successful in any aspect of life. This is a great reminder that success is more likely to occur because of direct, concentrated effort and not just chance. Great post – thanks for sharing.