3 Lessons Every Athlete Should Learn From John Madden

A Super-Bowl-winning coach, a “Boom!”-yelling sportscaster, a name behind the bestselling NFL video game franchise, a fixture in Miller Lite commercials — one way or another, John Madden will be remembered by us all, and his name immortalized.

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And even if football isn’t really your thing, there’s so much to learn from the man. Because motivation, discipline, and inspiration are universal — be it on the field, in the gym, or even at the office. These days, you can get date coaching, financial coaching, and all sorts of other kinds of coaching. But it seems like underlying all of them are some basic, yet incredibly important ideas and insights. 

A good coach doesn’t just teach or train, but instead provides a set of tools you can use to develop, improve, and inspire yourself.

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Madden is without a doubt one of the most creative leaders in the history of modern sports. Behind his grand, larger-than-life, “rumblin’ stumblin’” persona, there’s a genius — an innovative mind responsible for a paradigm shift from the buttoned-down conservative coaching style of the 1960s. 

Madden didn’t scream at his players, nor make demands. Instead, he treated them as human beings, with genuine care and attention to their needs, emotions, and life outside the field. He had only three rules for his players: 

  • Be on time
  • Pay attention
  • Play like hell

The Fewer Rules A Coach Has, The Fewer Rules There Are For Players To Break.

He didn’t care if the players sat on their helmets on the sidelines, fooled and joked around, and cared a little too much about their haircuts and eye black war paint. These three simple rules allowed him and his players to focus on what’s important, and adopting this mindset will help you do the same.

Lesson #1: Be on time

Literally and figuratively. It’s hard to overestimate how important punctuality is in our daily lives. And it’s not just about not being late; you have to be in the right place at the right time. If “showing up is 80% of life,” then showing up on time is awfully close to 100%.

Did you show up at the gym today? Then you’re 80% of the way to a good workout. Did you show up at 5am, after a big hearty meal with lots of protein, and with a determined go-getter mentality? Then you’re virtually already there.

Lesson #2: Pay attention

Pay attention to what the other team is doing, to what your team is doing, and to what your body is doing. Mindfully watching and listening won’t just help you get all the information you need, but also ignore what you don’t need.

Ever wonder why mindfulness meditation is such a great tool for personal growth? It teaches you to sit there, breathe, watch sounds, watch emotions, and watch your thoughts come and go. If you watch long enough, you’ll see through the noise, see what’s important, and see what’s worth your time and effort. 

Then you can apply the Pareto Principle, aka the 80/20 rule, whereby 20% of your effort bring in 80% of the results. As long as you can identify that 20% and focus on them, you can get rid of the rest and make your life 80% better.

Lesson #3: Play like hell

Once you’re there on time and focused on what’s important, there’s only one thing left to do: Go and get it. And there’s no reason not to give it your 100%. So either stay still, observe, conserve energy, and wait for your moment to strike — or run, fight, and play like hell, like there’s no tomorrow…

Sort of like a lizard. Ever see how they move? They sit there motionless, like little statues, until it’s time to snatch a bug or evade a bird. When they move, they’re lightning-fast, and then still and peaceful again.

So breathe in, breathe out, and remember: “Be on time, pay attention, play like hell”.

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