Once upon a time, nearly a hundred years ago in fact, a Fnnish runner by the name of Paavo Nurmi began his domination of middle and long distance races that has never been equaled. What does that have to do with the NFL? Stay with me for a moment.
Traditionally, distance runners focused their training on two objectives: staying with their competition throughout the race and saving enough strength for a strong "kick" near the end to win the race.Seems obvious, right?
Not to Nurmi. Rather than focus on his rivals' speed, Nurmi focused on his own. Carrying a stopwatch as he trained, Nurmi focused only on continuous improvement in his own performance. And rather than focusing on a finishing kick Nurmi sought to set such a punishing (and relatively even) pace that his rivals would have nothing left when the time came for the final kick. Optimal and consistent performance were his objectives. He ignored his opponents.
Nurmi made his international debut at the 1920 Olympics. After a silver medal in the 5,000 m, he took gold in the 10,000 m and the cross country events. In 1923, Nurmi became the first, and so far only, runner to hold the world record in the mile, the 5,000 m and the 10,000 m races at the same time. He went on to set new world records for the 1,500 m and the 5,000 m with just an hour between the races, and take gold medals in the distances in less than two hours at the 1924 Olympics. He continued to dominate the sport until the early 1930's when he retired after his amateur status was revoked.
Reading what coaches say about coaching, motivation, and training is typically a mind numbing experience full of cliches, dime store psychology, and quotations from Vince Lombardi. When I first began listening to Pete Carroll's words of wisdom a couple of years ago, however, I was reminded of Nurmi. Focus on your own performance; you can't control your opponent's. No game is more important than any other; every one is a championship opportunity. Consistently strong performance is more important than occasional peak performance. Always compete on every play in every game. Do your job, do everything you're capable of doing and measure your current performance against your best. Separation is in the preparation. All so "nurmi-like."
All well and good. In a sport where "match ups" were the be all and end all of training, very innovative. But was it more than the fodder for a ghost-written book? I became convinced it was more than a coach's cliches when Seahawk players began to spout the same lines. Not as the rehearsed responses that every athlete is trained to mouth but seemingly what they really believed. And not just from the "stars" on the team. First string and reserves, everyone appeared to be on the same page.
And it was among the reserves that the commitment was most important, I think. The team was packed with players who had never been seen as the very best at their positions. Continually competing against players with more natural talent, some of these guys had come up short throughout their careers. But competing against themselves, continuous improvement was possible. A little faster than last time, a bit more precise, more consistency in rep after rep. The result is a smaller drop off between first and second string and second and third string players as every player improves.
Much is made of Schneider's and Carroll's seemingly unique ability to find low round gems in the draft. That's a combination of acumen and luck. (Obviously more the former than the latter.) But just as important is Carroll's ability to bring out consistent excellence in 53 players week after week.