The key to success is preparation. As a professional musician my success has generally come as a result of winning competitive situations: auditions, interviews and performance under pressure. While what I do as a musician is very different than what NFL players do there is one large concept that is the same: we both compete. Competition tends to motivate people, and what we are motivating ourselves to do is to prepare. The old adage "success comes when opportunity meets preparation," has never been truer than it is right now for the Minnesota Vikings.
In the past 14 seasons since 2001, fans of this team have only been able to enjoy five winning seasons and four playoffs appearances (2004, 2008, 2009 and 2012). The other 9 seasons have been meaningless 8-8 finishes or worse. But this year it feels different. Mike Zimmer is the real deal as a head coach, and in his second season he's gotten players to buy into his philosophy. Zimmer is a Bill Parcells disciple who understands what it takes to win and keep winning. While it feels great to be 7-2, and in sole possession of first place in the NFC North, there are still a lot of games yet to be played. This team could end the year 7-9 if the worst possible outcome were to come true. While I don't think it will, the point is the playoffs are a long time from now...it's not even Thanksgiving yet.
But Zimmer gets it: this team will succeed if the preparation is there. In his press conference today, reporters asked Zimmer about the team wearing "Beat the Packers" T-shirts that he had made for the team. He brushed it off saying:
"I think it's more about understanding who we are, how we got here, how we have to continue to be. I understand, I guess, the heightened part of this game. But it's still about us and how we play. I think our players will know this is a big game. I don't think I'll have to pull out any magic wands or anything like that. I think they'll understand. But, to me, it's all about preparation. How you prepare. Make sure you focus. Like I told the team today, ‘One day, one week, one game.' That's all we worry about."
One of the things I tell my music students all the time about competing is that it comes down to how well prepared you are. It's not about preparing until you can get it right. It's about preparing so much that you can't get it wrong. Unfortunately, most competitions only happen once. You only get one opportunity most of the time. So you better be prepared when that opportunity comes along. And Zimmer understands that well saying:
"We had the ‘soft' part of the schedule, the ‘hard' part of the schedule. I don't know. We just try to go out and play every week. Whoever we line up against, we just try to be better than them on that one Sunday."
And that's all you can do. Prepare your butts off during the week and grind it out, play your hearts out on that one Sunday and let the chips fall where they may. It felt to me like the Vikings bought into their own Preseason hype in Week 1, and fell flat on their faces and got their asses handed to them by San Francisco. Based on what I read in the media, it sure seemed like they got serious about their preparation and have gone 7-1 since then. This Vikings team will have to continue to work hard and prepare, especially against the next slate of opponents with winning records. So keep your head down and grind, because preparation leads to success. The formula has been working so far, so keep it going.