Basics come first OR The Price of Impatience

Lombardi FootballPiano

What’s the connection between Vince Lombardi and a grand piano? It’s all about the unintended consequences of impatience.

I’ve always been interested in music. I began with trumpet in the 4th Grade band at Monfort Heights Elementary School in Cincinnati, Ohio. Then I added electric guitar  with a few of my buddies. We were a basement band– not a garage band. Eventually, I realized that playing piano (we’d now say “keyboards”) would add a great deal to my versatility. So I started lessons with the nicest teacher you could ever imagine– and that was a problem. She taught me what I wanted to know, but…

So let’s cut to Vince Lombardi, winner of the first ever AFL-NFL World Championship, later known as Super Bowl I. On January 15, 1967, Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers of the National Football League (NFL) beat the American Football League (AFL)’s Kansas City Chiefs, 35-10, at Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles. (If you’re not a football fan, hang in there–I hope you’ll get something out of this…).

Lombardi did not begin with a “super” team. In July 1961 the 38 members (it’s now 53 players with a head coach and 15 assistant coaches– more than you may have wanted to know!) of the Green Bay Packers football team were gathered together for the first day of training camp. The previous season had ended with a heartbreaking defeat when the Packers squandered a lead late in the 4th quarter and lost the NFL Championship to the Philadelphia Eagles. In his best-selling book, When Pride Still Mattered: A Life Of Vince Lombardi, author David Maraniss explains what happened when Lombardi walked into training camp in the summer of 1961.

Vince took nothing for granted. He began a tradition of starting from scratch, assuming that the players were blank slates who carried over no knowledge from the year before. He began with the most elemental statement of all. “Gentlemen,” he said, holding a football in his right hand, “this is a football.”

Lombardi’s methodical coverage of the fundamentals continued throughout training camp. Though they were impatient to get to actual plays and scrimmages, each player reviewed his assignment: how to block, tackle, run, pass and catch. They opened the playbook and started from page one. At some point, Max McGee, the Packers’ Pro Bowl wide receiver, joked, “Uh, Coach, could you slow down a little? You’re going too fast for us.” Lombardi reportedly cracked a smile, but continued his obsession with the basics all the same. His team would become the best in the league at the tasks everyone else took for granted. Six months later, the Green Bay Packers beat the New York Giants 37-0 to win the NFL Championship. [adapted from a blog http://jamesclear.com/vince-lombardi-fundamentals.]

According to “A Football Life” video on Lombardi’s coaching life, his players didn’t see the ball for the first two weeks of training camp. That tried their patience! He made them focus on the fundamental physical conditioning and habits that would be essential to being productive with the football.

I see a principle here: Spiritual life must have a firm foundation in both understanding and practice. There are no shortcuts. Knowing and living the “basics” of faith are essential for growth and maturity.

“In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:12-14 NIV).

So back to piano. I was impatient to be able to play familiar songs as soon as possible. So my teacher taught me a few basics and then put songs in front of me I wanted to learn to play. I could figure them out, slowly, following the fingerings she wrote on the music. She wanted to motivate me—and it worked for a while. But when I discontinued my lessons, I couldn’t figure things out on my own. On the other hand, my friend, Tom, had a teacher who made him learn scales in all keys. And his teacher taught Tom to play Bach’s Two Part Inventions in all keys. Eventually, Tom could transpose (change the basic key) any piece of music on sight. He could modulate (change from one key to another through a progression of notes or chords) in a variety of ways. Tom is a master of performance on the keyboard. Me? Well, I play guitar.

You see, I was too impatient—and my dear teacher catered to me. Impatience, even for the best results, can undermine growth and success.

I’ve learned that the process is the product. Day by day, prayer by prayer, verse by verse, book by book, worship service by worship service, choice by choice, conversation by conversation, mistake-repentance-and-forgiveness by mistake-repentance-and-forgiveness, we are shaped into the likeness of Christ.

 

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