Before going into battle we must know WWAUA

What We Are Up Against

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Photo by Keith Johnston on Unsplash

One of my current reads is Belichick: The Making of the Greatest Coach of All Time, by Ian O’Connor. When I took the book out of the library I wondered what it would add that I didn’t already know from having read The Education of a Coach by David Halberstam. It didn’t take long to learn that this was a very different book, more like “an unauthorized biography” though well-researched and packed with insights.*

The one thing both books make clear is that the New England Patriots coach is a master of the game as regards reading film, reading offenses and defenses, and understanding football.

A recurring theme in this book is how impressed players and peers were by both his work ethic and his skill at interpreting game films, which he learned very early in life from his father who was also a football coach.

The biggest takeaway for me so far is the concept of WWAUA, which is to say Knowing Your Opponent or in my words here, knowing What We Are Up Against. This insight applies to war, business, marketing, and politics.


What We Are Up Against

In Super Bowl XXXVI the St. Louis Rams were 14 point favorites to win. They were nicknamed “The Greatest Show on Turf” behind the arm of Kurt Warner and the power of running back/receiver Marshall Faulk. The Rams defense was ranked third in the league with fewest yards allowed, so that on both sides of the ball it appeared the Patriots would have their hands full. THAT is What They Were Up Against.

Whereas odds-makers saw doom for the Patriots and their young quarterback Tom Brady, a non-stellar draft pick, Coach Belichick saw opportunity. For starters, he set a midnight curfew for his players the week before the big game, something not enforced for Rams players who were free to be distracted on Bourbon Street’s wild kingdom. Second, he believed that if his players came on harder than expected early in the game, the Rams’ confidence could be rattled and derailed, which is exactly what happened.

Primary Takeaways

1. Reading the Situation
First off, you need to accurately read what is happening. This not only includes the strengths and weaknesses of your competition, but also the many other variables surrounding the situation. For example, Bill Belichick saw that a curfew would keep his players rested, a potential edge. Things change, son it is important to not “check out” and settle for resting on laurels. Otherwise, before long you will be playing catch up.

Whether it’s local government, local school boards, national government, or health care — unless you have an accurate reading of what is happening, you will not come up with prescriptions for solution that will solve your problems. In fact, this may be why so many national problems remain unsolved, because the real situation is so complex that no one has the time to do the real work involved to get a true read on how to go about attacking the issues. As a result, our leaders propose makeshift solutions that are more like band-aids on melanoma, giving the appearance that something is being done.

Even when you clearly see a solution, the essential battles will have only begun without execution. Execution requires a commitment to do whatever it takes to implement the plan. Marketing professionals, government officials, media members — everyone is so busy today with so much on their plates that few have time for the hard work of diagnosis.

Bill Belichick spent 18 hours a day studying game films to prepare. He often slept in the office, and frequently worked overtime on top of those 18 hours. Why? He wanted to win a Super Bowl.

2. The Internal Hurdles
Part of WWAUA has to do with our own internal battle. Perhaps we’re trained to believe we can only jump so high, like jumping fleas in a flea circus. Or perhaps we question the value of the goal. There are myriad ways we cut ourselves off at the knees and hamstring our motivation.

3. Reading Tells
This is a poker term. It is really hard for a poker player to keep a real poker face that conceals what we see in the cards we’ve been dealt. When we look at our cards and see Aces we unintentionally signal our good fortune. Bill Belichick learned to read quarterbacks’ tells and linemen’s tells to see what the next plays were going to be. For example, 97% of the time when the defense lines of this way, it is a blitz. If the quarterback sees this, he has an advantage and can change a play at the line of scrimmage.

4. Persuading the Troops
For leaders, once our homework is done, there is still the necessity of gaining buy-in from the troops. In politics this means not only those who do the fighting, but also buy-in from the public.

Bill Belichick wanted to win a Super Bowl for the city that gave him a chance. He was committed to do whatever it would take, and his players saw it first hand. Belichick had a quarterback who was equally committed to pay the price. And in this manner, leading by example, they helped certify their earnestness and credibility.

Sometimes solutions are counterintuitive. They go against what you intuitive would conclude. Great leaders must therefore first establish their cred as decision-makers as well, so that when such situations arise the ones who must execute the plan have faith in the plan. Bill Belichick did this with the Patriots, which is why he has become recognized as one of the great coaches of NFL history.

For real change to take place one must do more than make a plan and hope for the best, whether it’s organizing your office or trying to change the world. In political power struggles, including office politics, there are almost always adversaries working behind the scenes, using stealth and other schemes so as to damage your chances of success. In order to achieve our career goals, and even parenting goals, we need to know WWAUA.

*If you choose one book on Bill Belichick, I recommend Education of a Coach.

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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