BC122: Separation Is in Preparation (George Washington’s Birthday)

In this episode, Brian talks about how preparation is the greatest separator from those who are elite and those who are average.  He tells the story of how George Washington chopped down a tree in just 10 minutes…


 You will learn about…

  • George Washington and the fascinating story of how he had an hour to chop down a tree, yet finished in 10 minutes
  • How separation in preparation is displayed in the NFL and UFC
  • A tremendous story about TCU pitcher Brian Howard and how his preparation prepared him for one of the biggest moments of his career
  • How Matt Cassel became the only quarterback to start in the NFL without ever starting in College



Cain:  Matt Cassel in a Sports Illustrated article talks about wearing a helmet on the sidelines, hearing the play being called, calling the play out loud on the sideline as if he was in the huddle.  Then guys giving him a hard time and making fun of him, but no one is making fun of him when he is the only guy ever in the history of the game who didn’t start a game in college and started in the NFL.  Why?  Because Matt Cassel knew the value of preparation.

February 22 – George Washington’s birthday, the first President of the United States of America.  See, George Washington knew something about preparation.  George Washington once said that if he had an hour to cut down a tree he would spend 50 minutes sharpening the axe and 10 minutes chopping the tree.

Sharpening the axe for me personally is my unwavering commitment to exercise first thing when I get out of bed in the morning.  Moving around first thing when I wake up, whether I feel like it or not, helps me increase my energy, increase my focus, and be more productive that day.  I know that preparation is simply about execution of the day. Great days lead to great weeks lead to great months lead to great years lead to a great career.

George Washington talked about spending 50 minutes sharpening the axe and 10 minutes in execution.  You see that separation is in preparation that Seattle Seahawks quarterback, one of the best guys in the NFL, Russell Wilson, always talks about.  That separation is in preparation.  Let’s look at football for a minute.  You see, the NFL is going to play the majority of their games on Sunday – let’s say they take Monday off.  They’re going to prepare Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.  Five days for execution on Sunday.

Maybe George Washington was talking about the NFL.  Maybe he was talking about five days of preparation and one day of execution.  What George Washington probably didn’t know was the world of Mixed Martial Arts fighting.

Having had the chance to work with six guys that have worn the UFC Gold around their waist, I can tell you that a UFC fighter, when he has an event, is going to prepare anywhere 6-8 weeks in a camp – disciplined, detailed, quality decisions.  He’s not making sacrifices.  A great champion like yourself, you don’t make sacrifices – you make decisions to be great.  That UFC fighter is going to make great decisions 6 weeks, 8 weeks, for a 15- or 25-minute fight – 15-minute fight if it’s a nontitle fight, 25-minute fight if it’s a main event or a title fight.

What these UFC fighters know and what I want you to know about preparation is a term that we don’t often hear that much but it’s very simple – it’s called “reverse engineering.”  What is reverse engineering?  Reverse engineering is basically, as Stephen Covey would say in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, it’s begin with the end in mind.

For one fighter I worked with we would take eight weeks from the time of his fight and we would work backwards to the state of camp.  In that eight-week window we would basically map out each of his 168 hours each week and when he was going to do wrestling, boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai, sprint work, weight work, cardio, massage, chiropractor, interviews, other media, public appearances, sleep, eat, social time, see his family, and map all of that stuff out so that nothing was left to chance.  Remember, separation is in preparation and what does it mean to prepare at a high level? It means you map out a game plan and then execute your game plan.

So all reverse engineering is simply beginning with the end in mind and then working backwards.  Let me share a story with you here about an athlete in a baseball program that reverse engineered and won a game that was one of the most intense environments that I’ve ever been in.  It was a game between TCU baseball and Sam Houston State. The game happened on May 31, 2014.  It was the 2014 NCAA Fort Worth Regional where the #9 seed, TCU, was the visiting team and #25, Sam Houston State, was the home team.  In a game that was the second longest game in NCAA history the game went 22 innings with TCU winning 3-2.

There was a pitcher at TCU by the name of Brian Howard.  Brian Howard that year, 2014, was in his freshman season. On that night Brian Howard came out of the bullpen.  He came in in the 16th inning and pitched the 16th until the 20th, so every inning was a pressure situation – probably the most pressure-packed situation you can imagine being in.  Brian Howard pitched the 16th through the 20th inning.  That entire year he had thrown nine innings up till that point and that night he goes out and throws four, almost half of what he had thrown the entire season.

When asked about how he was able to stay prepared and how he could handle that much pressure in that situation, I remember head coach Jim Schlossnagle (I was actually in the dugout with the Frogs for that game) coming back in the dugout and it was almost like he had the look on his face of “we’re giving this guy the ball, he’s got nine innings all year.”  In the 16th inning when he went out to the mound, Howard just said, “I got this, Coach” with all the confidence and huge body language and the demeanor of a guy who had thrown 90 innings, not nine.

But see, Brian Howard had really thrown more than nine innings because the TCU baseball pitching coach – a guy by the name of Kirk Saarloos who had thrown a no-hitter in the major leagues.  He was an All-American and goes down as one of the greatest pitchers in college baseball history from Cal State Fullerton.  Kirk Saarloos is a master of the mental game.  One of the things that the TCU Horned Frog pitchers do is every day in the bullpen, they do what they call “shadow bullpens.” They throw an inning with no ball working on five things – working on their body language, their breath and their routine, their release, if they get a red light, their tempo and their visualization of that pitch.  So even though Brian Howard had physically only thrown nine innings, mentally he had thrown maybe 90, so when he got out there in the game he could take the ball from Coach Schlossnagle with total confidence and say “Coach, I got this.”

His line that day?  Four innings pitched, one hit, two walks, six strikeouts.  Brian Howard, you could say, was the unsung hero of that game.  There were so many guys that played a huge role in that game but no one had a bigger role than Brian Howard that day.

Separation is in preparation.  Drew Brees, the great quarterback of the New Orleans Saints, talks a lot about mental reps.  If he is playing in a game where maybe he is injured and he is not playing that game… They showed it on Fox Sports, a game against the Carolina Panthers during the 2015 season – I think it was Week 3 or 4 – where Drew Brees was on the sideline with a little headset in listening to the play call, clapping his hands on the sideline as the huddle was being broken on the field, and immediately looking into the secondary to see what his keys would be as if we was actually in the game playing the game out in his mind.

Matt Cassel, a quarterback who never started a game in college – he was a University of Southern California Trojan, he backed up two Heisman Trophy winners in Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart.  Matt Cassel then went on to be a starter in the NFL.

Matt Cassel in a Sports Illustrated article talks about wearing a helmet on the sidelines, hearing the play being called, calling the play out loud on the sideline as if he was in the huddle.  Then guys giving him a hard time and making fun of him, but no one is making fun of him when he is the only guy ever in the history of the game who didn’t start a game in college and started in the NFL.  Why?  Because Matt Cassel knew the value of preparation.

So your opportunity is going to come.  When it does and the bell rings, will you answer it?  Will you be prepared?  A mistake that I see a lot of people make is that they wait until their opportunity is on the calendar for them to prepare; for the young student-athlete or the coach who is an assistant coach, they wait to develop their leadership skills until their leadership is needed because they are a head coach or because they are a senior or a captain on the team.

Leadership and mental toughness – those are things that you want to be developing all the time because they’re always needed.  There is going to come a time when the bell rings, and when that bell rings, are you going to be ready?  When that bell rings, are you going to be prepared?  Remember, if you’ve got one hour to cut down a tree, let’s take the advice of our first President of the United States and spend 50 minutes sharpening your axe, making yourself better, and then 10 minutes in execution.  Dominate the Day.