Homework, Preparation and Making the Most of Opportunities


A lot of you might find it odd to read a post on this site that begins with a link to an analysis of a (very pivotal) play in yesterday’s Super Bowl. Stay with me though.

I read. A lot. This time of year, especially on Sunday nights and Monday mornings I read a lot of analysis of NFL games. Granted, a lot of the stuff I read is just noise but often, there are some gold nuggets that are applicable to coaching cycling. The above analysis hit on some very important points that I stress with the athletes I work with particularly the younger ones.

“Malcolm Butler…told reporters after the game that the Patriots had run this play with the scout team in practice in preparation for the Super Bowl and he had been beaten by it…The biggest point to think about, though, is what that story from Butler says about New England’s preparation for the game. They knew this play was coming…They ran this play in practice specifically to prepare their defensive backs for it…That knowledge is even more impressive because that is only the third time all year Seattle have run that formation on short yardage…The Patriots clearly excel at doing their homework”

The Patriots excel at doing their homework and so it seems does Butler who also learned from previous mistakes in practice and relied on his preparation, practice (and instinct) to take advantage of an opportunity that presented itself to make the biggest play of his very short career on his sport’s biggest stage. Some could say he gambled. I agree to a point. He gambled on that play being THE play but because his coaching staff had done the homework (think about the fact that the Seahawks had only run that play THREE TIMES ALL YEAR in that situation) and practiced that particular play, he was gambling with house money.

As coaches and team directors we have a duty to do our homework and prepare our athletes the best that we can. That preparation includes (or should) mentoring especially when it comes to young athletes. I spend a lot of time explaining to the younger athletes I work with that it is important to prepare to make the most out of every opportunity that presents itself. You never know when an opportunity might come or when (or if) another opportunity might happen again. Opportunity windows are only open for very short periods of time and then they can slam shut without any warning. Not everyone is going to get an invite to go to a talent ID camp or travel to Europe to race one of the EU Devo blocks or even get a roster spot on a true development team. Take that further and it isn’t often that you find yourself in the winning break of a race where a result might just put you on a team director’s radar. But if you have done your homework and prepared properly then that might just tip the scales in your favor. And that opportunity might lead to another and to another and to…..your ultimate goal.

So, do the work, prepare and execute when opportunity presents.

Butler played in a 60-minute game. On the play that made him a hero to every Patriot fan on the planet the time from Wilson getting the snap from center and Butler intercepting the ball was two seconds. You don’t get much shorter of an opportunity than that, especially for an undrafted rookie.

One other point I want to make about practice, preparation, opportunity and execution is on the notion of instinct. Instinct is defined as “something you know without learning it or thinking about it” I disagree a little with this because I believe that if you practice the correct way to do things enough then that action becomes instinct. How you react to things in a bike race are not going to be instinctual based on the true definition but if you practice (sprinting, accelerations, bike handling drills, etc) then those things will become instinctual. You don’t (over)-think, you react. And that often is the difference in achieving your goal or …not. Butler’s instincts were that this was the play they practiced. This was the play he had been burned on in practice. He didn’t overthink it, he just reacted.

And now he and his team are champions.

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