Vince Lombardi’s “20-Second Lesson …”

John Wood here, taking over the reins of The Writer’s Life. This week I’m going to look at five powerful sports stories, the life lessons you can learn from them, and how they apply to the writer’s life.

Let’s start with who many consider to be the greatest coach in NFL history, Vince Lombardi.

Lombardi’s ability to teach, motivate, and inspire brought out the best in players. As head coach of the Green Bay Packers, he never had a losing season and guided the franchise to victory in the first two Super Bowls.

Today I’m going to show you how a brief gesture by Coach Lombardi had a profound effect on one of his players.

In total, it took about 20 seconds.

The player was Jerry Kramer, an offensive lineman who spent his entire 11-year NFL career with the Packers. He was an All-Pro five times and a member of the fabled Packers Super Bowl teams.

In the HBO film Lombardi, Kramer tells the story about a time in scrimmage when he mistakenly jumped offside. Lombardi came over and got in his face and said …

“Mister, the concentration period of a college student is five minutes. High school is three minutes. Kindergarten is 30 seconds, and you don’t even have that. So where does that put you?”

After practice, Kramer sat in the locker room, hand on chin, elbow on his knee, eyes glued to the floor thinking …

“I’m never going to play for this guy.”

Just then, Lombardi walked across the room toward him. Kramer says in the film, “He slapped me in the back of my neck … messed up my hair, and he said, ‘Son, one day you’re going to be the best guard in football.’”

Then Lombardi turned and walked away.

“With that comment he allowed me to think about being a great football player. And from that point on, I worked my tail off. I gave him everything I had. It made a profound impact on my life,” Kramer says.

So what can we learn from this?

Two main things …

  1. While Lombardi’s style might have been a little abrasive for some people’s tastes, it’s important to recognize that when someone (like a mentor or client) offers you criticism about something you wrote, most of the time it’s meant to help you. You can either be hurt or offended by it, or you can look at it as an opportunity to learn.
  2. Each one of us has a great power within us: The opportunity to inspire and encourage your writing colleagues. Use the power of encouragement wisely, and my guess is your words will have a greater impact than you may ever have imagined. Show someone you believe in him, and, not only will you inspire and motivate him, you’ll create good karma for yourself.

Maybe you’ve experienced a similar 20 seconds in your life? Maybe you’ve even been responsible for a few key “20-second lessons” in a friend’s or colleague’s life — or perhaps you want to start. If you’d like to share a story of encouragement, you can do so by commenting here.

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Published: November 18, 2013

3 Responses to “Vince Lombardi’s “20-Second Lesson...””

  1. Words have tremendous power to do good. 40 years ago, as a 14 year old Hodgkin Lymphoma patient, I developed a pen-pal relationship with a wonderful 50 year old woman. Our letters focused on our mutual love for lighthouses. We met only twice in our 10 years of letter writing. During the darkest days of chemo and radiation, I put a quote of Jeanne's on my wall, where it remained for years: "With your courage and stamina, you can lick the world." Jeanne is gone, but her words have resonated on.

    SJ BartaNovember 18, 2013 at 2:28 pm

  2. There is truth in the words, "You reap what you sow." If you sow seeds of encouragement, hope, love and faith, that is exactly what you will receive in your life. Now, this doesn't mean you won't run into challenges and obstacles; without them life would be mundane and meaningless. It does mean that as you overcome, you have an innate ability to help others to overcome. Be an encourager today! You will be amazed at the benefits; not only for you but for all of those people's lives you touch.

    Guest (Teresa Dechiaro)November 19, 2013 at 10:01 am

  3. When I was a young teen, my handshake was like a dead fish--limp and slimy. I shook hands with my Uncle Homer like that one day. He immediately challenged me to shake hands like a man. What some may have received as criticism, I took, and he meant, as not only a challenge, but a compliment. I could be a man. I never forgot his blessing upon me that day. And I have thanked him repeatedly. He made a huge difference in my life. I plan on doing that for many with my words.

    Tom SchenkNovember 20, 2013 at 2:12 pm


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