Every battle is won before it is fought

Only one sign hangs in the New England Patriots locker room. The sign reads:

Every battle is won before it is fought

This is a quote from “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu and there is evidence of this quote pervading every aspect of Bill Belichick’s coaching philosophy. This quote is also a strong guiding principle for defining the “Patriot Way” which has enabled the Patriots unprecedented run of excellence with Belichick, Brady, and Kraft at the helm. Since 2003, the Patriots have had 10+ wins in every single season. In a league (the NFL) engineered to create parity, the Patriots are parity-busters.

Here is a 26 second video of Bill Belichick explaning the quote in context during an NFL Network Special:

And here is a transcript of what Belichick says:

You can go all the way back to a few hundred years B.C., Sun Tzu, The Art of War, “Attack Weaknesses, Utilize Strengths” and figure out what the strengths are on your team. There are some things you have to protect, find the weaknesses of your opponent, and attack. You can’t win a war by digging a hole. You gotta attack. So you have to figure out where you’re going to attack, how you’re going to attack, and that changes week-to-week, game-to-game.

I think this quote can apply to many things, not just sports, and the biggest takeaway for me is the value of preparation.

  • Understand yourself so well that you know your weaknesses (what you have to protect).
  • Understand your opponent so well that you know their weaknesses (where you’re going to attack).
  • Understand yourself so well that you know your strengths (how you’re going to attack).

This understanding comes from preparation. From turning every possible stone. From preparing for every possible scenario.

An example of this happening in (dramatic) practice is Malcolm Butler’s interception of Russel Wilson to seal the Patriot’s 28-24 victory over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX… but this wasn’t just a “spur of the moment interception.”

The exact pick play the Seahawks called had been run 66 times that season without a single interception… until Malcolm Butler. So what was different the 67th time? Nothing about the play was different. It was just that Malcolm Butler knew the play was coming. How? the Patriots practiced the exact pick play in the preseason. That is the value of preparation which lead to a Super Bowl clinching play. Here is a video that breaks down in great detail everything that went down before this play. This video is a must watch in preparation and execution.

As Patriots Director of Football Research Ernie Adams says in the video:

You’re going to win or lose games at practice. I mean there is no such thing as being a game day player. You see situations come up on the practice field, you’ve worked on it, you know what it takes, when it comes up in the game, because you’re trained, you’re seasoned, you’ve seen it, you react and make the play.

5:50 in Video Below

In summary “Attack Weaknesses, Utilize Strengths” and the way to maximize the likelihood of this philosophy working, in my opinion, is through preparation.

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