Chuck Noll, the four-time Super Bowl-winning football coach, once told his players, “Champions are champions not because they do anything extraordinary but because they do the ordinary things better than anyone else.” This is certainly an extension of Wooden’s preparation philosophy. You can’t even do the ordinary if you don’t take the time to master the basics.

Years before Super Bowl champion coach Tony Dungy heard those words from his pro coach, Chuck Noll, eerily similar words were delivered by his University of Minnesota college coach, Cal Stoll: “Success is uncommon and not to be enjoyed by the common man. I’m looking for uncommon people because we want to be successful, not average.” There is a clear pattern about preparing and focusing on the little factors that is a constant theme with successful athletes. When Tony Dungy heard the words as a collegiate ballplayer, he knew that often we can overcome our lack of any uncommon traits with hard work (in negotiating it might be a vast vocabulary, photographic memory, or some other trick) by being uncommon in our efforts in preparing.

Where are we headed? You will earn what tools you have to prepare to a degree beyond all others and to reach the highest level of success. That is uncommon. In the broadest sense, all you’ll be doing is understanding yourself better and preparing.

Simple? No, it’s really hard and takes a lot of commitment and work.

Tony Dungy persuades teams to understand the importance of the little things --- the importance of preparation with that level of focus. In his efforts to ensure that the team focuses on the minute factors, Dungy emphasizes the smallest of details and their execution; he gets his team to focus on his theory of “death by inches.”

If you’ve ever seen the character played by Frank Sinatra at the end of the motion picture Von Ryan’s Express, you’re familiar with the theory. After quickly planning an escape from a World War II Nazi prison train, Sinatra chases train commandeered by his prisoner colleagues with his hand extended to a fellow escapee who is reaching out to him, the last action that will get Sinatra to freedom and out of the rifle sights of the Nazis pursuing him on foot. Sinatra fails when he is shot and killed with his hand just inches away from the colleague. A little bit better focus on the plan to get back to the train and he would have been alive and successful. That’s death by inches.

The greater the precision, the greater the likelihood of success. One mistake… well, you’re not likely to die in a failed business negotiation, but you might wish that you had. That is what Dungy instills in his men: the precision needed to win a Super Bowl.

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Samantha Johnson and Christine Lazaro are co-editors for