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Chuck Pagano: How To Visualize Victory And Win The Big One

“Visualize Victory…”
They see victory before the game begins.

This month’s newsletter actually begins with a powerful handshake from 2011–a genuine handshake and accompanying fistpump that took place on a football practice field in Maryland just four days before last season’s AFC Championship game between the Baltimore Ravens and the New England Patriots.

Confined to a wheelchair, with his Baltimore Ravens jersey masking the oxygen tubes needed to make this visit possible, Bill Warble shook the hand of a Ravens’ assistant coach. Warble, a special guest of Baltimore’s star linebacker Ray Lewis, had been diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer but refused to let his condition prevent him from showing his support and catching a behind-the-scenes playoff glimpse of his favorite team and favorite player

Apply this Characteristic: What is your reason for the battles you fight each day? Close your eyes and imagine every detail about that goal- whether it is the firmness of the handshake as you close the deal or the sound of your children laughing as you play with them in the backyard. Memorize what that moment looks like and how it makes you feel so that you can conjure it up for inspiration any time you feel your motivation slipping. “This is my defensive coordinator. Tell him what you told me earlier,” said the Pro Bowl star, excited about his inspirational friend’s presence at the practice field. Equally eager to repeat his comment but noticeably winded by the moment, Warble looked to the assistant coach and announced, “I ain’t gonna to die until we win a Super Bowl.”

“Well, you can hold the Super Bowl trophy with us! God bless you,” came the response. Just like that, the cameras from NFL Films captured and documented a simple handshake that gave me chills. The Ravens fought hard but lost 23-20 that week to the Patriots and then, a little more than four months afterwards, Warble lost his fight with cancer.

The assistant coach on the other end of that 2011 handshake was Chuck Pagano. Pagano went on to take the head coaching reins of the Indianapolis Colts in what was widely considered a rebuilding year for the franchise. Pagano had been praised for his ability to build defensive schemes that stop threats from opposing teams . . . but neither he nor the Colts knew that his biggest opponent would arrive in the first quarter of this season.

On October 1, 2012–a little less than four months after the passing of Bill Warble–the Indianapolis Colts held a team meeting to inform the players that Pagano had been diagnosed with leukemia and would take an indefinite leave of absence from the team.

“You could feel the air get sucked out of the room,”Colts veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne recounted afterwards. Wayne had known Pagano for nearly two decades, dating back to their University of Miami days when he played wideout and Pagano coached the defensive backs. “All those 16 years that I’ve known Chuck just flashed right before my eyes.”

He then reflected on his first visit to a surprisingly focused Pagano after the news of his illness. “I was expecting him to be down and sad, but it was the normal Chuck that I’m used to . . . He wanted to talk Xs and Os, and talk about Green Bay’s defense.”

That next Sunday, as Pagano began his series of cancer treatments, the Colts defeated the Packers with Reggie Wayne recording the best game of his NFL career, racking up 212 receiving yards and scoring the game-winning touchdown–all while wearing orange colored gloves to raise awareness for leukemia. Wayne said he called Pagano shortly after the victory and was greeted with an enthusiastic “Way to go! That’s why I called you this summer. That’s why I wanted you to take a leap of faith.”

As soon as he was hired as the Colts’ coach, Pagano was sharing his vision with Wayne and others that Greatness was ahead and he had encouraged the veteran receiver to stay with the team and be there to celebrate that moment. But Pagano’s ability to visualize victory doesn’t end there.

Indianapolis Colts  v Jacksonville Jaguars
The Colts went on to win five of their next six games, including a nail-biter against the Miami Dolphins, a win that brought 300-pound gladiators to tears in an unexpected postgame locker room appearance by Pagano himself. On medical leave, a short-haired, physically gaunt Pagano spoke to his football friends: “You guys were living in vision, and you weren’t living in circumstances . . . You refused to live in circumstances, and you decided consciously, as a team and as a family, to live in a vision . . . That’s why you’re already champions, and well on your way.” As players resisted the urge to bearhug their resilient leader, Pagano continued, “I’ve got circumstances–you guys understand it, and I understand it. It’s already beat.” Players began clapping and cheering before the man referred to as “Chuckstrong” led another tearjerker: “And my vision that I’m living is to see two more daughters get married, dance at their weddings, and then hoist that Lombardi [Super Bowl trophy] several times . . . Several times, we’re going to hoist that baby. I’m dancing at two more weddings and we’re hoisting that trophy together man. Congratulations! I love all you guys, thank you so much.”

I challenge you to watch the clip of that speech without getting the kind of chills that normally require a good orchestra or Emmy award-winning soundtrack. The Leukemia Research Foundation estimates that

every day 129 people are diagnosed with leukemia and 60 lose the fight. But what some people might see as an insurmountable obstacle, Pagano chose as a lesson in goal-setting, motivation, and profound leadership. To honor Pagano’s drive, the Colts even started offering Chuckstrong tee shirts, with proceeds supporting cancer research!

Tips from the Great Ones

What Great outcome should you start visualizing in your life? Nine years ago, a doctor walked into my own hospital room and told me I had cancer. It’s been a fight, but I can sit here today cancer-free–and I can personally attest (as I’m sure many of you can, as well) to the incredible power of fixing my mind singularly on the goal of beating that disease. On those days when the treatment seems too exhausting or the battle too scary, it is the clear vision of victory we place before ourselves that keeps us going.

How can you use a previous or current battle to help someone else unlock his or her own Greatness? Few would blame Coach Pagano if he wanted to spend his time wallowing in despair and self-pity; but instead, Pagano is intent on seeing the moment when he can look back on today’s adversity with tomorrow’s lesson. He is determined to share his vision with his team, to inspire them to pursue those same goals that are motivating his personal fight right now. For Pagano, his family, and his team, that future moment of victory is as real as if it had already happened because Pagano has made it real by fixing his sights on his ultimate goal. He already sees himself dancing at those weddings!

"You refused to live in circumstances, and you decided consciously, as a team and as a family, to live in a vision... That's why you're already champions, and well on your way." -Chuck Paganovisualize7
Pagano’s vision has inspired more than just his players and coaches; two Colts cheerleaders pledged their support by vowing to shave their heads if the team’s fans gave at least $10,000 toward finding a cure. Twenty-two thousand dollars later, both cheerleaders buzzed their flowing locks during the 4th quarter of this past Sunday’s victory. It clearly illustrated the power of the Chuckstrong movement and the goals set forth to both support and empower Coach Pagano and others suffering from the same disease.

Here’s to visualizing a Great victory for Chuckstrong and for each of your respective challenges.

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About Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), longtime Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated, 11-time New York Times best-selling author, leadership expert and executive coach.

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