What we can learn from the military – attention to detail

What we can learn from the military – attention to detail

“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”
– John Wooden, the “Wizard of Westwood” who won 10 NCAA basketball championships in a 12 year period while coaching at UCLA

The military teaches “attention to detail” very well.  Twenty years ago, I graduated from the United States Naval Academy.  During my years  as a midshipmen, I learned extensively about “attention to detail” from the very beginning starting with Plebe Summer.

We would line up in a platoon of three squads (10-12 midshipmen per squad) and an upperclassmen would slowly walk down the line, stopping at and facing each mid.  The upperclassman then looked at that mid’s uniform from top to bottom looking at details like:

  • Cover (hat) clean and horizontal and not pushed back on head
  • Clean shave for the men
  • No loose threads on the uniform (called “Irish Pennants”)
  • A clean “gig line” – the vertical line of a trouser seam, belt edge and edge of a shirt (where buttoned)
  • Shined shoes

I also remember watching from the corner of my eye as midshipmen dropped from standing outside in the hot sun too long with locked out knees while waiting to be inspected.

Room inspections were next.  Beds were made with hospital corners and taut across the top.  All surfaces – even vertical were cleaned and dusted.  Floors were stripped then waxed. Sinks, showers and mirrors were spotless. Etc.

At the time, these “attention to detail” exercises seemed like overkill but in the real military, not paying attention to detail might cause a squad mate’s death if you’re not paying attention during a patrol in a combat area or flood a submarine if you forget to close a valve that keeps seawater out.

I recognize now that lessons spilled over into other aspects of my life including triathlon and business.  For me, it was focus on the details in triathlon training that led an average athlete (me) to achieve uncommon results (a sub-9 hour Ironman finish as an amateur while working full time).

When we were presenting the Champions Are Made in the Off Season webinar a few weeks ago, 6x Ironman World Champion Dave Scott said this about triathlon’s world champions:

“…I’ve certainly recognized a trait with the world’s best in that that they’re always looking at way to improve their program and not using an exact template from the previous year.  In other words, they’re looking at the small components. For example: nutrition or strength training or sleep or getting body work done and integrating that as part of their routine.”

In other words, to be truly successful – to be a champion – you need to pay attention to the detail. This applies not just to sports, but to every day life.

So, yes, the details are important.

David

David B. Glover, MSE, MS, CSCS
President, ENDURANCEWORKS, LLC
Founder, School of Tri
Author of Full Time and Sub-Nine: Fitting Iron Distance Training into Everyday Life

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