Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.
A great coach often spoke those words, and recently, a great tight end has heeded them. George Kittle might not be aware of all of John Wooden's famous sayings, but he's living proof of their veracity -- well, at least one of them.
The NFL hopes to proceed with the upcoming 2020 season as originally scheduled, but whatever chances there were of having a normal offseason went out the window months ago. With team facilities shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, players have been forced to conduct their offseason training away from the luxurious facilities that they typically would. Most players -- and the country in general -- were not adequately prepared for the outbreak of the pandemic, and consequently weren't prepared for the adjustments it would cause.
Kittle, however, is not most players.
The 49ers' tight end had the benefit of foresight. He and his wife got married last spring, and they had planned to celebrate it with a big party in Italy this summer. Naturally, when Italy had its outbreak in February, they were paying close attention. As the pandemic became more of a global reality, they made the decision to postpone the trip -- at which time, Kittle turned his attention to his offseason training.
He knew it was going to be different. So he snapped into action and started building a home gym.
"We were like, ‘You know what? This might not go very well,’” Kittle told Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer. “And just the way things were going, it was gonna be inevitable, I wanted to get out in front of it. I’m pretty sure, with some of the stuff I was ordering, whether that was weight equipment or whatever, a lot of it sold out within the next two or three days."
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Kittle viewed his garage as the logical place to build the gym, so he preemptively widened and lengthened his driveway so as to create additional parking spaces for the cars that would no longer be housed in the garage. Of course, before he transformed such a large shared space, he had to make sure his wife would be good with it. So, the first piece of equipment he ordered specifically was for her.
"Oh my goodness, if I hadn’t gotten that StairMaster?” Kittle said. “That would’ve been a tough look for me."
What started with a StairMaster now amounts to what Kittle says is the "prettiest" of all the 49ers' home setups. Three corners of the space are occupied by a lat pull-down machine, a squat rack and conditioning equipment, while the fourth houses a collection of neatly-stacked dumbbells, medicine balls and kettlebells. He also has decorated the high ceilings with flags hanging from the rafters.
Soon after Kittle had ordered all of the equipment, one of San Francisco's strength coaches inquired as to where he was getting all of it from. Kittle passed on the information to the coach, who apparently passed it on to many other members of the team, as several players also have built similar setups. There's a friendly competition as to who's is the best, and Kittle is confident he had a top contender.
"Oh, it’s got the most character to it,” he said. “I got the nice rubber floors. We keep it clean. We treat like it’s our real gym. It’s fun, too. Our whole family gets to use it. We had to put everything together. And mine’s 100% used for a gym -- other people have other things in it. And we’re adding mirrors to it too, because you gotta flex a little bit."
All NFL players have to find ways to stay in playing shape somehow, but Kittle believes the proactivity with which he and his teammates have attacked the offseason will allow them to flex on their opponents as they attempt to get back to the Super Bowl.
"Losing the Super Bowl, it’s awful, I don’t wish that on anyone, unless I’m playing them, but I think it definitely was a teaching moment,” Kittle explained. “Guys are definitely very hungry, we want to go back and win that one. Guys are definitely holding themselves accountable. Our coaches have done a great job staying in touch with guys, all our strength coaches, our nutritionists, our dietician, our trainers reach out to all the guys all the time to make sure they have everything they need.
“And I think guys have really responded well to it. As a leader on the team, I check in on my guys, I know the tight ends are doing really well, I know our offensive guys are doing well. And we have a lot of hungry guys on defense that are training as hard as they possibly can. I think our team’s gonna come back really well from this. Like I said, I’m just ready to play football again."
Kittle's daily routine begins with yoga at 8 a.m. -- with his sister as his instructor -- followed by 90 minutes of weight lifting at 9:30 a.m., two hours of virtual meetings starting at 11 a.m., then outdoor speed agility drills from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Oh, and then route-running and JUGGS work to close it out.
"I’ve been treating it like it’s my normal offseason program,” he said. “Obviously I can’t work out with all my friends. But I’ve been able to do my training at as high a level as if everything was normal."
Kittle didn't fail to prepare, and now he and the 49ers stand to benefit as a result.
Perhaps the next gym decoration he orders will be the Pyramid of Success.