Whatever successes I have known can usually be attributed to lessons learned on a playing field or court. Some were bright, and I knew right away that I had discovered something that worked. Others were painful, learned from failure, not pleasant but well-remembered. Some truths only make sense now.
I remember as a rookie with the Washington Redskins during my first training camp listening to Coach Lombardi screaming at us, "You've got to love to run!" It didn't make sense in 1969 as I struggled along with the other players as we ran sprint after sprint. It does now. I'd give just about anything today to be able to run just for the pure joy of it.
Here's some like experiences that have helped me. You're welcome to apply any lessons learned to something you're struggling with.
The man in the glassA poem read to us by Oregon State University Coach Dee Andros before we went out and beat the University of South California 3-0 in 1968. You wouldn't think that poetry would fire you up, but it did. The poem talks about being true to yourself and your values over all else. You can fool a lot of people, but not the "man in the glass" as you look into a mirror. I still actually stop before an event I'm stressed about, find a mirror and give myself a checkup on the validity of what I'm doing.
Pay attention to detailI couldn't figure out as center for the New Orleans Saints why this one particular defensive nose tackle was beating me to the punch. He was head-slapping me before I even completed the snap. The week after the game, during practice, I asked our defensive linemen to watch me and see if I was doing anything to give away the snap count. Sure as heck, I was clenching my left hand just before I snapped the ball to Archie Manning. I might as well of had a little flashing neon sign on my helmet. It was a little thing but it gave my opponent a huge advantage. You always need to pay attention to every detail of how you plan to accomplish your goal and view your actions from other perspectives than just your own.
Keep your mouth shut unless you know what you're talking aboutI only called one play in my entire career. I got stuffed by Dick Butkus as we were driving in for a touchdown from their one-yard line. I was furious and screamed at Archie in the huddle to call the same play again, right over me. Guess what? He nailed me again, punched the ball out of Archie's hands and eventually recovered it on our 45-yard line. You may have even seen the play. It's a favorite on NFL follies. Archie said some extremely unkind things to me as we jogged off the field. I think that it was the only time I ever heard him swear.
You've got to play with painAdmittedly we were all crazy when I played football long ago. I watched many guys play with serious injuries, some who should have been in hospitals instead of on the gridiron. Linebackers were the worst (or best). I watched one take a pair of pliers and pull a toenail out that he had cracked in the first half, tape it up, and play the rest of the game. I always think of watching him when I have a cold and don't want to go to work.
Study your opponent and adapt, improvise and overcome
Special team players make even linebackers look like Cub Scouts. Their world consists of running 30 or 40 yards and meeting head on another behemoth doing the same thing only the opposite direction. A friend of mine on the Saints while watching game films discovered that a kick-off coverage guy on the 49ers lined up in a sprinter's stance on kick-offs and began streaking down the field out of his stance with his head still down like a track star. My buddy drooled all week until game time. He lived to hit people.
Opening kickoff, San Francisco booted the ball and I focused on my friend. He had a 20-yard run, all six-foot-six, 275 pounds of him, before he hit the cover guy just as he burst out of his stance and finally raised his head. I don't remember how far we ran the kickback because I was watching the greatest hit ever. I guarantee you that the cover guy knew where my friend was every second the rest of the game. Keep your head on a swivel. Bad things happen when you don't pay attention.
Make the best of your opportunitiesI had been a quarterback until my senior year in high school. Without warning my coach tossed me the ball (at our first practice) as he told me I was now a center. I wasn't happy, but I gave it my best. We won a championship and I contributed to the team's success. Not from where I wanted, but where I could help our team the most. Always do your best, 110 percent.
A door closes, and another opensAs my professional career ended I was crushed. I had lost my identity as a football player. I struggled for a while with feeling sorry for myself. As the years passed and I learned to focus out instead of in, my world enlarged. Today I look back and see how the end of my football career was a blessing. I got to really work for a living, in plumbing with my father-in-law and next as a deputy sheriff. I had a wonderful opportunity to coach football at Naselle and Ilwaco. The years as sheriff of Pacific County have been exciting and fulfilling. Every day I draw on one of my life experiences to help with a decision or course.
As we move into 2009 we all will face difficult decisions and tough choices. My line coach at Oregon State University described a drive block like this: "Have a balanced stance. Head up, eyes open. Explode from your stance. Use short, choppy steps. Put your face in their numbers and walk on their toes."
Here's my interpretation. Balance your opinions. Be stable. Be aware of the issues and your surroundings. Be energetic, work hard. Confront your problems and take small, directed steps to solving them. Stay focused and never, never quit.