I used to love pro football, the whole thing; the players, the process, the mentality that it was up to each individual to do their personal best every time moved me. If you haven’t been a fan or are a current fan, stay with me. I want you to understand some powerful life lessons. I think that pro football players understand that no one else is going to do the work for them or they don’t last in the competitive world of pro sports. Just like you and me, every player to a man or woman needs work ethic, a reason why they do what they do, and to let go of excuses, so they can be great.
Work ethic, the why, and letting go of excuses.
I didn’t find football until I was in high school really. I don’t remember watching at home before then. But, away from home I started watching it, and cheered in the crowd at high school games. Eventually, I became a cheerleader and was surrounded by a different view of the game. But, it was watching pro football and following careers that made me fall in love with the players and the sport.
Many guys who go pro don’t come from money. They may have been the first in their family to go to college or graduate. They may have lived in the projects or not had enough to eat when they were kids. There is not a special formula for who will grow up and become a professional athlete when it comes to circumstance. Becoming successful is about something else.
Before the pros, some of these guys faced racism, poverty, dysfunctional families, bad schools, or growing up around crime. But here is the kicker. There are no excuses in pro football. You either rise above, become your best you, or you don’t make it or can’t keep it.
My husband and I both grew up with parents who started with not much. Truth be told, my own family lived in a series of trailers until I was in school. But it never occurred to me that I was any different from the people around me. I didn’t know we weren’t “well off” or that some people had a problem with that. Honestly, I didn’t care. I was a kid whose mom and dad worked hard and passed it onto my brothers and me. They exposed us to a bigger world and taught us to push through, to do well in school. I never heard the word poverty or broke. Just work.
My dad didn’t put up with slacking off. He was all about work ethic.
Anecdotally, in interviews many pro players tell about how their mom or dad or coach told them they could do it and supported them through it. Like me, many didn’t have a cushy life or a training facility when they were young. They found a mentor of some kind. Mostly, they had themselves and maybe an adult or two who cared what they cared about.
Since, professional sports favors the gifted and the young, to get to the top of the game and stay there takes work. It is the same for anyone who wants to excel. Work ethic will help get you there. Work ethic is discipline, working hard when you don’t feel like it.
All of the best players work hard no matter who else does. They come in early and stay late, do reps, work out, and push through pain. Guys like Jarvis Landry, an incredible receiver for the Browns, or quarterback Tom Brady, formerly of The Patriots know that it takes more than showing up and practice.
It takes a no excuses mentality. You leave your sad stories and your personal problems behind and do the work.
When I see a two hundred pound turf hardened guy meditate or pray instead of getting into trouble, I am encouraged. Pros find ways to decompress, energize themselves, and get back up and do it again and again or they will fade and lose their spot. The NFL, for instance, isn’t for the weak minded or weak willed.
Work ethic gets you pretty far, it’s the day to day discipline, but being the best also takes a why. Every person who is trying to accomplish something big or difficult needs a why.
In interviews after games, we see grown men in a dirty jerseys talk about helping their mom or taking care of their kids. The best guys know why they are there. Without a why, they won’t have what it takes in the tank when things get harder. Basically, if these men build a fortress around their why and stay focused, not much can stop them. We can learn a lot from them.
I have to quote myself here. From my post Find your why and live your life like you mean it. this quote: “Days that stretch into the future absent of dreams or somewhere to head, days without something to work on or work for, are empty. If your chosen profession or other important life work doesn’t get your blood pumping, if you don’t have someone or something to do it for, you are going to feel empty or pointless. Consequently, we all need a why.”
We all need a reason to do what we do.
However, my favorite thing about watching pro football and getting to know the players through interviews and stories was their no excuses, drop the baggage, and go mentality.
The ones who can’t seem to let go of yesterday or their litany of hurts and wounds won’t make it. Eventually, the hurt will overcome the will if they don’t let it go and let the healing take place. (See External change won’t heal inner wounds. Inner wounds take work.)
You have to be willing to let go of your “right” to complain or give up to achieve greatness. You don’t get to blame your dad or mom, teacher, next door neighbor or being bullied anymore. To achieve greatness, the buck stops with you.
Your economic status, race, religion, parentage, physical infirmities, or sexual orientation are not excuses. They are only descriptors. You can derive strength from things that people see as drawbacks, handicaps, differences, or even weaknesses and make them a reason to win.
When these athletes who have every reason to whine and cry about how they had it encourage others instead, I am wowed. When they give back and teach little kids, it is inspiring. I invest in watching them leave their old thinking behind and become amazing people who also play football. It doesn’t always work out, but for every story about somebody who screwed up, there are so many more about the ones who change some small part of our big world.
If you have ever attempted something great yourself, you know that it takes more than most people are willing to give. My husband says all the time, “If it were easy, then everyone would do it.” The great things, the hard things take more than average effort.