Clarity is a wonderful thing.
When your mind is clear and you understand expectations it is amazing what can be accomplished on an individual basis and as it relates to football, collectively. And as the 2014 CFL season is about to start it is up to the head coach to be demanding on his expectations and desires from his players. He demands not only that they be the best they can be but also dictates what is expected from them as personalities and players, never forgetting that as a head coach he is their boss and is always evaluating one thing every day...them. What are those demands? Well, some are obvious and logical but until articulated perhaps not put as a priority. But given my top 10 list of demands that if you have them, you are going to win no matter the absence of excessive talent, if you don't...I doubt it.
1. Realize the opportunity
Time moves on at a disturbing rate, and before you know it you have become a veteran player and youth is no longer on your side. Realize that pro football is not a career, it is an experience and given that fact you must win now. Not because that is what you are paid to do, but more because pro football careers are shorter than any other in team sports. In many ways there is no tomorrow, just today. So as the season beings you must have a "win now" mentality because there is no tomorrow, only today and only this year.
2. Be dedicated
The CFL regular season goes from the last week of June to November 30 this year. There is no reason that you can take that time frame and put football as a complete priority. Do not be the last to show and the first to go, quite the opposite, be the first to show, last to go and use the time to know you have improved. There is nothing more aggravating on a football team than apathy. If you're the last to show and first to go, it expresses apathy in loud clear volume.
3. Make football a study, not a job
I loved university life when at school at University of Arizona. Because everything was interesting, including football. And one of the reasons I excelled was that I looked at the meeting the same way as I looked at school, I studied. There is a magnificent mental element to football when you study the game. Watching video of yourself and opponent, perfecting plays and knowing not only your position but everyone's position. Knowing philosophy of the game, history, mechanics, techniques and adjustments. Look at football as if you just enrolled at the University of Football and you must graduate. Make it a study and by doing so you make it interesting.
4. Work with people, not because of them
In any locker room you have a lot of people from a lot of different backgrounds that do not always have the same values. To think you will get along well with everybody is ridiculous. There will be personality conflicts and problems. But that does not mean it has to be a detriment. Quite the opposite, it can be an asset if you're the one that makes the effort to get along. It does not mean you change, it means you accept that not everyone is like you and there is nothing wrong with it. Great teams are great teams because they make an effort for the cause. You don't have to like the guy or even respect him. But you have to understand his success is your success so concentrate on success and not the person and his personality. Make the effort.
5. Stay off the streets
There is a saying, "nothing good ever happens after midnight". Very true. It is one of those subjects that is awkward to talk about but so critical to success. No one has the right to tell you what to do with your free time but the consequences of being at the wrong place at the wrong time can be devastating. Fans of football and athletes in general do not respect seeing their stars, players out in a club at 2am intoxicated. It is a respect crusher and a conversation that never ends at the other person's place of employment. In many CFL cities players are recognized everywhere. Being 6'7" and on national TV I know what it is like and must stay aware at all times. Many in the public want to see you fail and the first and best place to do it is late in the club trying to impress. I have known a few, but very few, that can run the streets and run a successful career. Not just in football, but in any worthwhile occupation.
6. Keep your money
There may be nothing in sports more difficult to understand than the high number that don't have anything to show for it when it is all over. And when I say anything to show for it I mean cash. You want football players to play football because they love football. It's motivating. But to think some play because of the fame and money is true. And nothing is wrong with that, if that is how you are wired then that is the way you are. Still if you love the game and what the game can get you so be it. It sounds so cliché but if you have 80 per cent of what you earned when the season is over than in an abstract way it was a winning season. If when 2014 is over you lost 80 per cent of what you earned it was a losing season. Keep your money...it makes you feel good and if you feel good you will play good.
7. Stand up for your teammates
There is a lot of intimidation that goes on that goes unnoticed and is very subtle. There is nothing better than when you are in your personal battle that is about to get out of hand when instead of a one-on-one it becomes a three-on-one with your advantage being the three. The best teams are the teams that know everyone will defend everyone. The worst are teams where it's you and only you defending you. Football like all team sports has a "gang mentality" of creating confidence. You see it in hockey perfectly when a role player defends the different role player. Football teams have to have that too or they don't become teams, they become individuals on teams. Working with each other is important but defending each other makes ann even bigger difference.
8. Take video critique as serious as the game
The day after every game players receive their grades and watch every play, and I mean every play. If you're winning and playing well it can be an enjoyable experience. But if you are losing and not playing well it can be agony. Film analysis, video analysis leaves clues. Clues of what is right, wrong and everything in between. The keys are the preparation for the game, the performance of the game, but the most important aspect is the evaluation of the game. So significant as the honest evaluation improves the next week's preparation which improves the performance which leads back to the evaluation again. It is this game after game cycle that when mastered, guarantees improvement. It begins with evaluation of performance. If you take it as serious as the game you will excel at an exceptional rate. It is inevitable and logical - iff you don't you flat line or regress. It is that simple.
9. Take the game and make the game personal
I will be the first one to say football is just a game. There are so many other things in life that are so much more important it is staggering. Still, if you blow it up in your mind and trick or convince yourself that nothing is more important, you again are guaranteed enhanced success. Take your individual play personally, take winning and losing personally. When you do you tap into hidden resources that maybe you did not realize you even had. Pride is motivating. Being respected is exhilarating. The more you play with pride, the more you demand respect and the better you are. Taking the game personal means you care and is the exact opposite of apathy. Your grade after the game should be extremely important to you. Winning should be incredibly important to you. Blow it up in your mind. Benefits will follow quickly.
10. Earn your paycheque
Some people think that it is their right to have a job. Other feel they need to earn the job and make it right. Either way we all want to get paid. A great feeling is the feeling that you earned your paycheque. Earned money feels good and satisfying. Often players forget that they are being paid to be at their best both on and off the field. Because the cheques can come frequent and fast you as a player forget you are a paid professional. It is an unusual statement and it is almost subconscious but this is a job now. You're a pro and you must perform. College is over and anytime money is involved everything changes. Being a pro is being aware you now paid to play and although it is called a game it is no long the same game you used to play. Stay aware, earn your paycheque or someone will be very happy to earn it for you.
From June to November, some will rise and some will fall. But given the memories and moments with money and a bit of fame, it is all worth it. And to stay focused on the goal of becoming a Grey Cup champion, a little sacrifice for the next six months is not much to ask for.