Listen Up, NFL Rookie Class of 2013

Ryan Riddle@@Ryan_RiddleCorrespondent IMay 10, 2013

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 25:  Xavier Rhodes of the Florida State Seminoles holds up a jersey on stage after he was picked #25 overall by the Minnesota Vikings in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall on April 25, 2013 in New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

I have no records in the NFL, no statues in my likeness. My experiences and accomplishments carry through history like a distant star millions of light-years away, barely visible to most gazing eyes upon the night’s sky. And like that dimly lit star, my professional career came and went in the night more or less unnoticed, lost in the glare of brighter extravagance.

As a result, I may not be ideally suited to offer up any advice on the NFL. On the other hand, perhaps my angle could be extremely valuable for the very reason I mentioned.

This is not the first article dispensing advice on NFL survival, so in consideration of those perhaps more qualified who came before me,  I will try to bypass the over-stated and take you in a different direction where we may venture into less familiar counsel.   

Your chance at a rare opportunity

No matter how hard or difficult the process to greatness may seem, remember that playing professional football encompasses only a brief period of your life. With each passing day that moment in time feels more like a vivid dream than something tangible.

Give everything you have to that moment if only to make the memory last forever. Don’t let a string of regrets and “should haves” define your one chance at something incredibly special.

According to the NFLPA, if you played high school football, the chances of making it on an NFL roster are about 0.2 percent. That is not two percent mind you, that is less than half of one percent.

This is your rare chance to build a legacy capable of withstanding the test of time. You stand on the precipice of having your name etched in the record books, forever echoing through the ages.

Remember, in order to achieve a feat such as this, you must distinguish yourself among the biggest, fastest, baddest ‘mofos’ on the planet.  These are grown men who dedicated their lives to this sport—men with physical gifts capable of awe-inspiring feats, brute strength bordering the ferocity of a grizzly bear and the competitive grit of a one-eyed wolverine, single-handedly fending off a pack of wolves from his kill.

When you enter your first training camp in the NFL, keep in mind that the competition level will rise when jobs are on the line. The urgency to impress is much more severe than in the college atmosphere, so you absolutely must be ready for the challenge. The stakes are high come August when you get your first true taste of the NFL’s head-spinning speed.

Comfy vets may try and coast their way through this month but guys trying to establish themselves in the league and earn a job cannot afford to follow their lead in regards to practice tempo. Those same established stars may try and give you crap about your effort by throwing out terms like “scrimmage hero” and “weekday Heisman.”

Never allow another player to slow your practice tempo. No friendship on that roster is more important than making an NFL team. Let the guys who are frustrated with you for making them work harder continue to think whatever they want. Just keep doing what will help you rise above the rest and resist falling into the lull of complacency which will show itself on the most surprising of profiles.

The learning curve in the NFL is remarkably unforgiving. You either keep up with the ferocious pace, or you’re left dusting yourself off amidst the thousands who have tried and failed before you.  

If the plan is to simply survive, you have already lost. If the plan is to thrive and be the best, then maybe, just maybe you stand a chance to endure.  I have learned these lessons firsthand.

But how do you endure?

Familiarize yourself with pain

Pain is an inevitable part of this violent sport. This concept shouldn’t be anything shockingly new for rookies, but in a game where the last man standing often wins, letting pain hinder your performance or render you unavailable could be the very thing that sends you home in a hurry.

There are times in the NFL when pain will consume nearly every fiber of your being. Sheer exhaustion, both mental and physical, twisted bones, shredded muscles, open wounds, all begin to mount like daily badges of mettle—eventually the body will turn on you, screaming for rest, yearning for a break, those who bend to the will of this primal pain response will essentially be capping their NFL potential—a dangerous proposition for any legacy hound. This is one element where the gifted athlete is so often cut down to size.

In order to assist your weaponry from the rigors of NFL brutality, successful players learn to treat their instrument with care. Every available resource of the medical staff and modern technology should be considered and explored in order to know exactly what your body responds best to.

There’s no plan that works for everyone, each individual body and mind is unique, it must be treated as such. Try as many methods and techniques as you can while paying close attention to your body’s responses. This will eventually set the foundation for an effective set of reliable rituals which should help sustain longevity and minimize lingering or chronic pain.  

Be smart with your time

There’s a familiar saying continuously regurgitated by players and coaches throughout the league, yet at the end of the day this over-used idiom offers little beyond a generalized summation more likely to increase stress rather than guide positively. That saying is this:

“Always be the first one in the building and the last one out.”

On the surface this popular phrase seems to make a lot of sense— it helps to epitomize the work ethic of a champion and serves as quantifiable proof that you‘re indeed the hardest working guy in the facility. However, all it really proves is that you work a lot, which can definitely be preferable to laziness. But it can also do you disservice.

We as humans require time to rest and recover or we run the risk of burning out. Any athlete knows that burning out can be just as damaging to performance as laziness.

So, ignore the idea that you have to be the first person in and the last person out in order to be a hard worker. This entire concept just creates unnecessary anxiety while steering you away from better alternatives. Besides, as we will discuss later, anxiety can be one of your greatest enemies.

Maximize your efficiency during every hour of work. Make the most of the time you put in. Give it your all and work smart. This will yield much richer returns in your preparation habits and help reduce the guilt and stress associated with times of rest.

The guy who works from sun up until sun down may not be working on the things he needs to truly get better. He may not be giving each moment his all because he’s forced to conserve energy for the endless marathon of activities planned. He may also be working himself into a state of regression where issues such as stress fractures and general body fatigue can hinder performance. Furthermore, these methods could be outdated and ineffective at generating the desired effect.

Working smart and using your time wisely is an element rarely emphasized yet should be highly prioritized in any training regimen, especially considering the new CBA agreement which allows less time at the facilities for players.

Even though you may be at home it doesn’t mean you can’t get valuable work in. Watching film should become your favorite hobby. This tool, if done properly, can give you great insight on your own weaknesses as well as your opponents. It can also be a great way to extend your reps away from practice and become more familiar with plays and adjustments. There is no limit to how much you can learn from studying film.

But as mentioned earlier, three hours of watching practice tape at home while talking on the phone is not nearly as valuable as one hour of intense study, focused on specific aspects of the game. This is just one of a thousand ways where being smart with your time is critical.

Another way involves the endless list of what not to do with your precious time.

If I could point out one enormous waste of time which has haunted the careers of so many, I would implore every rookie to stay away from strip clubs. These “scam pits” do nothing but leave you unsatisfied, waste your hard-earned money and often involve drinking and driving.  

Sure you might think you have a gift with women when you’re there as they can’t seem to get enough of you, but in reality, all they want is your money. Their game is simply to separate your cash from your wallet and they will say anything to make it happen.

In the spirit of being smart with both time and money, if you want to pay to have a beautiful woman lavish affection on you, get a massage. Not only is this good therapy and preventative medicine, but it’s also less likely to land you on the front page of the news the next day. Besides, it’s significantly cheaper and safer than a night at a strip club.

Last but not least…

Have confidence in yourself yet be humble

You cannot expect anyone to believe in you more than you believe in yourself. The NFL does not work that way. Coaches lack the time, patience and resources to infuse self confidence in an unproven rookie unless they‘re trying to make good on a significantly high draft pick.

There is no overstating the importance of believing in yourself if you’re to have any chance at success in the NFL. It is quite literally the No. 1 ingredient to defying the astronomical odds at making it.

As a rookie, understand that mistakes are going to be made, guys will know much more than you do and when you first arrive on the scene, players are going to seem incredibly superior to you in nearly every way. This is just the natural process of being a rookie. You have to catch up incrementally to the speed of the game while learning an entirely new system, in an unfamiliar place, surrounded by guys you grew up idolizing.

If you let this process take its course with an open mind and healthy belief in your potential, you will soon find the initial feeling of being overwhelmed and outmatched was simply a momentary blinder. Once shock and awe have run their course, you should quickly discover the reason you’ve been given a chance at the NFL. If this realization is not apparent within a matter of weeks and you continuously feel outmatched, then you’ve sadly already determined your fate.

When the inevitable occurs and you make a mistake or are beaten, you must be able to put the defeat into perspective and use it as a positive learning tool without sacrificing too much confidence. This was always one of the most difficult things for me to do and I can personally attest to its destructive elements if left unchecked.

Once an athlete is stripped of his confidence he begins to spiral downhill into a cyclical manifestation of his own demise. The athlete who lacks confidence will immediately fill that emptiness with doubt and ultimately anxiety. Once infected with large amounts of anxiety, the athlete begins to cannibalize his own energy source in order to fuel the anxiousness.

He may not even be doing anything besides standing there in anticipation for his chance. As this happens, critical energy to perform is continuously depleted from the body, essentially causing him to feel more fatigued and less up for the challenge, which then generates even more anxiety. By the time he’s actually called upon to perform, he has less energy and his mind is poisoned with the fear of failure.

Eventually this fear becomes realized as the mind does little aside from preparing itself to fail rather than triumph.

Avoid this vicious cycle at all costs.

If you keep the flames of confidence burning brightly, good things are likely to happen. But as you do this, it’s important to keep a hefty dose of humility with you at every turn. This allows the necessary room for growth and development while preventing the perils of overconfidence, which results from a state of stagnation.  

So rookie, if you can somehow seize your moment with grit, toughness, wisdom and intelligence, all while maintaining your confidence, you may just have a chance to succeed in the NFL. Of course there’s still that little thing called athleticism to worry about. 

Good luck and enjoy the journey for what it’s worth. In the end, it alone will be your greatest reward. The lessons learned, the memories acquired, each the ultimate measure of one’s success—your personal legacy. 


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