Tim Tebow: the Survey

Rumors of the New York Mets calling Tim Tebow into the big-league have begun. He continues to improve in the minor leagues (he just made the Double-A All-Star team), and it seems his number is almost destined to be called. That news is already sparking low-level debates akin to the nearly constant controversy that came alongside his NFL career. With more debate looming, we decided to run a small study (n=25) in an attempt to identify patterns within the way we, as sports fans, judge the popular athlete.

Methods

Over the course of twenty days in June/July 2018, we collected twenty-five responses (three responses collected by phone, nineteen collected in person, and three via social media correspondence) to a brief survey consisting of the following questions.
1. How familiar are you with Tim Tebow? (1-10):
2. How much do you like Tim Tebow as a person? (1-10):
3. How good is Tim Tebow as an athlete? (1-10):
4. Use one word to describe Tim Tebow:
5. Use one (more) word to describe Tim Tebow:
6. Did you know he was playing baseball now? (Y/N):
7. Do you think he got that opportunity because of his stardom? (Y/N):
For the final question, participants were given a scenario: A prospect in the Mets organization, by many accounts, is strong, humble, hardworking, and his coach says “I’d never bet against him. Whatever the obstacle is, he’s going to be relentless in overcoming it.”
8. Based on the description, would you play the other prospect over Tim Tebow? (Y/N):

The catch in our study is that the description of that anonymous prospect is a description of Tim Tebow. The quote is from his college football coach, Urban Meyer. We understand that the questioning is tricky, and the participants were left anonymous and not told of this “catch”, to avoid any possible embarrassment. After collection, we analyzed the results in attempt to identify why, in a local population, people had such conflicting ideas about Tim Tebow.

Results

Participants had a fairly high awareness of Tebow, responding with an average awareness of 6.8 on a scale of 10 (with a range of 4-10). There was significant range in the opinions of Tebow as a person (2-10), with many leaning low and responding with an average score of 5.76. Regarding Tebow the athlete, there was a smaller range (4-10), with many leaning high and responding with an average score of 7.24.

Tebow Avg Rating from Survey
Average rating of Tim Tebow as a person (column one) and as an athlete (column two).

Questions 4 and 5 looked for adjectives describing Tim Tebow. Descriptions fell mainly between two categories: 21% were coded as Hardworking (effort, work ethic, relentless, perseverant), and 31% were coded as Religion & Associated Values (prayer, abstinent, and Tebowing, among others). Lame came in third with 12%, Strong was in 10% of the descriptions, and Kind, Motivated, Successful, Football, and Dumb were in 7% of the descriptions or fewer [Fig Two]

Tebow Definitions from Survey
Adjectives describing Tim Tebow broken down by frequency.

92% (23/25) of participants said they would select the other athlete to play over Tim Tebow, even though 60% (15/25) of participants mentioned the same or very similar qualities to those given in the scenario (strong, humble, hardworking). 93% (14/15) of the participants who mentioned one of those qualities still chose to play the “prospect” over Tebow.
The most notable date comes in the examination of those participants who rated Tebow a 5 or below as a person. In that subgroup (n=15), participants found Tebow unlikable, on average, with a score of 4.33. Even within that group, Tebow was rated 7.0 as an athlete. Similarly surprising, members of that subgroup also used terms like relentless, hardworking, winner, and strong in their descriptions of him. Still, all of those participants (15/15) selected the anonymous prospect to play over Tebow.

Interpretation

Many of the responses do not seem to align. There are a large number of participants who prefer an unnamed player over Tim Tebow based only on an anonymous description. That description, as we mentioned, is of Tebow himself. This is confusing, since Tebow averaged a 7.4 rating as an athlete. We believe that participant judgement of Tebow as a person often outweighed their view of him as an athlete. This becomes especially obvious in the examination of those participants who rated Tebow a 5 or below as a person. In that subgroup (n=15), participants found Tebow unlikable, on average, with a score of 4.33. Even within that group, Tebow was rated 7.0 as an athlete. They describe him as relentless, hardworking, winner, and strong; still, as mentioned, all of those participants (15/15) selected the anonymous prospect to play over Tebow.

The prefrontal cortex is the locus of logic in the brain, and we shift activation to and from the PFC as situations demand. The amygdala is the locus of emotion, with fear stimulating perhaps the most activation. The amount of activation in the PFC versus the amygdala might be able to suggest the degree to which logic or emotion is being employed in a given situation. In a 2010 study, Masaheko Haruno and Christopher D. Frith used MRI to gain insight into the way people process information during social interaction. In economic games, prosocial participants “defined as those who like to maximize the sum of resources for the self and the other, while simultaneously minimizing the difference between the two” (Haruno & Frith, 2010) had greater activation of the dorsal amygdala when they felt that outcomes of those games were inequitable. That is, during the moments when participants judged “unfair” actions of their peers, the amygdala (emotion) was activated to a greater degree than the PFC (logic). Additional studies demonstrate similar results, with high activation in the insula, which is also associated with emotion processing. These experiments demonstrate one very ‘human’ result: people respond based on the degree to which they feel, relying on emotion, rather than (or at least as much as) logic.
In this study, it was found that many are “rub[bed] the wrong way” by Tebow (as noted in follow-up discussion with participants). A few participants do not like the way Tebow behaves, but had a difficult time providing specifics. Many more cited his beliefs regarding religion and abstinence. He makes people feel like they would not want him to play for their team, even though they rate him a 7/10 as an athlete, and describe him using words like strength, athletic, and hardworking.
A study published in Science in 2008 might be able to shed further light on the discussion. Herrmann, Thöni, and Gächter, from the University of Nottingham, gave participants a set number of tokens to either keep for themselves or contribute to the pot, in whichever quantities they liked. Tokens contributed to the pot experienced a small multiplier before being evenly distributed back to participants. In the experiment, the best possible outcome for a person would be to keep all of their tokens and have all other participants contribute all of their tokens; the worst outcome would be to contribute all of one’s tokens and all other participants keep all tokens. An additional component: participants in the Nottingham study were allowed to punish the other participants as they saw fit. Some were punished for not contributing enough toward the communal pot. Interestingly, the inverse was also true. Researchers found that participants penalized others for giving too much. Interpretation suggests that there was a distaste for those in the group who set a high standard of contribution – in other words, a distaste for those who set a standard they themselves were not willing to uphold.

Is it possible that we feel as though Tim Tebow is setting a standard that demands too much of us?
Limitations

Our survey has a quasi-experimental design and is not large enough to be predictive of a full population. We made an attempt to stay neutral during the interviews and not influence the responses. In the few surveys we conducted via Instagram, it is likely our name and handle influenced the responses (the Good Athlete Project; @coach4kindness). Chicago was the site of most of the data collection. This decision was made primarily for ease of collection. That might also have been a benefit to the survey, since Chicago is outside of Tebow’s primary markets of Florida, Denver, and New York. Still, we believe the responses we received are indicative of the conceptual divide that exists in common conversation and in media: appreciation for the athletic and competitive ability of Tim Tebow. This study did not fall under a high level of scientific scrutiny; rather, a survey was conducted in attempt to identify patterns within perceptions of Tim Tebow to shed light on the way we, sports fans, tend to think.

Conclusion

Despite less than rigorous scientific criteria, we believe this study supports previous studies that suggest human beings judge and punish with more emotion than logic, and that perhaps our emotion-fueled judgement is harsher for those who raise performance and behavior standards to levels we ourselves to not feel comfortable with.
With all of this in mind, we should probably default to the Mets’ ability to assess baseball talent when Tim Tebow gets his chance. If he ever does. After all, logic would suggest that what we see through our screens cannot possibly compare to what MLB talent scouts are seeing in person. Emotion might conflate our ability to accurately assess, as well as make decisions regarding who should play. Sports analysts, internet personalities and armchair quarterbacks, take note.

Frank Beamer: Football is Family

In September of 2017, we had the privilege of interviewing legendary football coach Frank Beamer on the Good Athlete Podcast. A few months later, Jan. 8 of 2018, Frank Beamer was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. It was the crowning achievement of a career which includes 280 wins, 8 conference championships, 12 bowl wins, and an appearance in the 1999 National Championship game. At his induction, it was noted that Beamer was a 2x ACC Coach of the Year, 3x Big East Coach of the Year, won 8 significant National Coach of the Year awards, and was already in 4 different Halls (Virginia Tech Hall of Fame, Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, the Peach Bowl Hall of Fame, and the Sun Bowl Legend hall). He has a road named after him. He has a day named after him (Feb 4th is ‘Frank Beamer Day’ in Virginia). And, most importantly, his former players light up when his name is mentioned. Few would have assumed this success when he first laced up his cleats to play quarterback in Hillsville, Virginia, a town of approximately 600 people. But it was that small town, where everybody new each other, that helped created his demeanor; and it was the esteem they had for football – “on Friday night everyone was at the game,” – that began to carve the path for a true legend of college football.

Hillsville was half a mile from the Blue Ridge parkway, a rolling landscape in the quiet knolls of Virginia. Beamer remembers it fondly. It was a town stocked with traditional values, “no matter how late you stayed out on Saturday night, you were in church Sunday morning.” And on Friday nights, everyone in town was at the football game. It was small town football in the early sixties. Single wing was the offense of choice. Frank credits his coach, Tommy Thompson, with changing the game, at least the flavor of it, when he went up to Baltimore to learn from Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts’ coaching staff. He brought back “a passing offense to little Hillsville. He was way ahead of his time and defenses couldn’t stop him.” In that offense, Frank began to shine, as he racked up a school record 43 passing touchdowns.

That time at quarterback influenced his future success at Va. Tech, where he played the other side of the ball (defensive back), and played it well. He was a three year starter and a team captain. He credits his time at quarterback with developing an already innate understanding of the nuances of the game. He felt he could sense what the opposition was hoping to do before they did it. That intuition brought him success as a player and ultimately as a coach, as his first stop after graduation was back home, serving as an assistant coach at Radford High School. And it’s here I must pause. I hope all young aspiring coaches hear this: one of the true legends of college football began as an assistant high school coach in a small town of about 9,000 people. He carried bags and set up drill and cleaned the coaches locker-room. It was, once again, a testament to how down to earth Coach Beamer is, and how much he cares about what he does – not for the glamor of it, but for the value of it.

“Be honest, be truthful, care about each other. That care should be real.”

– Coach Beamer

The rest from there, as they say, is history. Success on top of success on top of bowl wins on top of success. In my lifetime, I have never known a Virginia Tech football team that was not in the national spotlight. As with many things Beamer, it did not start that way. VaTech was struggling in the early years. It was not until year seven of his tenure (most coaches in the modern age would not be given so long a leash) that the Hokies found stride. In 1993 the Hokies won 9 games and beat the Big Ten’s Indiana Hoosiers in the Independence Bowl and people started to fully buy in to “Beamer Ball.” But it was the 10-win season in 1995, which included a Sugar Bowl victory over the powerful Texas Longhorns, that solidified Virginia Tech’s place among the college football elite. True to form, Beamer credits others with that success.

It’s the players that win the games, he’s quick to admit. True. But his players (including NFL stars like DeAngelo Hall, Michael Vick, and Macho Harris) say the only reason they even considered playing football at Virginia Teach, amid an onslaught of scholarship offers, was Coach Beamer. When confronted with the idea that he is the one who brought the talent to Blacksburg, he again demurred: “we told parents, you send [your son] to Virginia Teach and we’ll do our best to take care of him, make decisions that we are right for him, and if we need to call you we will – and when I said those things, I meant them.”

He had a simple motto for the way he expected his assistant coaches to interact with the team: “treat your players the way you’d treat your kids.” Coach Beamer says he wanted to treat kids right, be respectful, be honest, and noted that if that alone wasn’t a big enough positive, he believe it’s also what gets the best results on the other side. It’s what has the potential to win games. He references a scenario: when you get to the goal line and you need a yard to score, “if people really care about each other, you’ve got a better shot of that ball getting into the end zone.” A simple and honest truth.

It’s a strategy that has worked from the start. Although his coaching beginnings seem humble, the team at Radford went on to win a State Championship. After Radford he went on to be a Graduate Assistant at Maryland, then off to the Citadel, then to Murray State under coach Mike Godfrey, carrying his values with him at every stop. When Godfrey left to take the head job at Cincinnati, Frank was his incumbent. A few year later, he was a Hokie again.

These days Coach Beamer talks regularly to son Shane, who is coaching alongside Kirby Smart at Georgia. He spends a lot of time traveling from Virginia to Georgia, spending time with grandkids, speaking quite a bit, and enjoying a slightly slower pace of life.

One of the final requests we had of Coach was to give some advice to a future leader who would hope to one day be in similar shoes. He said, simply, “live by what you try to teach. I don’t think you can live by one thing and do another and be an effective leader. Be honest. Be truthful. Care about each other, and that care should be real. All those things go into being a leader.

Hear our conversation with Frank Beamer here or by searching “Good Athlete Podcast” on iTunes or Soundcloud

 

**This article was originally published on The Good Men Project webstite

3 Lessons I learned while Playing Football in Spain

The value of my experience playing football overseas is immeasurable. I played three seasons (two in Ireland with the Limerick Vikings, one in Spain with the Valencia Firebats), won three championships, learned a lot about myself, and made lasting friendships. Summing up that experience into “three lessons” is a daunting task. For that reason, I will focus on the lessons which most directly influence my current occupation: Coach. At the Good Athlete Project, we anchor our coaching to three tenets – Start Fast, Stay Focused, and Finish Strong – and our athletes have experienced the benefits. Having a personal relationship to those ideas makes them more effective and easier to transfer.

Start Fast

My flight from Chicago included a long layover in Paris, and when I finally arrived in Valencia, Spain, I was exhausted. When I got to my new apartment, I exchanged some standard preliminary conversation with my room mates, checked out what would be my home for the next four months, then went down for a much needed nap. A few hours later, the knock on my door told me it was time for practice. Though I could have used another few hours (or days) to recover, I got up and took a quick shower to shake myself awake. One absolute truth for Americans playing overseas is that you have to be humble. It does not matter how good you were (or thought you were) back home, you are a guest in a new place. Which means, in part, you cannot skip the first practice because you need a nap.

My roommates and I grabbed our bags and took off toward the practice facility. One of my roommates was an old friend, Coeny, who I lived with in Ireland. He was integral to the team bringing me over, and a welcomed presence in my first few days in Spain. He introduced me to Dustin and Turill, who I would become close to in the coming months. That night we walked through beautiful stone streets, past ancient buildings (which made the oldest buildings in the USseem modern), and through the sweet odor of orange trees blossoming. Valencia orange trees were planted in the parkways every twenty yards or so. There were palm trees hushing in the cool dark, new sights and sounds, and I was in awe.

There was no time for awe, however. Practice started soon. I was a late addition to the team, and this would be my only practice before Saturday’s game up in Barcelona. I had studied the plays during travel, which were similar enough to the system I played in during college. 24 Power seems to be part of the universal language of football. Still, I would only have one night to ingratiate myself to new teammates and develop a small amount of trust before game time. I would have to start fast.

Practice went well, and the next day we were off. The bus picked us up from the stadium and we began weaving our way up the coast to Barcelona, where we would take on L’Hospitalet Pioners,a regular power in La Liga Nacional de Futbol Americano. That year the Pioners were especially strong. In Spain, a team is allowed only three US “imports”; their imported players included a LB/FB who played at the University Nebraska, a WR from the University of Washington, and a QB from UNC (North Carolina) – all big time players from power conferences in the NCAA.

Jet lag kept me sleeping for most of the bus ride. When we arrived, I repeated a line in my head that would become a mantra: Start Fast. Start fast, I told myself. The Valencia Firebats had invested in me, believed I could help them get to the next level, and I didn’t have time to feel things out. I thought back to what one of my college coaches, Andy Gibbons, told me, “don’t dip a toe, jump in – the water’s fine!” So I did.

I was on the kickoff team and we kicked off to start the game. I don’t know how many tackles I made that on Special Teams that season – not many – but I can tell you for sure that I made at least one. I sprinted down the field and, at 6’2” 250lbs, ran over the unsuspecting opponent on the front line of the Pioner’s kick return, then tracked down ball carrier for my first tackle of the year. My new teammates went nuts on the sideline. I wasn’t too good to play special teams, I was ready to give full effort for my team, I wanted to be part of this new football family and I intended to show that passion right away.

We went on to win a tough game 6-0, and I was happy that football season was underway. I was in a new place, surrounded by new faces, but we were off, and there was no slowing down.

Gatorade bath

About to get a Gatorade bath

Stay Focused

Playing overseas offers incredible travel and cultural experiences. Everyone who goes to play should do their best to absorb their new culture. Be humble, ask questions, try new food, speak the language, look around and discover. That said, good times and discovery have the potential to be a distraction – it’s all about balance. Especially in Spain, where the clubs are open until sunrise, one can get caught in a loop of long nights and days recovering on the beach. The first night we went out as a team, I was amazed by exactly that. After that first big win in Barcelona, we rested on the bus ride home. But once we were back, it was time to go out. I still hadn’t slept much. Still, I sluggishly agreed and we were off. For the rest of the night I hung out with my new team mates, getting to know them better and thinking about dancing (though none of us made it on to the dance floor). On the cab ride home, the sun was breaking over the Mediterranean and the dark silhouettes of palm trees made the whole scene like it was pulled from a movie. It wasn’t. This was my life. And though it could have been a nightly practice, there were other things more important to me and my team.

“Good” behavior can be tricky, especially in your early twenties. Distinctions between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ can be difficult to make. Which is why I believe that in many cases, you can only be ‘wrong’ relative to your definition of ‘right’ – to navigate that idea, I had to set goals for myself. My goal was to have fun while providing as much value to my team as possible. I also wanted a ring. I didn’t fly across the ocean for second place. This required a consistent degree of focus. In fact, at the end of those four months, I was probably in the best shape of my life. My room mates and I would cook fresh food, workout 1-2 times every day, and practice otherwise healthy lifestyles. We got into routines. Healthy eating, daily reading, and lots of walking around the city. We practiced hard and with intention. We were focused on optimizing our potential.

Two months and a long winning streak into the season, I got an email from back home. I had dated a girl on and off for five years. We had recently split, and I will never forget the day she emailed me to ask how things were going, and to tell me that she had a new boyfriend. Before the season she had talked about coming out to Spain to visit. “This is going to hurt,” her email began. She was right. It was difficult. But I had my team, I had goals, and I had to stay focused.

Finish Strong

We entered the playoffs on a seven game winning streak against Spanish teams (we also played non-league games against the New Yorker Lions from Braunschweig, Germany, and Italy’s Bolzano Giants). We were battled tested. We were training hard. We were healthy and determined. We were also hoping that our rival, the Pioners, would be on the other side of the bracket. It didn’t match up that way. We had a first round bye, won our second game versus the Bufals, and were facing the Pioners in the Semifinal – the winner would be heading to the National Championship.Once again, we took the long drive to their place. Part of me couldn’t help but consider the full circle idea that this is where my experience in Spain began, and could be where it ended.

It was an intense game from the start. The Pioners had not lost since they last played our team, and it was clear that they were hoping for revenge. Their big LB from Nebraska was making tackles all over the field. He was talking trash, something he didn’t do in our first matchup. I missed a tackle on their QB as he scrambled from the pocket for first down. We struggled getting things going on offense. They came ready to play, and late in the game, we were behind.

It would be our final chance. Our final drive on offense. Our quarterback, Stuart, was moving us down field, but we were running out of time. Third and ten on our side of the fifty yard line, Studropped back and completed a pass for a first down… but there was a flag on the play. Holding. The penalty lost us yards and a down – we were now facing forth and long with fourteen seconds left on the clock. I’ll never forget this moment. One of our lineman looked discouraged. I grabbed him and looked him in the eye, then looked at everyone in the huddle and reminded them, with intensity and language that cannot be repeated here, that we were fine. We were going to finish. We don’t stop. We finish. That’s what we do. That’s what we’ve done all year. The situation didn’t matter, we were going to line up and smash whoever lined up across from us. We trained for this. We finish. That’s it.

And we did. Stu got great protection from the line, then stuck a perfectly timed pass into EZ’s hook route. As the defense swarmed on EZ, he pitched the ball to Lalo, who was coming across the middle on a drag. We had practiced this play, a version of hook and ladder, for exactly this sort of situation. The Pioners started fast, but they didn’t stay focused or finish strong, and Lalo took off down the sideline for the game winning score.

The Firebats stormed the field. Right when I thought I would have a chance to catch my breath and fully take in what had just happened, my teammates snuck up behind me and I got my first Gatorade bath. It was one of the highlights of my athletic career.

We went on to win the SpanishNational Championship, which was televised across Spain. We finished strong. The whole season seemed like a dream.

Final thoughts – paying it forward

I have always believed that good needs to be paid forward. A lot of good people and good team mates made my experience what it was. I will always be grateful to the coaches and players on that team. Now, as a coach, it’s time to share what works. Regarding performance, everything we do in our coaching comes back to those three lessons: Start Fast, Stay Focused, and Finish Strong.

They will appear in different ways through the course of a season or offseason, but they are the anchored absolutes of our approach. We use those terms so often that our athletes repeat it in their own self-reflection. They use it as a guide. We hear things like, “Coach, I came out fast, but I didn’t stay focused on my man” – once they are able to identify the opportunity, we can work on assignment recognition and composure.

“Finish Strong” has not only become a mantra for many of our athletes, but it can be seen on posters in the stands during big games. Purposeful pursuit and high achievement needs to have guidelines. The lessons I learned in Spain solidified my commitment to these three. And it’s catching on. At a recent State Championship meet, one of the teams we work with had t-shirts made for the event, with Finish Strong printed boldly across the chest. There’s really no other way.

 

this article originally appeared in American Football International

The Power of Support

I was walking up to the platform when I heard my dad’s gravelly encouragement. “Give em hell, Jimbo!” I was on my third squat attempt – I had missed the first two, so if I didn’t successfully complete the rep, I would be out of chances, and out of the meet. Months of obsessive training would be lost.

I trained differently for this meet than any of my previous competitions. Powerlifting always happened alongside my football training, and at this point in my career I was in the process of switching positions, which included a thirty pound weight shed in about three months. As a coach, I would never recommend someone try it. As a player, I had made the decision to switch from defensive line to linebacker and needed to get down to 240. Hoping to lose weight while maintaining strength, I signed up to compete in the 242lb division. Without the assistance of drugs and with very minimal supplementation (protein powder, fish oil, and multivitamins), I set some ambitious goals for myself and got to work. I lifted daily, added low impact cardio to burn some extra calories (mostly rowing and elliptical intervals), changed my diet to ensure whatever calories were coming in were from foods with high nutrient density, and limited those calories appropriately. The process worked, but by the last few weeks I was hungry. And cranky. It was a real grind, packed into a short timeline, but by the day of the meet, I felt ready.

My squat opener was 500 pounds. Nothing for me at that point in my career. It was the number I would do once or twice at the end of my working sets to be sure I could achieve competition quality depth even when tired. For my first attempt, I went down and up comfortably. Too comfortably. I got two red lights (out of three, signaling a missed attempt) for opening up my fingers on the way up. I didn’t even realize I had done it. Too comfortable. Sometimes comfort makes you lazy. It wasn’t a terribly big deal, since I had two more opportunities, but I had spent energy (which I had less of since limiting my calories to make weight) and still wasn’t “in” the meet since I didn’t have a score. After the miss I went to the scorer’s table and asked for the same weight on attempt number two, just to be sure. No big deal, I thought.

Between attempts my thoughts got the better of me. I started to wonder if I should have increased the weight for my next lift. By sticking to 500, I would have to make a big jump on my third attempt to move toward my goal. I wanted to win a State Championship. I noticed that my numbers were in range a few weeks into my training, and the closer I got to the meet, the more confident I became with the possibility of achieving them. Let me clarify what I mean by “State Champion”. Technically, winning the State Meet I was competing in would have brought some claim to that title, but for me that wasn’t enough. With powerlifting, you never know who, or how many people, will show up in your division. If only two other people showed up to compete in the 242lb weight class, Junior Division, drug free unequipped, then I didn’t feel super comfortable calling myself a State Champion. Were that to happen, I’d be grateful to collect a first place medal, but “State Champion” felt like too much of a stretch. So I set a bigger goal. To earn that title, I would have to beat the current State Record Total for my division. The current record for all three lifts (best single-meet combination of squat, bench, and deadlift) was what I would be aiming for. My lifts were planned out to do so, and now I was behind schedule. Being behind schedule made me think of the all the work I had done to arrive at that moment, including the disciplined diet, the soreness, the crankiness, the arguments I’d had with close friends and family, missed social opportunities and other experiences I had willingly sacrificed to achieve this goal. Anxious thoughts flooded in and before I knew it, my name was being called. “Davis is the lifter, please load the bar to 500 pounds.”

I missed.

It was the most vivid and explicit example in my life of mind undercutting matter. To this day, I’m upset with myself. I remember the weak feeling in my legs and, had I told this story as a younger and prouder man, I might have blamed it of my caloric deficit and overtraining, only to tell the valiant story of how I overcame such an obstacle. But that’s not the full truth. The full truth is that I was soft on that rep. Mentally weak. I let my worries overtake me and I didn’t perform. My legs were tired, but they were fine. I just missed. Once again I asked the woman at the scorer’s table for the same weight. Forget a State Championship – if I didn’t get it, the meet would have been over for me. I didn’t go back to sit with the other lifters. I went out into the hall to get my head right. Then I went to say hi to my dad. He had been there since early in the morning, and would stay all day. I explained the stakes to him. “Wait, what about the other lifts?” he asked. I told him I would not get a shot at them if I was not able to successfully complete a squat. He was devastated. Sincerely, I think he took it harder than I did, but he sprang into action. “What do you need? Want some food? I have a Snickers!”

That was all I needed to hear. He cared so much. It was so genuine and clear, and I was newly empowered. That’s how my dad has always supported me. He doesn’t always know what to say, or what to do, and I cannot recite any of his advice except for, don’t lie, cheat, or steal, but he has always been there for me. He has an incredible knack for showing up. If his kids are playing a sport or performing in some way, he’ll be there. He does not like the spotlight so he will probably be behind the scenes somewhere, taking pictures or bragging about his kids during a smoke break. And he’ll probably cry, because he’s a sensitive old guy who loves his kids. Anyway, that was exactly the support I needed to kick myself in the ass. I remember the song I played in my headphones immediately after: What it is to Burn, by a band called Finch. I waited for my name to be called and the bar to be loaded, then I approached.

“Give em hell, Jimbo!”

It was the same encouragement he gave me before football games. It was a battle cry of sorts, his way of encouraging to give my opponents all I had, that that would be more than enough. He knew how hard I had worked and all the strength I had built – he was telling me to unleash it. I did. I got the lift to the cheers of a generous audience. Then I hit my bench numbers. Then I hid a deadlift personal record. By the end of the day I had taken first in my division, won the State Championship, and was named Lifter of the Meet. Somewhere in a box at my parents’ house there is a picture of me with posing with those trophies alongside David Oyler, the 6’5” 430lb meet director who had just been named to the N.A.S.A. Powerlifting Hall of Fame. My dad was behind the camera.

The lesson is simple, I guess. Even in powerlifting, when it feels like you’re one-on-one against the bar, you’re not alone. Regardless of the arena, we only get where we’re going with support. Even if that support is subtle. And if the support we receive is subtle, we might all accomplish more if we did the careful work of being open to it, and grateful for it.

 

originally published on Elite FTS