I want to try something a little different this week before we get into the grind of the NFL regular season, which is why I am cross posting this across both my blogs, so if you’re not a sports fan please bear with me for a little bit as things will come around.
For the last few weeks I have been following the pre-season of three NFL teams and generally getting excited about the start of a new season. However, this is the weekend that as the final cuts are made, for some careers are ending and for others dreams.
As you watch Hard Knocks (for the general reader a series following an NFL team through training camp) the shift in focus goes from a team coming together to the tension that surrounds them as players start to get cut and the business of football really kicks in. Something like two percent of those who play college football make it to the NFL and the average career is a little over three years. The offseason roster goes from ninety to fifty-three this weekend, and whilst the practice squad has expanded over the last couple of years, when you look at those numbers multiplied over thirty-two teams with very few alternative outlets to play American football professionally there are a lot of people left hanging now.
Once the season starts we will start talking about players who are bad or good, but in reality you have to be pretty exceptional to even make it into a training camp, yet alone make a successful career of the sport of American football.
So what happens next? Some will hold on for a call once the injuries start, some will keep themselves fit and hope to try again next year, and some will have to walk away from their dream. Something they have worked very hard to achieve, with fine margins and no way to keep going.
Those who do not like sport will find such sacrifices hard to comprehend, even if they understand that for some this represents their best chance of making something out of their life. Even those of us who love to lift or run as amateurs struggle to truly understand the pressure that a large number of these players will have been going through. This isn’t just winning or losing; this is about putting food on the table for their families, a shot at something bigger than themselves, and chasing a goal with a deadline.
That deadline is the bit that can be truly terrifying. I remember in my twenties feeling a dread every time my birthday rolled around, looking at the things I had and hadn’t achieved and holding myself up against some idealised timetable. I’m a bit more relaxed about things these days, partly through having done things like publishing a book this year, and partly as I have come to understand that I have a restless nature. A couple of days ago a friend halted halfway through a sentence as they realised they were basically calling me crazy.
An NFL blog, writing books, an NFL podcast, a band, a pretty busy job – all the things as I like to say. I found it funny because I didn’t disagree, and they left out the lifting, the runs, the morning stretches and core work, the out of hours support, walks with my partner, the list goes on.
I have come to appreciate the trying of things, but whilst there are things that get sacrificed, I’m not in a position that I have had to sacrifice everything to pursue one goal. There’s some that will talk about how you can achieve anything if you pursue their dream. For some this is true, and I can see that it is offered as a genuine encouragement, but usually by people who have beaten the odds. If I can, then so can you. The problem is that, if you’re focussed on the result, then anything other than achieving that result, and it is all too easy to not get the most out of what you’re doing at the time. And if you sacrifice everything for one goal, then there’s a lot to pick up if that gamble doesn’t pay off.
That’s not to say goal setting isn’t important, or that you shouldn’t try to do what you love, but how you get there is kind of important. If this is sounding dangerously close to one of those life is a journey not a destination inspirational posters, then that’s because it is. So why am I bringing it up now? The answer is podcasts and how I got very lucky this week.
Podcasts feature heavy in this next section because of a discussion between Jonah Keri and Katie Nolan on Keri’s podcast. At the end of every episode Jonah Keri asks his guest for an inspiration thing that has helped his guest. It can be as serious or as silly as they like, and one of the themes that keeps cropping up is that if you love doing something, find a way to do it. Make the thing that you want to do, and you will get better at it and the success may or may not come, but do it for the love anyway.
The reason that these blogs exist are because as I got older, the idea of being a writer wouldn’t go away. I was not one of those children who had a clearly defined idea of what they wanted to do and pursued it through a specific path in education. I kept fiddling with stories and ideas, and then really started working on my writing as I got more serious about it.
The NFL blog started because I loved the NFL and I wanted to work on something that would help me with the mechanics of writing. The NFL would always be something to write about, I was following anyway and it was an extension of my love of the sport.
Along the way, I discovered what I love writing about in relation to football, read more, listened to more podcasts, watched more games. A self-perpetuating interest developed. Not only that, but I learned how to manage my writing time, when I could squeeze out extra words if I needed to, and in the process learnt how to write fiction in more focused bursts without waiting for inspiration.
I read about coaching, and developed my thoughts on this, stealing from Pete Carroll’s book about developing a philosophy, and borrowing the idea from great Bill Walsh that the score takes care of itself. I still haven’t distilled my philosophy down to a handy twenty-five word summary as Carroll asks, but I know the name.
Process Over Outcome.
The idea that you cannot control the outcomes of situation, but if you focus on making the process as good as possible, then you maximise the potential for things to go well.
I’m still working on selling my children’s book, I have a lot to learn. Mostly because I was focussed on making the book as good as I can through the editing and production process.
It is also important to not be afraid of making mistakes, you have to learn from them, but if you’re paralysed by the possibility of failing then you’re not focussing on the process and you might not even try.
The Wrong Football podcast started last season when my friend Dan came to me, and said he’d like to do a podcast with me, and my response was sure, but you have to produce it as I can find time to sit down and record but I’m too tied up with the site to do much more. I approached it like I do being in a band, I have to trust the other people to do their job, go with the best idea, it’s working in a collaborative creative process. Something I’m used to with music and something I have written before about on my writer’s blog.
Thanks to this process, on Friday night I got to shake the hands of a Super Bowl winner. In fact, a pretty significant one for me, because this wasn’t any old Super Bowl winner, but a member of the legendary 1985 Chicago Bears. The team that caused the surge of interest in American football in the UK in the mid 1980s, and pretty much the reason that I am fan of the game. Things come full circle. It was a great experience, certainly for Dan and I, who were very nervous to begin with as this was our first live interview for the pod, but we settled quickly enough because after all, we were talking football.
The interview should be coming in next week’s pod, and will be accompanied by a second interview another ex NFL player Nick Ferguson who was also a great guy, very happy to talk to us and evangelise over the game. It was a pretty incredible evening before we even got to the NFL event itself.
I’m very happy for the pod, and I hope the interviews come across well. I also look back on it, and I think to my own brief stints being interviewed about my book. I don’t see my purpose there as being a hard sell, I just try to be enthusiastic about what I have created. If I wasn’t enthusiastic then I wouldn’t have created it. You hope that your enthusiasm sparks something in others, at the end of the day isn’t that what we’re all hoping for.
The truth is though, that all of these things are interconnected. In a way, the play of Shaun Gayle led to me writing a book, and writing meant that I got to shake his hand. This interconnectedness is part of life, the complexity of the world that surrounds can be baffling, and sometimes it is nice to stare at a sports field and pretend it is as simple as winning and losing. However, once you start to study it the complexity soon picks up again.
I’ll soon be predicting games and writing about the league. I’ll also be working on a sequel to the published book, running, lifting, doing all the things. Following various dreams, trying to ignore the deadlines. Process over outcome. It’s worked for me so far.