Posts Tagged football

Measure His Heart, Not His Hand

Early next month, a young football player from Central Florida will have his hand measured at the NFL Combine. He won’t get to choose which hand is measured; he only has one hand to offer, and that might be his biggest strength.

If you haven’t followed Shaquem Griffin’s journey to this point, consider following him from the combine onward. It’s a story made for a feel-good movie. He was born with a defect to his left hand. Because they weren’t able to rehabilitate it and it caused him extreme pain as a young child, his parents opted to have the hand amputated. For most, that would end a football odyssey. Not Shaquem. He thrived without his hand.

His twin brother also possessed rare football talent, and both earned scholarships to the University of Central Florida. Some believe that Shaquem was offered a scholarship in order to sign his brother, and for a while, that looked like the case. Shaquill thrived almost immediately, while Shaquem redshirted his first year and saw only limited action for the next couple of years. Last year, because he didn’t redshirt and his eligibility was exhausted, Shaquill was drafted in the third round by the Seattle Seahawks, while Shaquem’s NFL dream seemed in doubt, mostly because of his missing hand.

Shaquem answered these doubts with an outstanding senior season, leading the team in quarterback sacks. He didn’t have a bad junior season either, leading the team in solo tackles, tackles for loss and quarterback sacks. Despite the on-field success, the missing hand caused skepticism about his NFL potential. Just getting invited to the combine was a huge success and undoubtedly, a huge relief for Shaquem.

When he arrives at the combine, evaluators will measure his arm length, height and weight, in addition to his hand size. He’ll also participate in a number of drills and athletic tests – all in an effort to provide data that NFL teams can use when deciding if and when to draft him. Once their seasons were over, most of the 336 invitees devote themselves to maximize their combine results and thereby, increase their draft value. Some even undergo procedures to improve their measurables, like their hand size.

As an executive recruiter who spends his day judging professional qualifications, I understand the importance of metrics in making decisions that affect an organization’s success. Like employers who make hiring mistakes, if teams draft the wrong player or pay too much for a player, the consequences can be dire; however, Shaquem Griffin shows how judging others isn’t fail-proof. The x-factor that metrics don’t reveal is what’s on the inside.

If NFL executives pass on Shaquem, I believe that they’ll miss an opportunity to have a unique player with unique strengths on their team. I believe that it’s possible that Shaquem’s missing hand is actually a strength. Yes, it can affect his ability to shed blocks and make tackles; however, I suspect that it has also made his drive and desire stronger.

Many people with handicaps have gone on to achieve great things, not despite their handicaps, but BECAUSE of their handicaps. There are a number of reasons for this. As examples:

  1. A person with a disability is often more imaginative and ingenuitive, because they must overcome and adapt when their disability prevents them from doing things the normal way.
  2. A person with a disability is often more emotionally durable, because they must persevere through abnormal levels of failure and frustration to achieve their goals.
  3. A person with a disability often has a high level of gratitude, because life has taught them to never take anything, including their health, for granted.

I realize that I am making a lot of assumptions about Shaquem, a guy that I’ve never met; however, I’ve lived with a physical handicap long enough to recognize someone who has turned a negative into a positive. I hope he gets his chance in the NFL and thrives there, but if that doesn’t happen, I believe that his experience will make him a success in whatever he does.


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Where’s my name?


All-state, all-conference, all-district, all-American . . . as sports seasons draw to a close, recognition lists start to appear. The recognition is great for those who receive it, but what about those whose names don’t appear on the lists?

That happened to my son last year. He had a great football season – better than his sophomore season when he received honorable mention, but his name rose no higher during his junior season. Naturally, we looked at the list of honorees, and just as naturally, we felt he belonged. It was frustrating and heart-breaking, but just like all of the other frustrating and heart-breaking experiences of the past couple of years, it taught us a lot.

Most of all, it taught us how to deal positively with disappointment, which is important, because disappointment is part of life. This is especially true if you challenge yourself with risks. The higher you reach, the more you expose yourself to a gut punch like disappointment.

For athletes:

First, you have no idea what is going on behind the scenes. Voters often have limited data when they make their selections, and they rely on what others have said about your performance. That can be your coach, an opposing coach or the media, and they all have biases, even though most try really hard to suppress those biases. Furthermore, inclusion on many of the lists is dependent on your team’s success. The better a team does, the more players are included in post-season honors, but even that has a limit. Voters are reluctant to include too many from a single team or even a single region, so if you are in the shadows of super-stars, it’s hard to shine. This is even more challenging for underclassmen, as seniority seems to figure in the calculations. Sometimes, those factors work in your favor, and sometimes, they work against you.

Second, it probably doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. My son feared that a lack of all-state recognition during his junior season would hurt his college recruiting in the following year. It didn’t. We can’t recall a single instance where it was even mentioned. Recruiters don’t rely on others to do their evaluations, and things turned out just fine for my son when the recruiters had a chance to do their own evaluation of him. Plus, not everyone pays attention to sports news. Everyone who appreciated your performance still appreciates your performance.

You are not alone. Hundreds of athletes felt slighted when they saw the lists, and many were justified in that feeling. Not every deserving athlete will be included. In fact, there are probably better athletes than you who were left off the list.

For the rest of us:

Throughout life, you are going to be evaluated and compared to others. Sometimes, you’re going to get that promotion, and other times, it’s going to go to the guy down the hall. Often, you can’t control that. The one thing you can control is your reaction.

Don’t let rejection get you down. Your peers and key decision-makers are watching your reaction. Be gracious, and then be silent in your resolve to prove that you belong. Now, when the iron is hot, is the time to make your mark.

Do an honest self-evaluation, once the pity and frustration subside. You might not be able to be objective immediately after disappointing news. When you can be objective, look for areas for personal growth. No matter where you are in life, there is always room for growth. Become a master at evaluating yourself. It’s never a good idea to leave evaluation to those who don’t know your potential.

Set goals for yourself. Write them down. Hold yourself accountable and celebrate your successes in reaching them. Goals affirm your progress, and unlike outside evaluations, you have complete control of them.

The mood in our house was markedly better this year when the football post-season awards were announced, but we know that last year’s disappointment won’t be the last. Next time, though, we’ll be better prepared to turn it into a positive. That we can control.

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Pride, Pain in the Friday Night Lights


Earlier this month, I had the peculiar experience of seeing my son live out a dream that went unfulfilled for me when I was his age. Patrick was announced as a starter in his first varsity football game, in front of a large, enthusiastic crowd that held many of his friends and family.

I was ecstatic for him, but it’s easier for me to identify with the guys on the sidelines. Like them, my dream was to hear my name called over the speakers by the announcer and to run out on that football field, before those fans and under those lights. I vividly remember playing that scene in my mind, as I rode hills on my bicycle in the predawn stillness before my morning weight-lifting sessions.

Though it provided plenty of motivation, the dream for me was never realized. Instead of my years of intense training being rewarded in grand fashion, in front of friends and family, my dream of being a high school football star died quietly in an Omaha orthopedist’s office with my parents as the only witnesses.

This juxtaposition of heart-warming success and heart-wrenching failure plays out not only on athletic fields, but in offices, classrooms and elsewhere every day. Some succeed, while others fail. Dreams are fulfilled, and dreams are crushed. Some of these dreams are abandoned, while others are reconstructed.

On the football field, the drama is amplified, literally under a bright light. You practice and train beside your teammates, always trying to find your place in the hierarchy. You compete together, but also against each other for those precious few spots. Some are going to win, and because there are winners, there also have to be losers.

It’s the same way in life. We don’t get the job for which we feel we are perfect or we’re passed over for a promotion. A love interest leaves us in puzzled rejection. The invite gets lost in the mail.

Failure and disappointment are part of life, and fear of them can be crippling, unless you can put them in context. If we learn from it, failure is an event that will pass, rather than a condition that will last.

Albert Einstein said, “Failure is success in progress.” Failure gives you a chance to evaluate yourself and your approach, and adjust or even change direction. The experience makes you more likely to succeed somewhere further down the line.

In his last year of youth baseball, Patrick played at a high level, but rode the bench a lot. It was frustrating and disappointing for him. Like his football teammates, he did everything the coach asked, but someone at his position was better than he. Ultimately, at the end of the season, he and half his teammates were cut from the team. That experience hurt, but it also helped him understand losing in a competitive situation, and ironically, it pushed him toward success in football.

Though he enjoyed baseball, most of that enjoyment came from playing with his friends on that team. Without that option, he decided to hang up the cleats. Because high-level baseball required so much dedication throughout the spring and summer, he had already disciplined himself to sacrifice, and he simply shifted the focus to football training. I’m convinced that shift in focus enabled him to earn that starting spot on the football team, and had he not been cut from the baseball team, he would not be a starter on the varsity football team.

Despite my best efforts, I never experienced athletic success, but I attribute a lot of the success that I have experienced since to my pursuit of that dream. My dream drove me, disciplined me and taught me more about myself and my place in life than anything else in my childhood.

That’s the value of dreams. They give you a reason to believe and achieve. They encourage you to push yourself harder and further than you think you can go. They incite passion. They nurture dedication.

Don’t be afraid to dream, and don’t be afraid to fail. You never know what you might achieve.

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Good Job, but It’s Not Enough

Every August, football fields across the nation come to life, as young men take their dreams to the 50-yard line. It’s a time of eagerness and aspiration for those players, but a time of resignation and disappointment for the few unable to play. I was one of those, and though my football odyssey ended in failure, it taught me lessons that have proven invaluable in adulthood.

My severely underdeveloped right leg likely would have made me a bench-warmer anyway, but I was convinced that I could play high school football. My imagination, of course, made me more than a bench-warmer – I was going to be a gridiron god, and that belief drove me to train relentlessly for four straight years.

While my friends were catching the last few minutes of sleep before morning weights, I was pedaling my bike up hills outside of town in the predawn stillness. I was at the weight room door, an hour into my workout, when the coach opened it. On days the weight room was closed, I climbed the locked gate at the track to run stadium steps, and then looked for an unlocked door to the weight room.

I squeezed every possible ounce of strength and endurance out of my imperfect body, but it wasn’t enough. Deep down, I knew it wasn’t enough – that I was crazy to risk my future health to play on a team that would be lucky to win more than a handful of games – that playing football didn’t mean that much to my social status or future potential – but I was a teenager, and convinced that I could correct any injustice.

Each August, from 1985 to 1987, I reported for the mandatory sports physical, and each August, a responsible physician refused to clear me for participation. In 1987, I visited three physicians, and received the same result each time: we are impressed with what you’ve done with your body, but it would be irresponsible to allow you to expose yourself to potential injury. In 1985 and 1986, that news didn’t sting so badly, because I still had opportunity, but when it was officially over in 1987, I was devastated. My quest was over, and I didn’t have anything to show for it – or so I thought.

What I learned during those four years of training has carried me through the past 26 years. As an entrepreneur who has seen good, great and not-so-good times, I have leaned on the tenacity, persistence and discipline that I developed in those early-morning solitary workouts. When no one is watching, and I’m accountable only to myself, I think back to my moonlight bike rides when I could have chosen to stop and go back home, and no one but I would know, and I work an extra hour. When it seems like no one believes in the likelihood of my success, I remain committed. Perhaps most importantly, I learned that failure is nothing to be afraid of. If you totally commit yourself to a goal, doing everything within your power to succeed, like I did with football, and you still fail, it means that you pushed the limits, and that’s a good thing.

Too many of us fear failure, and it keeps us from pushing our limits and realizing our potential. We want to be assured of success, but any successful person will tell you assurance of success is only possible when you are limiting your aspirations. It’s on the outer fringes of our abilities that we experience our greatest successes and expose ourselves to our greatest failures.

I never played a single down of high school football, and that failure has had absolutely no negative impact on my life. In fact, as my body has aged, I see the wisdom in those physicians refusing to sign off on my physical. Though I never played, football taught me valuable life lessons that I might not have learned otherwise, and for that, I’m eternally grateful.

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Celebrate, Don’t Resent Success

As a fan of the Nebraska Husker football team, certain things are expected of me. I’m supposed to be reverent and respectful when discussing Dr. Tom Osborne. I’m supposed to cringe when I hear Oklahoma’s Boomer Sooner music. I’m supposed to have a closet full of red logo wear for game days, and I’m supposed to hate Texas and Notre Dame. I’m good until I get to the hating part.

In fact, I like Texas and Notre Dame. Yeah, I said it and wrote it. Texas and Notre Dame have rich histories, and they both consistently field successful football teams. Even more important, both teams – like every other team in the country – have good kids on their teams – kids who are working hard to get an education so they can succeed. And, I’m supposed to hate them and cheer against them?

When I was younger, I thought that being faithful to my team meant that I had to dislike other teams, so I did. I cherished those rare moments when Oklahoma, Missouri or Colorado lost. Of course, when they lost and my team won, my team rose to the top, but it was more than that; I didn’t want anyone to be as good as my team. I resented their success.

This sort of thinking is evident in sports, but it’s as prevalent, though often more subtle, in other parts of life. We see our friends move into a larger, nicer home than we have, and we’re jealous and suspicious about how they made that happen. We read about a business competitor’s success in the newspaper, and we secretly hope that they’ll receive their comeuppance. Another athlete on our child’s team shows signs of greatness, and we suspect that his coach unfairly favors that kid. We resent success.

Why do we resent success for others? I believe we do so because humans are prone to inferiority, and we often suffer from a lack of appreciation. We are not at peace with ourselves and our accomplishments, and we don’t fully appreciate the lives that we lead. It’s not easy, but recognizing and acknowledging these weaknesses allows us to mitigate the damage they can inflict on our happiness.

Inferiority is particularly crippling, because it’s based on our feelings about ourselves. Until we change the way that we think about ourselves, it will be difficult to admire the success of others, let alone achieve success for ourselves. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Inferiority begins and ends at the individual level.

Our levels of appreciation and inferiority work conversely. As appreciation for our blessings rises, our inferiority diminishes. When appreciation is high, inferiority is low, and we feel free to celebrate the success of others.

During the recent national championship game, I wore a Husker windbreaker as I cheered for Notre Dame. Those who watched the game know that the Irish were dominated from the beginning by the much more talented Alabama team. I felt sorry for the Notre Dame football players, particularly Manti Te’o, Notre Dame’s All-American linebacker who is by all accounts a great person away from the field as well as on it. At the same time, I was happy for the Alabama players who had worked so hard to beat an undefeated team so convincingly. Since I didn’t follow Alabama throughout the year, like I had Notre Dame, I wasn’t as familiar with their players, except for Barrett Jones, who, like Te’o, was as impressive off the field as he was on it. It was hard not to admire his skills and dedication.

In the middle, often away from the camera’s focus, was an epic battle between Jones and Notre Dame nose guard Louis Nix. Nix is a talented player in his own right. Many think he would have been a high pick in this year’s NFL draft, but he chose to come back to graduate in his senior season, honoring a commitment he made to his mother.

Instead of cheering against one squad or the other, like much of America was doing, I simply enjoyed watching two talented teams, whose players have exciting futures ahead of them, give everything they had in order to win the game.

Though I am not always successful, I try to apply the same approach to life. Instead of looking suspiciously at the success of others, I try to find something that I can admire and perhaps apply to my own life. I find myself more at peace, more optimistic and more successful this way.
— Mitch Arnold

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