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Hey everybody, I’m Brian Clapp, VP of Content and Engaged Learning at WorkInSports.com and this is the Work in Sports podcast.
There are many attributes and traits that intrigue me about professional athletes. Throughout my career in the sports media I’ve often found myself interviewing pro athletes and thinking to myself, what makes them different?
I worked hand in hand with NFL MVP Shaun Alexander for a few years and kept asking him questions, probing at his background his development as an athlete, his experience being the absolute best every phase of his life… I asked so many questions I think he got annoyed with me
No that’s not true, Shaun is one of the kindest, most gracious athletes you could ever encounter.
You see, I’m one of those people that looks for patterns. Is it where they grew up? how early they started training? Is it a passion that is born within that can’t be controlled only fostered? Is it purely size and speed? Game intelligence and instincts?
I’d ask Shaun specific questions like, how did you know to cut that direction on a play -- that didn’t look like it was open at all?! and he’d go into a complex discussion of the blocking scheme, but eventually admit, instincts take over. So is that it? Is it born from within?
This would go round and round and round and round. Finally one day, two years into our friendship - he gave me the answer.
As he would explain it -- The baseline qualification is that you have the elite athletic combination - fast, strong, size, weight...that gets you to college. It doesn’t get you beyond that.
To get to the pro’s and potentially elite level, long, award-winning, triumphant career, requires elite competitiveness. The belief that you need to outwork, outsmart, and out manuever everyone else. That when you line up to play, you raise your ability to an entirely new level. That when your season is done, all you can think about is how you will improve for the next turn.
This style of competitiveness cozy’s up, very close, to obsession. Nothing else matters but competing.
This is also why so many elite players struggle with mental health issues during their playing days -- not being quite elite enough, not handling the pressure well enough, not having enough outlets for their anguish.
Imagine being this hardwired to compete on everything, and then having a day where your body just can’t do it anymore. In 2005 Shaun ran for 1880 yards and 27 touchdowns - he won the league MVP award. In 2008, just three years later he carried that ball 11 times for the Washington Football Team and was released.
He was 31 years old.
What do you do with all that competitiveness when your body just can’t do it anymore? How do you transition to a different life and world. The world literally sees you different. YOu couldn’t walk down the street without being mobbed before, now you walk down the street and people wonder quietly...is that...nah, can’t be.
This mental adjustment, this transition, is just another obstacle in the journey of being ...