We've all likely had this happen during the course of our time as NFL players. You were in your hometown or elsewhere working out at the gym in the offseason and you notice a muscle bound gym rat checking you out and paying particular attention to how much weight you use on each and every exercise. They reason, "that guy is in the NFL, and I can bench press or squat more than him, I could play in the NFL!" Next, they work up the nerve to ask you how they might get a tryout or who they need to speak to with the team to get a workout to show their stuff, quite certain they have what it takes. I don't know about you, but I was usually able to contain my laughter as I asked them a few simple questions about their background in football to determine whether there was even a remote possibility they might have a chance. I never completely ruled out the possibility that I may actually be engaged in a conversation with a person that had real ability and somehow just got passed over. Many of us remember the story of the "Beer Man," Michael Lewis who went from never playing college football and driving a Budweiser truck to starring as a kick and punt returner for the New Orleans Saints. Most often, however, a few questions revealed they had not played football since high school or college and several or many years had passed since they laced up a pair of cleats. They reason that because they may have excelled in football at one time at a much lower level and they are a pretty strong weight room guy, naturally they are ready for the big stage with the toughest, most competitive football players in the world. Knowing what we know about the size, strength, speed, and ferocity with which the game is played at the NFL level, what do you think would happen to this individual if he were to realize his dream, even for a day, and be able to go out on the football field on game day?
I can tell you what would happen in just about every circumstance. That individual would literally be risking his life. Without proper training in the necessary techniques and without the conditioning we all endured for many years, that individual could be maimed or even killed. Most people, especially a person that would approach us with such a question, have no earthly idea what it takes to go out there and do what we did on Sundays. It doesn't make us better people than them or mean we are entitled to think of ourselves any differently, they simply cannot understand all we had to go through to even put ourselves in position to be ready to take advantage of our opportunity to compete in the NFL. They have a fundamentally flawed perception of not only their own ability, but more so the ability of the people they would be competing against. There were grown men on that field that were deadly serious about winning and were incredibly skilled at hand to hand combat. We will bear the marks on our bodies, both internally and externally, of our time in the National Football League, but most of us do not regret a day of it.
I am somewhat surprised at times when I hear of another one of our brothers crashing and burning in life. I read about another failed marriage, another failed business, another bankruptcy filing. How can it be that we smart, tough, competitive warriors that have so much going for us could end up in these circumstances time and time again? Could it be that in some ways we are not unlike the person that approached us trying to find out how he could break into the NFL, brimming with confidence that he had what it took to make it in the big time? Many of us emerge from the game in our late 20's or early 30's with a lifetime ahead of us. We are typically confident in our abilities but may or may not have a clear sense of direction about what we want to do with life's "second half." We often have some money put away and have a substantial amount of free time to look into new ventures and pursuits. We don't often think about the fact that while we were spending the previous decade plying our trade and sharpening our skills on the football field, our peers in the world of business were plying their trade and sharpening their skills in their respective fields. The confidence that was so well founded and appropriate on the playing field can actually be quite dangerous when it comes to our post football endeavors. Just as an untrained individual puts themselves at substantial risk by going on an NFL field on Sunday, we put ourselves at serious risk by jumping headlong into a pursuit that we may know little to nothing about and spending substantial amounts of our own time and capital in the process. It's very difficult for us to get our head around the fact that unless we were spending a good amount of our time in the offseason working or interning in a particular field, we are not yet ready for the "big time" in business the day we emerge from our careers. A successful business owner needs to be knowledgeable in management, accounting, finance, and a certain degree of law to be successful, not to mention have a very thorough understanding of his company's industry and competitive environment. Without this knowledge, it's like the company is a team going into game day with no game plan, no play book, and no awareness of who they are up against until the day of the game. We all know that team would stand absolutely no chance when it goes against a team of well-prepared veterans. All this is not to assert that the skills necessary to be successful are unattainable, they certainly are not. We simply must realize that attaining them will take the same work ethic, passion, resolve, and determination that it took for us to reach the highest level of performance in football. I think sometimes we become impatient, reasoning we can learn as we go, and throw significant sums at business ideas, forgetting the effort it took to be ready the first time you put on your uniform in preseason. We must not grow impatient or weary in our post football pursuits if we have determined to be successful in something new. We must call upon our memory of how truly difficult most of our paths were on the way to achieving our NFL goal. Keeping that in mind should help us to be patient with our development and steady our resolve in whatever it is we decide to do in life's "second half."