“The guys that are mentally tough are the ones who achieve and sustain excellence.”
—Jon Gruden, Former Super Bowl Winning NFL Head Coach
Thousands of athletes compete each year at the NCAA D-I level. Out of all the college athletes who have a shot at the pros, only a handful actually succeed. What helps these athletes triumph when their peers do not?
Fields and courts aren’t the only places where games are played. They also live in the minds of the players—hence the need for mental toughness. As a freshman or a rookie, you have a lot to learn in a hurry—new coaches, teammates, systems, plays, coverages—not to mention dealing with the fact that you’re no longer top dog.
If you want to tackle your mental issues, sit down and talk with a coach.
Sometimes when athletes get frustrated with a situation, whether it’s lack of playing time or a losing season, instead of talking to the coach, they jump ship and quit. Coaches are there to guide athletes in the right direction and to place them in the best possible position for success. Any coach who cares about his team will take the time to talk or work with a player who is struggling physically or mentally. However, unless the athlete brings it up, the coach may never discover the problem.
Former NFL head coach Jon Gruden knows very well what it takes to be successful at the highest level, and he was always willing to work and communicate with players who asked for help. Gruden learned at a young age how to coach and help players, because his father Jim served as an assistant coach to Dan Devine at the University of Notre Dame.
After Gruden graduated with a degree in communications from the University of Dayton (he was a backup QB), he spent six years bouncing around the college circuit as an assistant coach. Using his communication skills and deep knowledge of football, he pushed his players to achieve greatness, sacrificing his own time to stay late and work one-on-one with his players—in his office, on the field and in the film room.
Gruden’s hard work eventually got noticed, and he was named head coach of the Oakland Raiders. He led the Raiders from ’98 to ’01, then the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from ’02 to ’08. During his 11 years as an NFL head coach, he won five division titles and hoisted the Lombardi Trophy after the Bucs won Super Bowl XXXVII.
Though he retired from coaching on Sundays in ’08, Gruden continues to teach young players what it takes to be successful athletes—as a volunteer assistant offensive line coach at Carrollwood Day School in Tampa, Fla.