Posted on December 15, 2014
What’s wrong with RGIII? How has a career that looked so bright dimmed so quickly? How has an incredibly talented, intelligent athlete not been able to continue to capitalize on the gifts he has been given? First, let me say – I don’t know for sure, and I am definitely not suggesting it is all his fault or that he can’t get it back. Don’t know him, nor, have I ever had the chance to talk with him. So, anything that I say is based on observation, and interviews that I’ve listened to. However, I do think that I may have some insight based on my experience working on the psychology of performance with other extremely talented athletes.
RGIII by most accounts has been an extremely hard worker during his athletic career, and has been a positive influence on his teams before all this adversity hit. However, I also see that most athletes that have been the “stars” are often very solid mentally when things are generally going in their direction and are “feelin’ the love” from the fans and media. RGIII came to the NFL having been very successful at Baylor, so much so that he was the Heisman Trophy winner. Then he came into the league as the 2nd overall pick. He literally had immediate success in the first game of the year and things seemed to be working out just the way they should. Injury happened and everything began to go down hill from there. The first true athletic adversity of his life had hit, and it hit on an bright stage with all the lights shining down on him.
This is how I describe the psychology that is the unseen foundation of performance. Every athlete (EVERY!) will face adversity. However, many – like an RGIII – were so far advanced physically that through talent and hard work on the physical aspects of competing could overcome any true deficiency in their mental strength (may never even have known that they had a weakness in it, because it was never really tested). Picture flowing streams…they each have rocks, mud, stones, sticks, leaves, etc underneath, but if the water is high enough and flowing strong enough you’ll only see the beauty of the water on the surface. But, what happens when the water starts to dry up, or starts to flow more slowly? All of the sudden all the muck below becomes more evident. Essentially the adversity that RGIII began to experience is the water drying up, and the fallout that followed are the stones, sticks, leaves and mud below.
My educated guess is that while it is clear that RGIII is an intelligent, hard working, and determined athlete he is now facing a level of adversity that he may have never faced before and, frankly, had not prepared for mentally. While his physical injuries certainly have negatively impacted him, his performance has continued to decrease because he seems to be truly struggling mentally.
All of us love to be loved, but it is difficult when we feel that the same people that praised us are now the ones putting us down. He hears the whispers that he not only is part of the team’s problems, but that he may be THE problem. If an individual doesn’t prepare for adversity PRIOR to it happening it will be almost impossible to deal with when it does happen. RGIII got caught in a trap that the majority of all athletes do – he began to believe that the love he was feeling from “fans” was unconditional and his feeling of confidence was closely tied to the love and adulation he was receiving from outside of himself and based purely on the outcome related successes he had had.
While this is completely natural – of course it will always feel great to perform well and receive a ton of praise for it – it is not effective to establish a long-term authentic confidence from external praise, and purely from outcomes.
“Why – what else is there?” I am often asked. Here’s why – if we only build our confidence from what praise others heap upon us we will always be beholden to their praise or criticism. It’s great when it is favorable, but it is miserable when they are going against you. This creates a rollercoaster of up and down emotions and confidence. The goal I teach is to never get caught up in either. It’s cliché, but we are never as good as others say when things are going well, and never as bad when things aren’t working out. Instead I try to help my ahtletes “lock-in” to the process of success. We visualize our preparation, our work, the small fundamentals, our leadership, our ability to focus each practice and performance. Essentially, we mentally and physically obsess the details of which we control.
It will always FEEL better to win games, and rack up good statistics, but these things are the end result of the work behind the scenes. Our focus should be in taking our pride, comfort, and confidence from the processes of becoming our “best-self”. We control these things and can always rely on them if we commit to them. If we only see the outcomes and the external praise of others, which we do not control, we are at the mercy of indicators based beyond our power. Either consciously or sub-consciously we recognize these to be out of our control and this allows for doubt to creep in. When we feel doubt the concept of “fear of failure” occurs and we begin to perform to not make a mistake, instead of to make a play. We become less than our “best-self”.
It may sound boring but by committing to these mental habits before, during, and after our successes, and our challenges, we insulate ourselves from the outside fans and critics. Its not that they don’t have a right to their opinion, its just that their opinions – good or bad – have no real connection to our performance, so they are worthless to place our focus or energy towards. We must get rid of the mental habit that we have to sometimes listen and buy-in to their words.
If I were working with RGIII I would direct our work towards getting him into a routine of creating the mental image of what makes him a special athlete. We would begin to obsess over the details that allow for him to exhibit those skills. And, we would spend a good deal of time on him understanding how praise and criticism are worthless to listen too in terms of performance, so we pay little to no attention to it. Our quest is one of continual growth of developing his “best-self”, and that will always be the best focus and the only one that he controls.
I hope he calls soon…