Can You Handle It?

Football is a tough and demanding game that comes with physical, emotional and mental stress. For some established players, training camp is nothing but a physical grind, with exercises and drills to get ready for the season. For others, training camp represents the most important part of the season because a strong performance might help them make the team while a poor one might get them cut.

Constant Competition
Playing football every day is never easy. There are the physical demands that every player must contend with on a regular basis, but players who are not starters know that they must perform at their best every day if they want to maintain their position. For example, a starting running back might not have to perform in practice early in the week as he recovers from the physical stress of the previous game, but the veteran backup must take all the snaps offered in every practice because he is trying to hold off a young and hungry player. This is significant stress for any player. Football players in this situation deal with the stress by not taking short cuts. A player who knows he has done everything to prepare does not have to deal with "what ifs" or "if only." Many veteran backups also prepare for life after football by preparing for their next career. Veterans have a unique perspective and often become excellent position coaches when their playing career comes to an end.

Certain psychological skills are associated with playing position in team sports. A study conducted on Division 1 intercollegiate American football players reveals that linesmen and backfield players are psychologically different, with the latter performing better in terms of concentration, confidence and ability to control anxiety. Results also show that, regardless of position, defensive players are less able to control anxiety compared to offensive players.

Game-Ending Kick
The game-winning field goal represents one of the most stressful moments in competitive sports. On a game-winning field goal attempt, the center must snap the ball with speed and accuracy, the holder must catch the ball cleanly and place it down quickly and the kicker must deliver a powerful and accurate kick while knowing that if he makes the kick his team wins and if he misses it loses. Adding to the stress is that many offensive and defensive players don't always look at kickers as full-fledged football players since they don't have physical contact in practice every day. Kickers practice those game-ending kicks by having teammates yell in practice of having coaches threaten team punishments for a missed kick, but it is not the same as attempting a game-winning attempt in front of a packed house at a huge stadium.

Quarterback Stress
The quarterback often is under constant physical and psychological stress. When a quarterback leads a passing attack, he regularly drops back in the pocket, waits for receivers to get open and throws the ball while opponents are trying to sack him or bat down his passes. Quarterbacks also contend with the pressure of knowing that one poor throw could lead to an interception that turns victory into defeat. Quarterbacks often try to cement their leadership role by building close relationships with their linemen and other important players. This tradition started in the early 1980s when Jim McMahon led the Chicago Bears and took his linemen out to dinner every week during the football season. McMahon showed his teammates he was "one of them" and not a diva by fostering great relationships and showing that they were all in it together. This tradition has continued with quarterbacks since then.

Coaching Stress
Football at the high school, college and professional level is a very competitive game, and coaches must produce victories on a consistent basis to maintain their jobs. The coach knows that while he is preparing his team each week, there is an opposing coach preparing just as hard to help his team find the winning formula. This is a stress-inducing situation because there is no down time for coaches during the season and they constantly are under the gun to change the game plan, improve the team and come up with wins. Failing to do so will often result in the loss of employment. This is significant stress for any individual and often leads to burn out. According to Hall of Fame former coach and broadcaster John Madden, many coaches reach a stage after a number of years on the job where the constant stress and pressure make the coach lose perspective on many other aspects of life. That leads to a coach ultimately questioning every aspect of his career.

Understand that anything less than your absolute maximum 100% effort on every play is a recipe for mediocrity, if you want to be great, you must attack every play with all you physical and mental skills operating at their absolute maximum.

Nikola Davidovic