Great Athletes Are a Lot Like Plumbers

        Great athletes are a lot like plumbers.  That is something you probably never thought you'd see written, but I encourage you to hear me out and to take a look at the sports media site of your choosing for evidence.  Chances are you will find plenty of articles that have nothing to do with the actual performance of athletes.  I'll never forget being in college and watching the strange Terrell Owens workout press conference in his driveway.  ESPN and viewers everywhere ate it up.  Kyle Roberson, one of my teammates and roommates, made a comment that it was going to change sports reporting forever.  I'm not sure Kyle realized just how right he would be, but ESPN has become skewed heavily in favor of entertainment in lieu of actual sports. With this shift, there has been an overwhelming increase of outside sources influencing the thought process of the professional athlete in particular.  Constant questions about expectations from people who have nothing to do with the team.  Athletes have every chance to be bothered by these outside expectations, and many are.  The great ones, however, are able to filter out the crap and understand the expectations of others have as much or as little influence as the athletes allow.

        What makes some athletes better at handling playing in larger markets like New York and Boston than others?  While there are certainly many possible variables in play, I think they are excellent plumbers.  They are able to flush the meaningless expectations of outsiders and are self-driven to do well.  Both compliments and criticism from the media and fans have a minimal impact on the way they go about things.  Think about how hard this is even for fans.  People who ultimately are just spending a couple of hours here and there watching a game get so upset over analysts talking negatively about "their" team.  Every year there are players who sign large contracts in a big market after success in other places only to under-perform based on the standards they have established.  Whether it is a letup in preparation because of already gotten paid, the constant pressure from the media, or any other number of variables, the "crap" gets to them and the pipes burst.  The plumber, however, is able to understand all that is ultimately of no value or impact on them and keep things running smoothly.

         Are there organizations cultivating a culture conducive to plumbers?  What is it about some organizations that creates a seemingly endless list of athletes who go there and see their performance improve?  The Cardinals, Patriots, and Spurs come to mind off the top of my head.  There have to be tangible reasons in there somewhere.  No matter who gets hurt or comes and goes on the roster they always seem to be right in the thick of things.  In my opinion, a major part of this is they must have high expectations for themselves.  The key part of that sentences is the "for themselves."  What others outside of the organizations expect doesn't matter.  They are self-driven as a group.  They expect to be good, and there is clearly a level of trust and belief in anyone who suits up.  They are organizations of great plumbers staying the course regardless of any issues along the way.

        If you're a college football fan, you probably saw a poor example of plumbing by Ezekiel Elliott Saturday night.  After the Buckeyes lost for the first time in twenty-four games, Elliot vented to the media about his lack of carries and the playcalling by his coaches.  It was a momentary lapse of judgement by a 20 year-old kid.  Rather than helping to eliminate, Elliot added to the mess created by the loss in a couple of answers.  He allowed the emotion of losing for the first time in two years to outweigh how he has likely been prepared to talk with the media.  Let's be careful about rushing to judgement about Elliot as a person, however, and leave that to those who actually know him. One of the most dangerous things we can do as coaches, and ultimately as people, is judge rather than observe.  Observations are rational.  They allow us to see things for what they are.  Judgments let us take what we see and assume more than face value.  It's a dangerous behavior for coaches who know players really well much less casual fans.

        So how do you become a better plumber as an athlete?  Well, you understand what is truly important to your performance.  I'm not saying you have to completely ignore outside influences (fans, media, friends, parents).  It would be unrealistic to not acknowledge their existence (unless you're Marshawn Lynch).  Ultimately, it is your decision how much power you allow them to have over your performance.  It's also largely your choice who you hang out with and what you do.  Dr. Charlie Maher, a strong influence on me, talks a lot about PPT (People, places, things).  They all have an impact on who we are as people and athletes.  My advice would be to choose wisely, and focus on what drives you.  That's what elite plumbers are doing.  The essentials to your performance will work regardless of circumstance or outside expectations.

       One of my favorite quotes, as referred to several times before, is, "Consistent behavior leads to consistent results."  Great plumbers stick with their behaviors, and they give themselves the best chance for consistent success.  Ultimately, that is all we can hope for.



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