I’ll never forget watching my brother play college football on national television. Alex was on the Air Force Academy Fighting Falcons team that played the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the early 1990s. Back then, the Irish had a running back by the name of Jerome “The Bus” Bettis. Bettis was a man-child back then at about 6 feet tall and 255 pounds. On one particular play, Bettis broke through the line of scrimmage and made his way into the secondary. My brother was the last man standing between “The Bus” and the end zone. Alex had to make a quick decision. He could try tackling Bettis head on or let “The Bus” pass by and catch him from behind. Let’s just say that my brother took a short bus ride that day and lived to tell about it.
I played football for a little while for the Air Force Academy as well. Just like my brother, I played the strong safety position. However, I decided to leave the team because I was “flunking out” because of the cumulative effects of unnecessary stress. During my freshman year, I had a 1.87 semester GPA. I said to myself, “The devil IS a lie,” and chose to preserve a great opportunity to graduate from the prestigious Air Force Academy and become a military officer. Before leaving the team, I learned a few life lessons from playing the strong safety position. The irony is that these 3 lessons have helped me achieve the highest level of education—a doctorate of business of administration.
1. Keep your eyes open
I had a bad habit of lowering my head and closing my eyes a split second before making contact with the ball carrier. This technique resulted in a lot of missed tackles and several concussions. In our academic pursuits, we must keep our eyes open and on the prize. Closing my eyes right before impact was analogous to losing focus right before receiving a blessing. How might you be losing focus in your academic program?
2. Keep your balance
I missed quite a few tackles because I didn’t gather my feet, square my shoulders, and drive through the tackle. I was just trying to knock folks out like you see on those ESPN’s “Jacked Up” segments. Despite this, I had a slight problem. The ball carrier would see me running at them at full speed and juke out of the way at the last second. I bet I looked like a bull charging through that small red cape only to eat dirt on the other side. When pursuing an academic opportunity, we need to keep balance with other aspects of our lives. This means maintaining a healthy level of mental, emotional, spiritual, social, and physical well-being.
3. Use your support
In addition to not maintaining a proper balance, I missed many tackles using my helmet and arms instead of using my shoulder pads. Some of my missed tackles were because I tried to drag down 200 pound running backs with just my arms. I was strong, but not that strong. That’s why they invented shoulder pads. Shoulder pads are designed to absorb the shock of the impact. We need to create a network of family and friends that we can count on for support and protection. They will ensure that we don’t make hasty decisions and help us consider other options and alternatives. Instead of using our heads to try to figure everything out ourselves, we need to bounce ideas off of others. Discussing issues with our parents, spouses, and professional life coaches can help us mentally absorb the pros and cons of an opportunity.
The next time you watch a football game, pay particular attention to the strong safety position. Notice how despite being outnumbered and outweighed, he still manages to make tackles. Strong safeties rank among the hardest hitters in the league. Let’s become hard hitters and go out there and “knock the snot” out of life’s challenges. From now on, we will lift our chins, set our shoulders, plant our feet and tackle opportunities!