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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Competition Readiness


The 2015 version of the  Monument Valley Mustangs football team. Finished regular season 10-0.


On the eve of the USA hosting the World Weightlifting Championships in Houston, Texas, here are some observations and an experience with assessing competition readiness.


Mustang spirit in Monument valley.
Navajo Warrior
It is interesting to watch international sporting events like weightlifting and track and observe the different ways that athletes prepare themselves mentally for competition. Some are very vocal and animated. That is their nature and works for them. Some are very quiet, intense and focused. Others are relaxed and even zen-like in their approach.

The Summer of 1995 we took our football team to Las Vegas, Nevada for a full contact camp at UNLV. We planned, worked, and saved and arrived with a group of 22 young men. All of whom were members of the Navajo tribe. When we arrived and checked in, it was apparent that we were different than all the other teams that were there. As we walked into the dorm area to find our rooms, everything got quiet and you could hear the whispers, ”Look! Indians!” The first time we came into the cafeteria we got the same reaction. It was like EF Hutten was talking.(I dated myself with that one)
We reported for the first practice session and went through our usual team warm-up. Next it was off to individual position drills with UNLV staff and then the session ended with a team challenge. All the teams lined up behind the 10 yard line while the UNLV staff would select teams to take the field on either defense or offense. The selected teams would have four downs to get 10 yards. If the offense got into the endzone they won. If not, the defense won. The winners stayed in until they lost. I don’t remember exactly how many teams were there, but there were more than 20 from Nevada, Utah, California, and Arizona. So at the end of the practice we were standing as a team in the midst of a bunch of wild, screaming teams from around the western states. Navajo style is not to be loud or vocal, but never mistake that for less than intense. We just stood there with our arms folded waiting for a chance. The UNLV coaches called out a lot of the teams for the challenge, then closed practice without us having a chance. At the next session we were ignored again, but as it was about to close we sent our QB over to the UNLV staff to tell them that we wanted a chance. The coach in charge pushed him away and said, “You aren’t ready to play football! You don’t have any spirit!” Then he walked over to our group and said, “You guys had better get a clue! Unless you show some spirit here you’ll never get a chance!” I stepped into his face and said, “Hey, is this a football camp or a cheerleading camp? Give us a chance!” He smirked at me and sarcastically said, “Allright, I’ll give you chance! Get in there on offense and show us what you can do!” By then everyone on the field saw and heard what was going on. We went out and lined up against a team with big guys and gold helmets. We had no idea where they might be from or who they were.
On our first play we fumbled the snap from center. We at least recovered it to the laughter of everyone who was waiting for us to make fools of ourselves. Next snap we ran a dive and gained 3 yards. Third down we option off of the dive and are in the end zone. Dead silence thundered all around. Lol No one was expecting that. They called out a few more teams and we scored on each of them. The session ended and we headed back to the dorm. Coach Mark Weber, the UNLV O-line coach(who later worked at BYU) caught up with us and said, “Hey, that was the damndest thing I’ve ever seen! Do you know that no one has scored on those guys in 2 years!” The next session we stood silently while the other teams all demonstrated their “spirit” by yelling and screaming. They called out teams here and there and this time they did not ignore us. The rest of the week we scored on every team that was matched with us. At the end of the week there was a tournament format and we came out on top of the heap. By then a lot of the other teams and coaches were asking us what our “secret” was. Like there was some mystical “Indian Power” that we were using. Some asked what conference we played in. We told them NFL, Navajo Football League! Even the UNLV coach who challenged us that first day with the “You have no spirit” tirade asked if he could address our team before we left. To his credit, he apologized for his first impression of us and said, “You really taught me something, spirit does not have to mean a lot of yelling and screaming. You guys really are football players.” This was a special group of athletes and we enjoyed a lot of success together. Many have gone on to productive lives. There is a civil engineer, an Air Force fitness instructor, an Army officer, several construction workers and our current high school athletic director to name a few.

What does this have to do with lifting, throwing or athletics? Some coaches think that all athletes will show their "readiness" in the same way. They think an athlete has to be "fired up" in order to compete well. Some athletes think they can only get ready by being loud.
Bottom line: mental preparedness is very individual and you can’t always tell if an athlete is ready or not unless you know them very well. Competitive spirit can look very different from individual to individual. As the saying goes, "You can't always judge a book by it's cover."

Emotions are often more evident after the performance.

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