Football - American, Mental Toughness, Sports Parenting, Sports Psychology

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From Gridiron Grit to Entrepreneurial Spirit: Lessons in Success from the Playbook of Life

Published: 2023-11-09
From Gridiron Grit to Entrepreneurial Spirit: Lessons in Success from the Playbook of Life
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Champion's Mindset: The Athletic Foundation of Entrepreneurship

Although I didn’t quite achieve my dream of becoming a professional athlete, I feel there was no better prep course for life as an entrepreneur than life as an athlete. Being an athlete at any level requires hard work and focus, delayed gratification, and perhaps a bit of irrational self-belief. I can't think of better traits to have when initially mapping out a long-term plan for success in a new venture. I had no idea at the time, but every team I played on and every coach I played for was secretly preparing me for life once the ball stopped bouncing.

Once you reach a certain level of competition, the margins on physical skill become diminished, and the difference between winning and losing comes down to mentality. The greatest winners do not simply show up and “flip a switch” on game days. More often than not, they apply a winning mindset to everything they do. Winners want to beat their opponent each and every time, but the greatest champions realize the true battle is against themselves. My high school football coach, who never actually played football on any level, was a master psychologist who knew every button to push to help us maximize our full potential.


The Psychology of Winning: Beyond the Game

As I turned 16, I transferred from a tiny private school to a nationally ranked football powerhouse, Plant High School in Tampa, FL. I went from being the best player on my old team as a sophomore to the 9th best player just at my position as a junior at Plant. Long before self-help books, podcasts, and meditation apps became the rave, my coach, Robert Weiner, simply told me one day, “Follow my lead, and you'll be just fine.” Without realizing it, Coach helped us unlock the power of our minds. We had numerous traditions, mantas, and rituals, and I soaked them all in because he had already proven himself as a championship coach. I thought Coach was just going to lead us to ‘States’ and help me earn a college scholarship, but he was prepping us to be successful at anything we did.

We embraced the discipline and structure of having to be on time (less than 15 minutes early was considered late) in both school and workouts. We learned accountability when players who didn't follow suit stood and watched while everyone else on the team did punishment running. We mastered our playbook by watching videos of previous years' teams successfully running the plays we were learning. The day before each game, Coach gave out awards in the form of helmet stickers to players for their actions from the previous game. Acts like the biggest hit, game-breaking touchdowns, and having the most team spirit earned you a panther paw to place on your helmet.




The final award was a “team win” paw given to every player on the team, and the ceremony would end with Coach saying, “It's amazing what we can accomplish when nobody cares who receives the credit.” On game day, Coach sat us down in a dark auditorium and led us through visualization exercises where we mentally visualized every aspect of the upcoming game.


From High School Heroics to Business Strategies

From the smells of the popcorn in the concession stands to the white stripes of a football as you track it in the air to the “Ooh..Ooooh” sounds that the crowd makes when you make a good play but then turn it into a great play. Subtly, the most significant of our rituals was a two-sentence saying. Every time we huddled up Coach shouted, “Football is a tough game,” and the whole team replied, “For tough people!” It’s so simple, but we were subconsciously telling ourselves that we were tough people. After 2.5 years of brainwashing ourselves to believe we were the toughest kids alive, it’s no surprise that my time at Plant High ended with our undersized defense making a stop on 4th down and inches to clinch the State Title. Today, I find myself repeating my own mantra multiple times a day.


Legacy of Leadership: The Dungy Family Principles

“I am enough. I’ve made it this far in life by being myself. The people in my life love and appreciate me for who I am”. I believe that mental conditioning exercise is one of the things that allows me to come up clutch for my clients years after I hung up my cleats. In college at the University of Oregon, I played for a revolutionary coach named Chip Kelly, who embraced sports science before it was cool and changed the way football was played. But for all of the cutting-edge things taking place in Eugene, OR, it was one old-school slogan that stuck with me the most. “Water the bamboo.”





The meaning was simple. It takes years to become an overnight success. When you water bamboo, you won't see any results for three years, but in year 4, it starts to grow in epic proportions. As a freshman football player, that metaphor was all the motivation I needed to lift weights, run, eat healthy, and ignore the typical perks/temptations that come with life as a college baller. I sought to wake up every day and “Win The Day” with the belief that after a few years, I’d look up and realize the exponential growth that occurred. Although five years of intense focus did not necessarily result in me becoming a first-round pick (or any round, lol), I was able to walk away from football at peace, knowing I squeezed out every drop of ability I had. I was also mentally equipped to face the daunting task of finding a new passion and eventually becoming elite at that.

I would be a bit remiss if I did not mention one last coach, my Hall of Fame Father, Tony Dungy. Although he probably feels I tune him out at times, a few things he taught me did stick. One was actually from one of his players, the legendary Marvin Harrison. I once asked Marv to give me a list of things to work on to become a great Wide Receiver. He sent me a text that said

1. Catch the ball
2. Catch the ball
3. Catch the ball
4. Catch the ball
5. Get open

Translation: determine the most essential part of your job and master it. For wide receivers, it's catching the ball. For real estate agents, it's lead generation. If a wide receiver cannot catch, it does not matter how fast he is, how well he reads coverages, how many defenders he can miss, etc. And if you're a realtor, it doesn't matter how cool your marketing is. It doesn't matter how many houses you've previewed or TikToks you’ve created. Only once you have mastered catching the ball should you even worry about trying to get open.

But with all of the great wisdom and knowledge I was given, above all, I noticed that no matter how well his teams were doing or how stressful things got, my Dad drove me to school every day and went to every one of my sporting events. He was always aware that we would never get that time back. Without ever saying it verbally, my Dad was constantly reminding me that while winning is important, there are some things that are more important in life.

Years later, I found out that one of the foundational Bible verses in my Dad’s life is Matthew 16:26.


What would it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul?


Eric Dungy