The Inner Game of…NFL Referees?

Have you ever read a book that changes the way you see the world? I did this summer. It’s called The Inner Game of Tennis and it was required reading for one of my grad classes this fall. The forward was written by someone who might look familiar to many of you. A0cS40jCQAAmK9N.jpg-large
Gallwey was a tennis pro who watched players struggle more with the mental side of their tennis game than they physical side. He realized that once you got your brain cooperating, your body followed suit.

Now, I know nothing about tennis really. It’s just not my sport, but I understand every single concept talked about in this book and I see how it applies to everything you undertake in life. Gallwey identifies two parts of yourself: Self 1 and Self 2. Self 1 is the part of you that likes to tell you what to do, and how to do it, and comment on whether or not you did it well. Self 1 tends to get your emotions involved in making judgements. Self 2 is the part of yourself that is attempting to accomplish the task. Self 1 gets in the way of Self 2’s ability to get the task done.

The biggest impact this book had on me was the concept of nonjudgmental observation, which means observing what you are doing without judging how well you did it. That’s really, really hard to do. However, boy does it make a difference in your ability accomplish your goal and to see yourself clearly. I credit much of my triathlon success to being able to see my workouts as they were and not add emotional connections or negative labels to how well I did.

The example that he uses in the book that really stuck with me was the example of a referee. In a tennis match (or any sport for that matter), the referee is looking for errors; however, there is no emotional connection to the error made. There is no scolding or judging of the player who committed the error, and they don’t get emotionally involved in how the game is playing out. There is only the acknowledgment of the error and the status of the game. As my darling brother likes to say, “It is what it is.” Maybe that’s why he is the strongest person mentally that I know??

I was reminded of this book today because I read an article about Ed Hochuli. For the two of you reading this who don’t know who he is, he is an NFL referee. But not just any referee, the best and most famous. If you don’t know this face, you might recognize the biceps.
The ref’s have been on lockout from the NFL, but after two disastrous games this weekend with the replacement refs, the NFL and the NFLRA have miraculously come to terms. (Don’t tell me the Pats-Ravens and Seahawks-Packers game didn’t have anything to do with Mr. Goodell. I have eyes. I am intelligent. You cannot pull one over on me.)

One thing that people noticed about the replacement refs was that they seemed to get worse each week. As they got more time on the field, the games seemed to get more out of control and their judgement seemed to be progressively more clouded. The article references something called “stereotype threat.” Basically what it means is that everyone is expecting me to do poorly so I better not do poorly, but guess what? You end up doing poorly. They go on to talk about how it does diminish you cognitive abilities because you are consumed with thinking about how you better get it right.

This is textbook Self 1 and Self 2. It’s like this situation was written for Gallwey’s book. Did the replacement refs have the ability to be successful? Probably. They were given the information and they were somewhat experienced. Were they able to quiet Self 1 enough so they could let Self 2 do the job? Probably not. This also explains why they seemed to get worse with each game. The voice of the media and the fans became the very loud voice of Self 1 telling them that they couldn’t get the job done and that they were making mistakes everywhere. Cue their emotions! Then you can’t get anything objective done once your emotions start to take hold of your brain. Self 1 clouds your ability to do anything well.

This article talks about how much mental preparation Hochuli and all the other refs put into their game each week. This is the side that no one sees. These refs spend each week watching game tape, studying rules, and playing out game scenario. These things are essential to make sure that they are ready each week.

Hochuli says, “Every time I throw the flag, the player disagrees. What they say about whether they are right or wrong is meaningless to me.” Nonjudgmental observation. It is what it is no matter how strongly your emotions feel about it being something else. Hochuli and his fiery band of referees would never be able to do as well as they do without the mental capabilities, but more importantly, mental discipline that they practice each week.

Get the book. Read the book. Let it soak in. Then watch Ed Hochuli officiate this weekend. I’ve never been more appreciative of what those referees do and how well they do it. Welcome back. We’ve missed you.

Yahoo Article:

I Choose Kurt Warner

I’ve thought a lot about Kurt Warner this week. Now I know that sounds weird, but it’s true. (I’m a sports nerd and I can’t hide it anymore.) I don’t think there is any better example of perseverance or humbleness. In case you don’t know who Kurt Warner is, let me recap his career in as few words as possible.

Warner played college football, but was undrafted in the 1994 draft. He was given a workout by the Packers, but failed to make the team. They felt he had potential to be a great QB, but just didn’t think he was ready. With no job and his dream dashed, Warner got a job stocking at a grocery store. He wanted another opportunity to tryout for an NFL team, but no one was interested. Well that just sucks for Kurt doesn’t it? Determined not to let that stop him, he looked to the Arena League. He signed with an Arena League team all the while still pursuing his dream of being an NFL QB. Before the 1997 season, he was finally granted a tryout with the Chicago Bears, but guess what happened? He got hurt. Yep. An injury. So this might be where many of us would give up–not Kurt.

He kept plugging away and was finally signed by the St. Louis Rams for the 1998 season. He spent the year as the third string QB, but was then promoted to backup for the 1999 season. As fate would have it, the first string QB suffered an injury and Warner suddenly became “the guy.” Most people know what happens next. He goes on to be named MVP of the 1999 season including leading the Rams to a Superbowl. He has a repeat Super Bowl appearance in 2001 as well as being named league MVP once again. Way to go Kurt. You are nailing it.
This is a great story, right? Well, it gets better.

Warner struggled in his next few seasons and had an injury that kept him from playing in top form. So, he was released by the Rams. Yep. Two time MVP and Superbowl player. Gone. Just like that.

He should probably have just quit, right? I mean, I probably would have. You’ve played in two Superbowls. You’ve been the MVP twice. Let’s just call it a day.

But, nope. Not Kurt Warner. He signed with the New York Giants and played pretty well. But, he lost two games in a row and people started to get antsy. Typical New Yorkers. There was this rookie in town called Eli Manning and people were ready to see him play. And I don’t blame them. With a name like Manning, you have to be good. Right? RIGHT? Answer me people!
So once again Kurt Warner was out of a job. I think I’d give it up. I mean, people clearly don’t want you around, right? My ego would be shattered. How embarrassing to not be wanted! And how horribly humbling this must have been.

Cue the Arizona Cardinals. They signed Warner and thus began a 5 year battle for the starting QB job with rookie Matt Leinart. One year it’s Warner, the next it’s Leinart, then Leinart’s benched for not playing well, then Warner’s injured, yadda, yadda, yadda. In 2008 though, Warner was named the starter for the season, and guess what? He led the team to another Superbowl.
Kurt Warner then retired after the 2009 season with so many records and accolades it would be nonsense to attempt to mention them.

So, why has Kurt Warner been on my mind this week? One word: Disappointment. We all deal with it. Sometimes it’s small disappointment like not being able to make it through a triathlon training. Sometimes it’s huge disappointments like not getting something that you’ve worked your ass off for and are deserving of. This is life. This is being an adult. This is where character is built. How are you going to handle the disappointments? Are they going to stop you from pursuing your goal or are you going to be like Kurt Warner and keep going no matter how much it hurts? I choose Kurt Warner.

I’ve been a Kurt Warner in life for most of my years, and what makes being a Kurt Warner so difficult is that life is full of Peyton Mannings. (Like I said, sports nerd, stay with me here people.) Some people get to be Peyton Manning in life and its just not fair. They come from football royalty, get drafted first overall, play fourteen seasons for one team, become a four time MVP, eleven time pro bowl player, and SuperBowl winner. I hate these people. Seriously. I look at them and think, what do you know about perseverance! I’m a Kurt Warner in life and you’re a Peyton Manning! We can’t be friends!

But then I have to remind myself, one persons success is not my failure. These people may experience great success in their goals and their life in general, but that doesn’t automatically make me a failure. Just because Eli Manning was successful for the Giants, doesn’t mean that Kurt Warner was a failure. It just wasn’t the right time or place for him.

As I face disappointments in my day to day life, I look to Kurt Warner for inspiration. He knew that he wasn’t a failure no matter what anybody said or no matter how successful other players were. When it’s all said and done, I’m sure that both Peyton Manning and Kurt Warner will be in the Football Hall of Fame together. Their paths are nothing alike, yet they will both end up in the same place as heroes of the sport.

So, I ask you once again, will you let disappointment stop you from achieving your goals or will you be like Kurt Warner and keep going?

I still choose Kurt Warner.


Weekend Update

Wow! What a weekend! I’ve fallen behind on blogging because my weekend was filled with so much excitement and adventure. I’ll break my weekend into three parts for you so you can skip the parts that might not interest you. Hopefully that won’t be the entire thing.

Part I: No Longer A Seahawk Virgin

Yep. I watched my first game as an official Seahawk fan, and to top it all off, my brother was the starting quarterback. Not a bad way to start off your weekend. I had a few friends over and we drank, ate and watched my brother do what he does best. I made cupcakes and was proudly sporting my new Seahawks shirt. My brother hasn’t bought my jersey for me yet. Hint, hint if you’re reading this Matt.
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My friends came over and watched with me, which really helps calm my nerves. I have good friends.
Nat and Moniz
I still get a kick out of seeing Matt on television. Can you tell?
Matt Titans
Yep, I took pictures of him on the screen. I’m officially as dorky as you thought I was.

I was really pleased with how well Matt played. Matt is a cerebral quarterback and plays the game that is in front of him. He can read a defense like nobody’s business. He’s not out to please the crowd or show off his arm strength. He’s there to move the football down the field with smart, accurate football. He wants to win games by helping his team put points on the board, not by being the hero. Of course, this is translated in the media as not having a strong arm and being too safe on the field. Frankly, the media makes me crazy and has always made me crazy. Somewhere along the way, someone decided Matt had a weak arm and now it’s all people talk about. Has anyone ever seen him miss a long throw in a game because of his lack of ability to throw the ball? Nope. It’s just something that the media clings to because it was said at one point in his career. Maybe he doesn’t throw as hard as some people, but that doesn’t automatically make him weak. When he played with JaMarcus Russell in college, of course he had a weaker arm than JaMarcus. So did everyone else on the planet. No one has every thrown a ball harder than JaMarcus Russell. Playing quarterback is not about being the best athlete on the field. It’s about being the best quarterback on the field, and there’s a lot more to that than athleticism.

End Soapbox.

Next week we play the Broncos and my brother has been given the opportunity to start again. I’m excited about him getting another week of starter reps. That does more good for him than anything else. Hopefully this quarterback competition will come to an end soon, and I hope that my brother proves the victor. He’s earned this. It’s his time.

Part II: A Trip To Cap Cod

Rob and I got up Sunday morning and took a two day getaway to Cap Cod. We were craving the beach and some time away from NYC, so this was the perfect fit. We had some amazing seafood. It started with unbelievable clam chowder with homemade cornbread from The Blue Eyed Crab in Plymouth, MA. It was the best clam chowder I’ve ever had. The clam was so fresh and it was perfectly balanced.
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I had a lobster roll because I love lobster rolls and I wasn’t disappointed. It was super light and fresh and the bun was just toasted enough to add a little bit of crunch. Yum!
Lobster Roll
The next day, we headed out on an adventure. We decided to do some biking on the Cape Cod Rail Trail. We packed our backpacks and bikes and headed out. We biked about 9 miles to the beach and spent some time laying out and enjoying the water. The water was about 59 degrees so I didn’t venture too far out, but Rob loved it. It was seriously a beautiful day.
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We biked back and enjoyed another seafood feast for dinner. We headed home the next morning and stopped at a great place in Providence, RI called Olga’s Cup and Saucer. It was adorable and the food was delicious. I highly recommend it if you are passing through Providence. I had the Mayan Chicken Salad Sandwich and Rob had the Mozzarella and ham calzone. Yum! It was a delightful getaway filled with beaches and seafood. Two of my favorite things!

Part III: Training With A Crazy Schedule

I knew that my weekend was going to be crazy, so I headed to the gym first thing Saturday morning. I had a 30 minute workout on the books. 5 minute walk/run warmup, 20 minute run, and 5 minute walk cool down. I was worried about the 20 minute run, but I made it through. I was really proud of myself.

My original intention was to wake up early Sunday and get my combo workout in before heading out of town. Because the game was so late on the East Coast on Saturday night, I was way too tired to get up early. There was no way to make it happen. So, we headed to MA and I decided that I would take Sunday as my day off instead of Monday. I knew that we were going to be biking a lot on Monday, so I wanted to be fresh. This was a great opportunity to get more action with Taylor Dayne and see how she did with her tires freshly filled and on a new course. It was just what I needed. I finally felt like I got the hang of biking and particularly biking with Taylor. It’s taken me a while, but I did it! I now feel like I can bike well. We biked about 18 miles all together, which was a nice way to get more miles in on the bike.

We got home yesterday and after a long, stressful drive, I was in no mood for a workout. I decided that I wasn’t going to get behind though, so I put on my suit and headed out for my swim. When I got to the pool, it was jam packed. I mean, at least two people in every lane and two classes going on. I just couldn’t deal with it. Horrible attitude, I know, but I just couldn’t do it. So, I went home. I felt defeated and exhausted. I hate feeling both of those things.

I woke up this morning and was determined to play catch up. I headed straight to the pool and caught it at the perfect time. There was no one there! Amazing!! I did my swim and felt great. I headed home and rested for about an hour and then decided that it was time to catch up. Typically I bike for about an hour on Wednesday, but since I did logged serious miles on Monday, I decided that today I would do my missed workout from Sunday. It was my combo workout of biking and running. I nailed it. Seriously. I felt so good. I could have kept going on my run, but didn’t. I was worried about overdoing it, so I stopped.

I’m determined to stay on schedule from this point forward. Barring injury or illness, I should be able to make that happen. I have 25 days until my triathlon. I can’t afford to miss any workouts in this last home stretch. This weekend was a good test for what training will be like when I’m back in school in a few weeks. I really have to prioritize my training schedule into my life or I’ll find myself falling behind.


Today something really big happened. Yes, I had a successful swim and run, but more importantly, my brother was officially given the nod to start this weekend for the Seahawks first preseason game. For those of you who don’t follow Seahawks football, he was picked up in the free agency to come in and potentially be the starter, but knew he was going to have to compete for the job. He’s been competing this last week against the incumbent QB and the new rookie. It’s been difficult because he’s had to share reps with the other guys and that makes it hard on all of them. Luckily Matt is great at taking mental reps and keeping his head in the game all the time no matter who has the ball. He’s a hard worker both mentally and physically and his hard work is paying off.

He gets to start this weekend, but more importantly, he gets the first string reps for the rest of the week. Taking reps with the starters for three days in a row will be like manna from heaven. Who knows what will happen after Saturday, but I am living in this glorious moment for now. He’s the starter!

The news broke on twitter first, but it was only moments before this came across my phone. What a beautiful site! (Note the picture of me with my sister and two brothers in the background.)
So, on Saturday night during the game my apartment will be filled with my dearest friends offering me support as I enter this new era in my life. My apartment will also be filled with whiskey and vodka offering me support as I enter this new era in my life. Both are equally important.

Mental Toughness

I am going to start off by saying welcome to my new blog followers. So if you are one of them, welcome! It’s amazing what happens when your best-friend-forever Warren Moon retweets you. I’ll buy him an ice cream sundae next time I see him. And by next time I mean first time because we’ve never met.

I started this blog last month to chronicle my attempt at a triathlon in September. So far, so good. Once again I struggled less with my swim today. This is great news! I ran easy yesterday and swam easy today. Maybe I’ll be able to pull of this triathlon business after all. Who knew!

Joe Friel talks a lot about mental toughness and wellness as being an essential part of your triathlon training. I’ve spent A LOT of time around athletes and I can say that your mental state really does separate the men from the boys (or women from the girls to be politically correct). It’s so important to stay tough mentally in order to be on top of your game. I’m finding this particularly true with endurance sports. I’ve never been good at endurance. I mean, I get winded walking up my third floor walkup. I used to pat myself on the back if I made it 15 minutes on the elliptical. I mean, I’ve really always sucked at endurance. This is one of the things that is so challenging with my training: pushing myself into endurance. I find that my mental state has a lot to do with whether or not I can make it through a workout. Can I push for the last few minutes of my workout? Can I swim another 50m? Yes! I can! I have to find ways to stay motivated.

I think of two things that I find inspiring, and not surprisingly, they are both family members. I think of my older brother Adam who is a normal dude who pushed himself and has competed in a few triathlons. If he can find time to train everyday between running his business, making rounds as a doctor, and tending to his four children, then I have no excuse. Here he is competing in his last his last triathlon. (I also wrote more about him in my first post, so scroll down for that)

I also find the mental toughness and discipline of my younger brother is pretty amazing. He handles pressure better than anyone I know. He is always calm and collected especially when it matters the most. He has always been disciplined and focused on his NFL goal for many, many years. I look to him as the prime example of mental toughness and discipline. If I can find an ounce of that inside me, I just might make it!

A Beautiful Thing

I love the Olympics. I mean seriously love the Olympics. I will watch any sport and cry anytime the US wins the gold. I’m an Olympic addict. I can’t wait to watch the triathlon competition since this is my newest endeavor. Those triathletes are inspiring and unbelievable. Last night, the Women’s Gymnastics tore me apart as it did many people. So much hard work put in by all the ladies and I would love to see them all compete. But alas, it can’t happen. Today there has been video floating around the magical interweb of Aly Raisman’s parents watching her compete last night. In case you are the one person who missed it, here’s the video below.

The most common reaction that I’ve seen to this video is “I can’t wait to see SNL spoof this video” and “Kristen Wiig would be amazing doing a spoof of this!” While, I do agree that both of these things would be hysterical and will probably happen, I can’t help but watch this video and empathize with what they are going through. I’m not a mother and have never had a family member compete in the Olympics, but as the sister of a professional athlete, I can definitely relate to their experience.

I have watched my brother play football (and not play football) more times than I can count on all my fingers and toes. I don’t miss a single game whether he is playing or not. There really isn’t a way to accurately describe what it’s like to watch someone you love and have grown up with go out and compete at such a high level. I mean, I remember my dad and stepmom deciding to name him Matthew, and I remember him coming home from the hospital all pink with black hair looking like a little rat. I am so proud of Matt and all of his accomplishments. I burst with pride on a daily basis. If I could wear a flashing sign everyday telling everyone about how amazing and talented my brother is, I would. But, this would embarrass both Matt and my boyfriend Rob who would have to been seen with me wearing said flashing sign, so I don’t. My brother has worked incredibly hard for all of his achievements and he deserves every single good thing that has come his way and will come his way in the future. He’s kind, generous, humble, and was born to be an NFL Quarterback. But, enough about how much I love my brother…

Now, imagine that object of pride and love going onto a football field where there are 11 big, strong, angry men trying to squish him to the ground flat. Imagine that object of pride and love having the game rest on his shoulders, for better or for worse. Imagine that object of pride and love getting the praise when things go well, and subsequently getting the blame when things don’t work out, no matter who’s fault it was. Watching Matt play football is one of the most full body and emotional experiences that I have. When I watch at home, I’m up, I’m down, I’m hiding behind a pillow, I’m screaming, I’m crying, I’m throwing things, I’m cursing at the tv, I pausing to look at close ups of my brother and take a picture because I still think it’s cool that he’s on tv, I’m screaming more. I stand with every long pass he makes as if the energy of my standing will help the pass get to where it needs to go. Everyone in my family goes through a similar experience as we watch him play. We all keep thinking “just stay safe and play well.”

I thought I’d share some of my favorite pictures of my family watching Matt play so you can see that all athlete’s family members go through a similar journey. Matt’s first start in college was his Sophomore year at the Peach Bowl in Atlanta for the injured Jamarcus Russell. My dad, brother, and I were clearly enjoying ourselves.
Things worked out well though. They won and he was the MVP.
Matt after game
I went to go visit my brother his senior year of college and watched him play against Auburn.
We were both nervous, but once again, it worked out. In case you missed it, here was the winning touchdown. I nearly crapped my pants.

Then came the National Championship. Oh boy. We all descended on New Orleans and tried to remain as calm as possible.
Then it was game time and here came the serious nerves. That’s one of Matt’s best friends Tom biting his nails.
This is Mamma Roo in a rare moment of actually watching the game. She tends to watch much of the games with her hands over her eyes. I even caught her on the ground with her head between her knees once. I can only imagine what it’s like for her.
But, it all turned out ok.
Matt made his first NFL start in New England in December 2010 and my dad, stepmom, brother and I were all present. We knew that NBC would be filming us. When we got to our seats, we had black tape on the bottom of our seats. They had clearly been practicing filming where we were going to be sitting. I’m sure that Aly Raisman’s parents arrived to tape marked seats yesterday. We made an agreement with each other to stay calm and not look too panicked since we knew that NBC would be on the lookout for us. I think we did ok. 165755_821701985563_1300132_n-1
My friends teased me and said that I was talking to my stepmom every time the camera was on me. What? I talk a lot. Can you tell?

So, Mr. and Mrs. Raisman, I feel you. I can relate to what it’s like to put your love and energy into someone you love while they are doing what they do. I say, talk, lean, cheer, scream, wiggle, squirm and love all you want. It’s a beautiful thing.