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What Does it Take to “Be a Pro”?

An NFL football.

Life is all about perspective. At times, I would feel like a failure as I traveled from team to team during my time in the NFL. Now, I can look back and feel fortunate to have had the chance to enter ten separate NFL locker rooms.

There were differences, but a lot of similarities. For instance, the adage heard in nearly every NFL building is actually more of a mindset than a saying: “Be A Pro.”

What that means, at the NFL level, is that there is little (or no) room for excuses or errors. You were expected to get your job done — to “Be A Pro”!

There are three critical factors in developing this mindset at a professional level:

1. Be confident, not cocky:

Every off-season, a new set of rookies show up at NFL training camps, and begin to tell everyone how good they were in college and their plans for a successful career in the NFL. This cockiness is never received with its hopeful intentions. Young players are naïve to think veterans will listen to them, and to believe they can play at the highest level. 

What so many people overlook is that internal voice — the one in your head, between your ears. The voice that is loudest when no one is around. The voice that instills confidence.

The ability to believe in yourself and internally say “I can Be a Pro” is the first factor in becoming a professional athlete (or anything, for that matter). The external voice is cockiness and leads nowhere, whereas the internal voice is confidence, and becomes your foundation. The first person that must believe you can do something is you, after all!

2. The team must trust you

During my first practice as a rookie, I lined up eager to prove that I belonged. I was so excited that I couldn’t wait for the ball to be snapped — jumped early. It was a false start penalty, and a mental error. 

This was the NFL; and as such, the whistle blew, and I was replaced. I lost my rep, and my first opportunity to prove myself. Walking back to the sideline, Coach Andy Reid said “we can’t beat ourselves” as I passed by him. With that, Coach Reid shined a light on the second factor of being a pro: That the team must trust me when I’m on the field. 

They need to trust that I will help the cause, and not hurt it. Not knowing your assignment, or committing a mental error, is unacceptable at the professional level. It translates to your team not being able to trust you. Remember: Professionals do not beat themselves!

3. Make a play

“I am from Missouri, son, the Show-Me state.” That’s a common quip from an old running back coach I played for, and an introduction to the most important factor of becoming a professional: Make a play!

During a hot New Orleans August, a veteran defensive lineman grabbed me after a play where I made a “chip” block. The veteran was understandably aggravated — not only was he battling the heat and the offensive tackle on the play, but I came by and “chipped” him, or threw my elbow into his ribs. Grabbing my facemask, the veteran barraged me with profanity and distinctly yelled out “I don’t know you, and I don’t even know your name!”

With this comment, I had a choice: I could be cocky or confident. I could yell back at him and tell him my name, or I could be confident. I could fight him and prove my toughness, but then I was showing that I had a short fuse and that I possibly couldn’t be trusted.

One of the things I love about football is there will always be another chance to make a play. 

The very next snap, my assignment was to go one-on-one with my new teammate, a 300-pound, veteran Pro Bowl defensive end. On the snap of the ball, I came down the line and put my facemask right into the chest of this behemoth of a man, knocking him backward and onto the ground. Walking up to him after the play, he expected an outreached hand to help him up. Instead, I merely tilted my helmet down and pointed to the tape on my across the front: “Collins”.

Without saying a word, I made a play, and he knew my name.

So, as you approach the field — no matter if it is an NFL stadium or corporate boardroom — begin to think about how you can be a pro. And remember:

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