Imagine you are a 17 year-old foreign exchange student from Copenhagen, Denmark never having seen an American football game, let alone having played in one. Would you believe that one year later you would be a kicker for Michigan State University on a full-ride scholarship? Moreover, 5 years later beginning an NFL career that would transpire into you being the All-Time Leading Scorer in the NFL? At the Association of Applied Sport Psychology Conference in New Orleans, LA, AASP attendees had the honor of hearing Morten Andersen, The Great Dane, speak about his 21 year journey in the NFL as a kicker for both the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons. Andersen was a 7 Time NFL Pro Bowl Selection as well holds the record as the all-time leading scorer in NFL history. I’ve reflected often on his inspirational message of discipline, resilience and passion. Morten Andersen graciously shared that before he utilized sport psychology he was “winging it” with little to no structure, routine or coping mechanisms. His start in the NFL was mediocre at best and filled with challenges. However, he realized something needed to change. When his performance plateaued he needed more. Thus, as he stated, he understood that “the mental plus the physical equals a great marriage.”
Morten began working with John Silva, professor Emeritus at the University of North Carolina and CC-AASP Sport Psychology Consultant. His time working with John Silva created balance in his life creating a sense of empowerment and liberation. For the first time, Morten Andersen felt as though he was in charge of his performance. While there were several great points during his talk, I will highlight three that most any of us can use.
#1: I HAD TO LEARN THAT FAILURE IS GOING TO BE A PART OF MY LIFE
Morten discussed the importance of learning to fail. Even more important, he realized that his perfectionistic tendencies were setting him up for failure. For the first time in his life, he stated that he realized that as a human, there was room for error. Thus, rather than feeling that he had to have a 100% field goal percentage, he realized that 80 – 85% was his “new perfect.” He felt a huge relief and was freed up to make mistakes in his football career and “go for it.” Andersen quoted, “I had to learn that failure is going to be a part of my life.” If only more of us could embrace this fact, we would all feel free to make mistakes, overcome failure and triumph despite adversity.
#2: CREATE AND USE YOUR WORK BENCH
The Great Dane shared his concept of his “workbench.” From his head down was his workbench and no one else’s. He learned to focus on what he controlled (his workbench) and embraced the fact that attitude and effort was going to be non-negotiable for him. He couldn’t control other people or things going on in the game; however, his workbench was fully his. If he focused on the workbench, his body as well as his thoughts, he could stay in the present and “go to work” when the opportunity arose.
#3: EMBRACE THE SUCK
Andersen reminded all those in attendance that life isn’t going to be easy and thus, we shouldn’t expect it to be. He declared, “Embrace the suck.” We find what we can overcome, endure and become not through our victories but our defeats. Rather than avoiding these moments of truth, we should embrace them as teachable moments for how we can become better performers but even more importantly better people.
Morten’s talk was powerful and inspirational. Yet, in his closing he charged everyone present to give of their passion, their energy, their love and their money. He called upon each of us to inspire with passion and energy and to always own our workbench. He closed with reminding us that, “What you give will grow and what you keep will perish.” Give of yourself wholeheartedly in every endeavor and you will be certain to leave a legacy far greater than you ever imagined, one like The Great Dane’s.