Mind set of athlete (football in this case)

Submitted by Mgoczar on September 13th, 2018 at 10:23 AM

Amongst the flurry of negative takes, straight up name dropping (hi Braylon), and constant pressure/pointing from the fanbase got me thinking...how does an athelete think, in our case, a football player

- What is their schedule like? I'm assuming it involves waking up early and going to bed not too early 

- What about mental state? How much energy and fortitude it takes to take hits, get back up and play through injuries (you know the type that will have majority here whining in pain). Slamming bodies every weekend ... how the heck do they do it in this violent game? Curious to know the mental state here. 

- What type of goals do they have? Is it really team spirit or do they think of just raising their NFL stock. Do they actually care what the derivative of x^2 is in math class. (thinking about it, I am sure DPJ is studying hard for Organic chemistry and catching bombs on Saturday which is incredible to me)

- How many players actually despise a rival? Seems more like they chat and are "friends" outside of football games (as in M player chatting it up with OSU players...Devin Gardner going by JT barrett and consoling when he injured comes to mind). Fans talk smack and take rivalries personally, do players? 



The Mad Hatter

September 13th, 2018 at 10:34 AM ^

Interesting question.  The only thing I can offer is that they seem to be much more driven than the average 18-22 year old.  They cram a lot of stuff into each day, even in the off-season.

How many days did the rest of us spend in dark rooms nursing hangovers at that age?  They don't have that luxury.


September 13th, 2018 at 1:06 PM ^

I’ve made up for it by having kids. I don’t have time for anything and can’t catch up on sleep or house cleaning. Or naming child four. Or taxes. 

Football may have been more fun, in retrospect. I’m sure it’s tough to go to classes, but maybe it’s a mental break from the real work like a job is now. 

SoDak Blues

September 13th, 2018 at 10:40 AM ^

When my wife was at Nebraska for undergrad, she would always complain that the athletes didn't seem to mind losing as much as the fans did. She would see them out at the bars after a loss, and the fans would be in terrible moods, while the players were having a blast. I assume at that level you can easily compartmentalize the losses and move past them (ala the Shea "relax" statement). I remember being devastated after losing in high school. Not sure when that changes (or if it actually does...small n I guess). 

EDIT: not that this answers ANY of your questions. Just an observation. 


September 13th, 2018 at 10:50 AM ^

I would think you'd almost need to be very good at compartmentalizing losses / other setbacks if you're going to play at a Division I level, perhaps even moreso if you end up going pro. I don't know how one would be able to personally carry on otherwise, especially in the midst of a tough year if that were the case. 


September 13th, 2018 at 10:54 AM ^

it kind of does answer it. Some athletes it was just something they were good at, they played, and when the game is over, it's over, time to party. Some of the guys I was with...they were borderline alcoholics post game evening...Gameday, they did their job, played hard, earned a scholarship, and turned it off when the game ended. Not everyone handles it the same. Some athletes literally didn't know life outside of sports.

SoDak Blues

September 13th, 2018 at 11:50 AM ^

Nice post below. I played for a big high school football team in the Detroit area and won several state championships, but was too small to take it to anything more than a D3 school (and honestly, academics came first for me, so gave it up). Could not imagine the adrenaline rush from coming out of that tunnel. Appreciate your insight!


September 13th, 2018 at 12:10 PM ^

honestly, I'd bet winning it all at a state championship level was probably close. I went on to coach for about 15 years at a perennially bad program, we won a league championship which was a big deal for them, and it felt pretty darn special to finish undefeated. Kids pulled it out on the final play of the season 13-6, we didn't even line up for the extra point, just said screw it...state is a big deal. Even in a great program, it's probably at the very least a sense of relief and lifts that off of you, like you are expected to win...imagine that's what these Michigan kids today are dealing with. Pressure to be what was a normal thing years ago.


September 13th, 2018 at 10:45 AM ^

This is the kind of question a sports-radio host would ask when he wants a hot take to fill up air time.  I will not be baited into speculating what a college athlete thinks.  I went to college.  I was an athlete.  But I was not a college athlete.  If there's a former college athlete would can credibly comment on the issues you put forth, that could be interesting.  In light of the bipolar-esque fans and rival trolls who tend to spout off their $.005 in response to these kinds of questions, my level of expectation that we'll see any insightful is rather low.         


September 13th, 2018 at 10:49 AM ^

Sigh. I know, I wanted to see if there were ANY college atheletes on the board who'd be willing to chime in. 

I am very sure (though no hard evidence) that the way they approach game/competition is so different and their perspective on rivalries is also different than your average fan. From the outside, it seems almost super human what these 18-22 yo are doing day in and day out. Just going through classes took alot out of me, these guys do that + work out + film study + hit each other every single day. yikes. 

Wish I could understand it better. Then may be people can stop slinging mud at student athletes. 


September 13th, 2018 at 10:49 AM ^

personally, pre-season, camp, conditioning, weights, for the most part was depressing and brutal at times. It took a heavy toll now and again, and made me consider stepping away and saying it's just not worth it. Once live contact started, some days were better than others. If you had tough drills, a lot of classwork, or just a lot going on, practice sucked. Like anything, if you had a great day, praise from coaches, laid a huge hit, that felt good and was infectious. By scrimmages, early opponent contact the thrill and gameday rush started outweighing the summer crap.

Once those game day lights come on, it's an adrenaline rush like none other. Early in careers it can be overwhelming, and make you so hyper. I remember my first game, I couldn't sleep, I couldn't sit still the entire buildup to gameday. Sat headphones in, pacing, feet hoping, didn't talk to anyone, couldn't eat...just couldn't wait to start the game. Warmups were a silent blur...fans, people around you were just background noise and a blur of existence. Really didn't hear anyone, no cheers, no jeers, elevation in sound sure, but nothing personally. As I reached the end of my career the same rush was there, the similar blurs and routines, but it was less 'stressful' unless it was a big game, or a huge rival and a must win situation. Big Ten Championships or whatever.

Rivals, some were hated, some were just there...weaker teams just...didn't care, get the win, go home. Big rivals, it was everything to crush them, make them pay every chance, it was dirty, it was sometimes cheapshots and ruthless, fingers in ear holes, nuts getting smashed at the bottom of piles, ankles being torked, it was nasty at times. Some guys after it was over it was cool to catch up. Guy at MSU of all teams...we hung out in Lansing or Ann Arbor after...had lunch, whatnot if we could. In competition, it was on...after it was over, it was two dudes and not a big deal. Some guys you played against in high school, or even some of the more high profile dudes, maybe on the same high school team but now play at rival schools, just depends. In the end it is a competition. I like to win, I can respect a good player and talk in game, maybe even go back and forth with honest kidding and challenge. Assholes, everything I can to make you suffer...and avoid suffering myself. Just depends. I am sure everyone handles it differently but  I'd bet this is pretty common.


September 13th, 2018 at 10:58 AM ^

no joke...once my career was over, I turned to volunteer in a fire department just to find that adrenaline...busting in a door, beating a fire, or opening a car up in an accident did a nice job replicating it. Felt like gameday again flying down the road to a scene.  Something about that thrill that drives you.


September 13th, 2018 at 11:20 AM ^

I played football at a small college from 2008-2012:

During the offseason, there was a lot of individual focus on lifting/conditioning so you didn't want to off yourself when camp started in August. Each position group had a "leader" who would coordinate workouts, get us all together to catch passes, work on footwork, route timing, etc. For someone like me (I played WR, if you couldn't tell already), putting on weight (even if it was "bad" weight) was critical because I knew once camp started I'd drop 15-20lbs just because of the sheer amount of physical exertion I was putting my body through on a daily basis. I'd want to be floating at around 200lbs at the start of camp, because I knew by the end of day 3 I'd be down to 185lbs or so with how fast my metabolism is. 

Rough idea of a football players schedule during the season:

Wake-up was normally at 6am

Eat breakfast

Class, all day - there was no skipping class, coaches had our schedules and would regularly drop in to ensure we were in class. Professors would also send attendance reports to our academic advisors - you didn't want to be missing class, lest you be murdered by coach at practice that week.

We would normally get a lift in either before or after practice depending on class schedules.  During the season, its more about maintenance/being present in the gym rather than trying to set new maxes/PRs.

Study tables at night - this would involve mandatory library attendance that was monitored by an athletic department staff member or a library staff member.  We had to sign-in each time we went, and we had a target per week of how long we had to go to study tables.  It was basically just a way to ensure we were doing our homework, as no cellphones/entertainment/talking was allowed.  Student-athletes who were struggling could also use this time to get tutored, which was sometimes required if your grades were slipping.

Mental State:

The hits add up over the course of a season.  My senior year, I tweaked my ankle during fall camp and my ankle was black/swollen up until week 6. Its a nagging annoyance, but absolutely nobody feels sorry for you because everyone is dealing with bumps/dings of some sort through the entirety of the season.  You just do your best to push it out of your mind and forge on for your teammates. I ended up breaking my wrist during our final game, and remember being like "ow, shit, I think I felt something snap." A trainer taped my wrist up and I played the final two quarters with absolutely no feeling at all in my hand.  It wasn't until after the game when I was out drinking with my buddies that I went to get it looked at - apparently alcohol doesn't numb the pain of a broken bone.  At that age, there's absolutely 0 awareness of your own mortality -  you're out there competing with your brothers and working towards a goal.  Getting hurt just seems like a minor setback and another obstacle that you can overcome.


Nobody on our team had NFL aspirations so football was really just a release and a way to compete at a high level still.  We all knew and understood that we were college students first, and representatives of our university both on the field and in society once we completed our degrees. However, there's nothing that can replicate the type of close-knit bond that you share with your teammates.

Despising a Rival:

Rivalry games always had a ton of focus, from the beginning of the season onward.  I could see how at bigger schools where a number of players have NFL aspirations, they know some of the opposing players and may even be friendly with them, but for us, rivalry week was a chance to "make it personal" and really inflict a beatdown on someone. Our coach always spoke of each game as a business trip - it was different when we played our rival.  It was also used as a motivational tool in practice too, like when we were running sprints or something.


At the same time, it was still about exhibiting good sportsmanship and playing the game within the bounds of the rules, and not doing anything dirty or egregious that could potentially harm the team.  There's a lot of smack talk that takes place on the field during a rivalry game, even though there's a decent amount in every other game as well - someone is chirping after every single play.


Hopefully this was informative! Like I said, I played football at very small college, and this was my experience that I figured I'd share. I'm sure some aspects are similar, and some are wildly different at a big-time school like Michigan. Go Blue!


September 13th, 2018 at 12:14 PM ^

I used to work in a couple of athletic departments, the most noteworthy being Oklahoma's. I came across many athletes and the personality trait that all the good athletes have in common is that they are some of the most insanely competitive and driven people that I have ever met. The athletes that play a lot are very competitive in all things in life. I remember playing laser tag with a just graduated softball player, and she was treating laser tag like it was life and death. It was unreal. Some football and basketball players don't put a whole lot of emphasis in school, but that is only because academics were never stressed that much to them growing up.

So to answer your question, I think some of them see message board stuff, some just laugh at it and cite it as crazy fans, while others use that to fuel them and motivate them. I think a lot of athletes on teams that disappoint (like Michigan last year) go into their training looking to shut people up. Many other athletes on great teams that fall just short of a championship are driven insane that their goal of winning it all was so close, but uncomplete, which is why I think many athletes were quick to criticize Kevin Durant from leaving a great OKC team. 


September 13th, 2018 at 1:09 PM ^

I played college soccer so not quite the same as football, but it will still give a general picture.

Schedule - We were supposed to have breakfast every morning in the dining commons, but that was not strictly enforced.  Otherwise it was class all day.  Between classes you would go to the training room, have meetings with coaches, watch film, etc...  All these things were on an as needed basis throughout the season/off-season.  Practice was from 4-? every day.  Length of practices varied based on how much film, position specific work, etc...  We had mandatory library study tables first semester freshman year.  If you were solid academically you were done after first semester.  If not, you had those your whole career.  Coaches would keep up on players who struggled academically by tracking their homework and class attendance.  After practice it was homework/video game/girlfriend time.  Bed time was midnight for everyone, but that was only enforced on nights before games.  Weekday games you went to class until you had to leave for the game.  At that point the rest of the day was about the game.  Saturday's were always game days so it was up early and full day focused on soccer.

Mental State - I had a few major injuries in my career and just like everyone else, you just kept playing.  Trainer says you need 6 weeks, you are back out there in 1.  It was not the coaches pushing us either.  Each player had that drive that they wanted to compete.  Also, most of us (including me) knew we had no chance to play professionally so we had a short 4-5 year window then our soccer careers were done.  We did not want to spend any of that time sitting out from injury.  We discussed whether we would live longer or shorter lives because we played college soccer.  We determined that we would live longer from the fitness benefits but have lower quality of lives due to the injuries sustained.

Goals - there were a few guys who were out for themselves.  They did not last long in our program as we were an average talent team who won based on teamwork and working harder than other teams.  Guys out for themselves did not fit in well with that dynamic.  We had individual goals like score x number of goals or have y number of shutouts, but we were much more focused on team goals like staying ranked, winning the conference, making nationals, etc...  Individually we had to focus on academics and life after soccer as most of us were not going pro.

Rivals - our main rival College A was 20 minutes away.  We would scrimmage them in the winter and spring.  A bunch of us went to the same church.  So we were very familiar with them.  During the game we wanted to win like when you are playing against a friend and you desperately want to beat them.  It was not a deep hatred like I have as a fan toward Ohio State.  However, College B knocked us out of our conference tournament my last 3 years.  I hated and still do hate them with a deep burning passion.  It wasn't just that they beat us.  They were absolute tools as people.  College A was good guys.  College B was...not.  So for me the hatred was developed through personal experience.  I had no feelings toward these rivals when I got to college because I had no background with them.  As a fan, I have had years to develop hatred for Ohio State.

Hopefully that provides some insight even though it is not the same as a Michigan football player.


September 13th, 2018 at 1:52 PM ^

I played both D1 and D3 hoops in college. Although, I played for a low level D1 school with a shitty coach, the days were crammed. In preseason, we had to run football stadium sprints 3 days a week at 6AM (often hungover) and then had to find time twice a week during the day to run timed 2 miles on the track. Add in, weight training 3 nights a week, pick up games with the team, working on your own game, ACADEMICS, and having some sort of social life (especially as a frosh)...and you have almost NO time for yourself. If you do have time, you aren't working hard enough.

At a place like Michigan, that work load is MUCH greater and MUCH MORE intense. They are clearly working two jobs right now (college student and semi pro athlete). Moreover, they are at a top academic institution, as well as a top D1 football program. So, not only do they have the academic rigors of a school like Michigan, but I suspect playing football there, or any other major D1 program, is like having a second job at a top investment bank or law firm. Additionally, they are still kids finding out who they are as football players and as people. Just look at how much you probably grew as a person in your first two years of college. I'll say this..I went to a very good academic college and had great grades from a top academic high school. D1 sports and performing well academically is TOUGH no matter what level you are playing at.....and you have to be 100% dedicated to excel at BOTH. It's even harder if you want a social life. So, I have a ton of respect for these kids. Their dedication, work ethic, etc. It's impressive as hell. And, I would bet on the fact that as much as Harbaugh runs his program like a pro team, he also probably expects his players to be more than just athletes and students. So, guys like Chase and Evans who use their free time to do community work, or Higdon who is a DAD, have even crazier schedules. It's why I really like someone like Higdon. That guy is a dedicated grinder. Student, semi-pro athlete, and father..at MICHIGAN of all places. He's not really at college. He's working full time.

Laser Wolf

September 13th, 2018 at 2:24 PM ^

Devin Gardner sitting next to JT Barrett after a major injury was a naturally empathetic reaction to an unfortunate circumstance befalling his fellow man. Fuck rivalries. That was a good move as a human. 

Minent Domain

September 13th, 2018 at 2:30 PM ^

I was on lightweight crew at Cornell.

We had early morning practices some times, but generally I tried to protect/conserve sleep as much as possible. Since guys were watching weight, everyone went dry in January and usually started aiming to shed a few pounds over the January-March time frame. Practices were intense, but not that much more so than other club activities I knew people involved in- the sense of the NCAA clock was always present, that we had to pack as much quality time on the water/in the gym into the hours we were allowed to practice as possible.

We weren't a contact sport, so I can't speak to that aspect of football.

A few guys from my boat went on to the US National Rowing team and/or to coach professionally, but mostly it was really all about team spirit. Most of us didn't expect to make a career of it (we pretty much all had better-paying options), but we liked competing, felt accountable to each other, and the thrill of winning a race, of feeling the boat JUMP when you're all pulling together, and the crew tradition of claiming the literal shirts off the backs of the team that you beat... that was more of a rush than any party.

We had a small but dedicated fan-base, but we definitely took the rivalries as/more seriously than the fans did. There was a different edge in the boat and it felt like the stakes were higher when racing against Harvard than Navy.


September 13th, 2018 at 4:19 PM ^

Nice little insight to crew. I had a buddy who rowed at Brown and won pretty much everything you can at that level. However, since I know nothing about crew except the name of a couple of the big races, my buddy trained very early in the morning, and that Rob Lowe film from the 80s, it's cool to get a little insight into the mind of it's competitors. I need to ask my buddy about it. Don't know why it never crossed my mind before.


September 13th, 2018 at 2:34 PM ^

Interesting story of players partying after losses.  The players used to hang out at Bells Pizza (RIP IP) late night after games.  In 2007 after the Oregon game; I witnessed a large/drunk Oregon fan wearing a too tight larry bird jersey, go up to Mike Hart and say, "Jonathan Stewart! Great game loved getting the w"!  Michael did not take it too well, Oregon fan was having the time of his life. 


September 13th, 2018 at 5:08 PM ^

I had a former Oregon State running  back working for me. Because he had never sat in a stadium before, always playing in high school and college, he was totally amazed and surprised at the fan's intensity and almost hatred of the opponents. He couldn't get over that fact.


September 13th, 2018 at 5:31 PM ^

If you guys want I could probably post a actual schedule day of a football player from a certain school. Not UofM but a top school from the west coast. 

Scared Chicken

September 13th, 2018 at 5:37 PM ^

Bet your ass that many of the players take the rivalry seriously. Remember the beef between J Lewis and Michael Thomas a few years back? Lewis was taunting him about being a 2nd round pick as opposed to a first rounder (i think Thomas though he was a lock for the first round). Turns out that Thomas is actually really damn good but his college qb couldn't throw the ball for shit! Lewis did a good job covering him regardless. Anyway, alot of these guys take that rivalry very seriously.

*This reminded me that a colleague of mine was talking about starting a petition to get the NCAA to give Barrett unlimited eligibility. He was dead serious about it too.


September 13th, 2018 at 7:22 PM ^

Played D2 football in the 70's. 

It was tough then.  Classes, practice. lifting. It was 7 days a week in season.  We didn't have spring football to deal with back then.  I don't know how the young guys do it now.  I see why so many players take fluff majors or you might flunk out.  

Injuries - I have a bad knee and ankle. I limp a bit at 60.  Football was/is in my blood so I would still play as most ex players will tell you(I think).  I played DE and loved the hitting/contact.  

Locker Room - The most macho place I've ever been. 100 young hot dogs trying to outdo each other in every way. Good times!           


September 14th, 2018 at 11:10 PM ^

I played D1 college football.  Pretty much every player on the team was hypercompetitive.  That mindset plus the right DNA is required to be successful at that level.  

Being hypercompetitive, you put a lot of time and effort into being a good player. It's just what you do. Out of season that means a lot of conditioning and strength training with some skill work.  In season there's still conditioning and strength training but more skill work and even more work on game planning for that week's opponent. 

Some of the guys on the team had NFL careers but it was a small minority.  Even the elite football colleges have only 40-50 players in the NFL out of several hundred who played on the teams with them.  

Playing with the pain from fatigue or a big hit is a non-issue. Your body and mind are used to it and, frankly, if you like playing football you were probably pain tolerant to begin with. Serious injuries are a different story.

Outside of football, life is like pretty much any other college student: classes, studying, friends, social activities.  Life goals the same.  You'd probably take an NFL career if it was possible, but it's probably not possible.

WRT rivalries, in the college life part of your day you want to beat your rivals just as much as any other student fan.  However that doesn't affect your training and practice much because you are already giving that work max effort because you are hypercompetitive.  Said another way, if you are giving less effort to preparing for non-rivals you are probably not going to be on the field anyway because someone else is out-working you and earning the game time.