Last Play


Memento mori.

-Latin phrase meaning, “Remember, you will die.”

Carpe diem.

-Latin phrase meaning, “Seize the day.”

To start my post, I’d like to thank everyone for surviving the last two weeks, so that I wasn’t tempted to write another eulogy-type piece this week. But I’ve been thinking about loss and finality. Per usual, my mind turned to athletics and the idea of the last play, the last repetition we take as athletes.

It’s incredible to watch players who play ever play as if it is their last. No matter how physically talented they are, they are overachievers. Unlike other players who throttle back at times, worry about their next breath, save their energy reserves, and occasional give up on winning the game, players who play every play as if it were their last almost always seem to find that extra gear.

They never seem to worry about their next breath, and yet it always comes. They never seem to spare an ounce of energy, and yet there’s always more when they need it. They never seem to surrender, and yet sometimes the other team gets the best of them. They always manage to play and practice with an intensity that suggests they believe this current play could be their last.

They play and practice with minimal regrets. They certainly may experience disappointment, but for the rest of their days, regret is minimal because they left nothing in the tank. They spent it all on the field or in the arena.

Looking back at films of my old teams, we played hard. We overachieved. We flew to the ball, yet we certainly weren’t perfect. Personally, I didn’t take many plays off, if any, but I definitely didn’t play every play as if it were my last. I should have. I would have been a better player if I did.

Then again, there was my senior season at Albion. Before then, I always assumed there would be other plays. I played pretty hard. I got after it. But looking back on it, I often had another gear to give, and I never realized it until I finally hit that higher gear in my senior season, the season I finally accepted the fact that any play could be my last. On any play, I could have suffered a season ending injury. Because I wasn’t moving on to another level of football, a play ending my season would also have ended my career.

So in my senior year at Albion, 7 years into varsity football, I finally began to understand that any play could be my last. It changed how I played. I unleashed a new intensity in drills. I enjoyed every moment of every rep. I did more than enjoy the pain, I embraced and savored it. Every rep was a love affair with football. Every sprint was a celebration of speed. I’d finally begun to play every play as if it were my last. It was the most enjoyable season of my playing days, and it was probably my best. I still miss it. I dream of it. My heart breaks that I can’t play another last play.

That’s the thing about sports and life. We never really know what we had until it ends (or nears an end). Part of the beauty in life is getting lost in those moments before the last play is over.

Sports are just part of a bigger life. Someday, the last play, last rep, last day, last breath will come for each of us. This is the essence of the Latin phrase memento mori. Remember, you will die. When the last play arrives, if you have done things right often enough and given a great effort, you will leave minimal regrets.

But to do so, you may need to seize each moment as it arrives. Makes plays in the moment you have. This is the essence of the Latin phrase carpe diem. Seize the opportunity. Seize the day. It is the antidote to regret.

May we all play every play as if it’s our last.

Best wishes.


Other favorite quotes on last play:

“Even in camp, every play’s a big play. With the Steelers you learn to play every play like it’s your last.”

-Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers

“Now, you guys all understand what last play means? Last play. You play every play as if it was the last play you will ever play. And if we don’t play with emotion, if we don’t play the last play on every play, it will be. There won’t be a next week. Every play tonight, you play….you think about what that means. You think about what it means to be on your last play! This is my last play of football ever! My last play! How do I want it to be? How do I want to be remembered? My last play! Every play.”

-Coach Ed Burke, Torrey Pines High School, San Diego, CA

Loving the Game


Variety can be a good thing, but to be at our best, it’s probably best to stick with what we really love to do.

Psychologically, love is the one emotion we tend not to analyze, blame, or judge. We simply experience it. We just flow with it. Because we aren’t analyzing, blaming, or judging, which all require active thinking, we are capable of connecting in a deeper way than active thinking allows.

This deeper level of connection feels automatic, responsive, and effortless. Rather than feeling like it drains energy required for performance, it feels like it fuels energy for performance. And as you might recall from earlier, excellent performance is driven by trust in these deep, automatic responses.

This is why so many mental game experts recommend being present, staying in the present, or staying in the moment. They understand that analyzing, blaming, and judging require thinking about the past or future, which disconnects the athlete from flowing in the present moment. This is why this state is often referred to as flow.

One solution to connecting to the present is to engage in mental skills or strategies. All too often, the mental strategy further disconnects the athlete from the present moment. There is no skill or strategy to staying in the game or practice. Skills and strategies will likely have the effect of further disconnecting you from the present moment in the game or practice.

Being present is all about connecting, and love is a connector. When you find yourself disconnected from the present, simply try to connect to the plays available to you. If you are doing something you enjoy, something that you love to do, the love will show up. When you perform activities with the understanding that love is a projection from within you, more and more you will begin to love the opportunities and possibilities available right now. Get after it.

When you love what you do, your natural brilliance is at its peak, and plays to be made will appear everywhere. With a heart full of love, you will be filled with energy to make the plays of your life.

For Love of the Game

In my practice as a sport psychologist, I often see a typical type of issue. The athletes who come to me can play very well at times, even brilliantly, but they perform inconsistently. They have what they believe are downturns or mind blocks that get in the way of performing well.

Early in my first session with an athlete, I always pose the same question: Why do you play your sport? With only a handful of exceptions, hundreds of athletes have shared a variation of the same beautiful response: Because I love it.

As implied in the question, their answer, the love, is the purpose or reason for why they play the sport. Purpose matters. Love matters. The heart matters in the choices we make and activities we pursue.

As I question further and discuss their frustrations, the conversation shifts. Only then do the athletes start talking about coaches, parents, scores, trophies, unrealized goals, and other situations, outcomes, and comparisons.

Deep down the athletes know that love is the reason they play, but somewhere along the way they become convinced that the other stuff is more important than the love they felt when they first started playing. As they engage in a futile search for outside fixes to their problem (such as wins, trophies, techniques, new coaches, new teams, etc.), the proper fix for what ails them lies within them. The fix seems, and is, so easy. The simplest answer is the best. Get back to loving the game.

This isn’t just true for athletes. I’ve used this approach successful with athletes, business professionals, students, and other people from all walks of life. It works with personal performance and interpersonal leadership and communication as well. It will work for you too. You will perform at our best and be most confident when you play from the heart with the understanding that nothing outside you can affect that love.