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.

-JW


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

You Are Where You Should Be

Sometimes I am dazzled by outcomes. Who doesn’t feel a sense of awe from time at the winner, the champion, the best?

Then I realize that the outcome is too narrow a focus, and as a performance psychologist, coach, and father, I remind myself, “It can’t be all about the outcome. It’s about the process. If the process isn’t solid, the desire outcome won’t be reached.”

Then I realize even the process is too broad of a focus, and I have to get narrow again. When I narrow the focus from process, I find myself in the moment.

We can only make plays in the moment. We can’t go back in time and get a do-over, and we can make plays before the opportunity exists (meaning we can’t make Friday’s plays on Thursday). When we focus too much on outcome or process, we are always somewhere and sometime else, not here and now in the moment.

One of the keys to making the play is to be alive in this moment, understand what is possible, and act on it in an attempt to make the play. While it’s quite normal, even beneficial, to get caught up thinking about outcomes or processes, I do not recommend staying there too long. After all, the past doesn’t exist anymore and the future never arrives in the present. We only live in now, and it’s always now on the ride between Thursday and Friday and every point after. When our thoughts focus too much on the past or future, we lose some influence over what we can do now.

Being alive enables you to use energy to do work, such as thinking, acting, and feeling. You need not seek things to set this energy in motion. It’s always on, always keeping you alive, always ready at a moment’s notice.

So instead of seeking things to ignite your inner fire, realize it is already on fire, and get to work using that fire’s energy and brilliance to make plays. As you make plays, you may realize you connect to some things more strongly than others, but don’t be confused about how this works. There is no outcome that will set you on fire, and you do not have to be set on fire through a process. You are alive and on fire right now in this moment. There’s nothing else needed to make the plays of your life. Trust that you are where you should be, and make a play.

 


“Be where your feet are.”

– Nick Saban