New Castle News

Tim Kolodziej

February 2, 2012

Tim Kolodziej: All athletes must answer two key questions

NEW CASTLE — Novak Djokovic.

Tom Brady.

Tennis superstar.

Football superstar.

Both are in the news this week for some pretty significant athletic endeavors.

Yet despite their gifts, despite their victories — despite the bevy of trophies both have lifted in their professional careers — neither is experiencing the mass appeal of, say, Tim Tebow or Derek Jeter.

“Patriots’ Pretty Boy.”

“Choke-ovic.”

Call ’em what you will; it’s your call.

I’ll just call them winners.

And today, I’d like to call your attention to another trait both share — mental toughness unmatched by any other athletes today.

There are plenty of lessons youngsters can learn from their incredible careers, but each has answered two important questions — Brady years ago and Djokovic just this week — that all competitors will face at some point.

1) Are you willing to pay the price?

•Brady — No doubt you’ve heard his NFL story dozens of times. Overlooked in the draft until the 199th pick, Brady led the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl victory in his rookie season and hasn’t let his foot off the gas pedal since.

Now, the three-time Lombardi Trophy winner has a chance to join Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana as the only quarterbacks to win four when the Pats take on the New York Giants on Sunday.

But are you aware that Brady was never a full-time starter in college? Did you know he considered leaving the University of Michigan because “he wasn’t treated very kindly by his head coach?”

He didn’t, though. Instead, the kid with the average arm strength and limited mobility committed himself to more film study, more time in the weight room, more throws in the offseason.

The Tom Brady that no one believed in at Michigan turned himself into the Tom Brady that the entire New England region believes in today.

Are YOU willing to pay the price?

•Djokovic — What if, tonight at basketball practice, your coach suddenly announces: “I want you to do 1,100 sprints for eight to 10 seconds over the next six hours.”

Sound crazy? But that’s exactly what Djokovic and Rafael Nadal did in their nearly six-hour Australian Open final over the weekend. The Serb outlasted  Nadal to defend his Australian title in the longest-ever Grand Slam final. In the process, Djokovic became the fifth man to win three straight majors in the Open Era.

How deep are YOU willing to dig to win a big game?

Are YOU willing to pay the price?

2) Are you willing to go the distance?

•Brady — The quarterback Brady battled for the job at Michigan was Drew Henson, a two-sport star who many dubbed “a freak” for his unreal athletic ability.

Those in the program thought Henson was Superman, while Brady was Batman. In other words, no super powers but plenty of grit, guts and guile in his utility belt.

Sports Illustrated summed up the QB controvery brilliantly: “Henson, the younger quarterback, appeared to have every advantage. And that is why Brady would succeed.”

Doesn’t matter how you start the race, kids. It’s how you finish.

Are YOU willing to go the distance?

•Djokovic — The Australian Institute of Sport revealed an astonishing fact from the Djokovic-Nadal final. A total of 360 points were won, and each point equated to sprinting about 10 meters for 10 seconds of effort. To put it another way, that’s like running between 150 and 200 sprints per hour.

There’s no doubt Djokovic’s mind was playing games, telling him it’s OK to take a couple of those volleys off. But he didn’t listen.

He sprinted. He slid. He changed direction and pace.

And he eventually won what some are calling the greatest tennis match in history.

Are YOU willing to go the distance?

If you are a basketball player currently in season, you’ll have your chance. Recent studies have shown that a high school point guard can run up to six miles in a given game, depending on how many minutes he or she plays.

And we’re not talking about a light jog. That’s six miles of sprinting, cutting, back pedaling, sliding, accelerating, decelerating, jumping, landing and diving — all at game speed.

Now that’s intense.

So, like Brady, maybe you’ll win a Super Bowl in your career. Or maybe not.

Like Djokovic, maybe you’ll have the chance to win a major tennis tournament. Or maybe not.

Doesn’t matter.

You can still be a winner.

You can still pay the price.

You can still go the distance.

And how far will that be? That’s a question only you can answer.

If you’re willing.

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Tim Kolodziej