The photo on the right by Mickey Pfleger is one of my favorite sports images. It's a shot of San Francisco 49er quarterback Steve Young in an exhibition game on August 14, 1995. Having lost his helmet, Young still scrambled for an 8-yard gain--and this happened after Young had led the 49ers to victory in the Super Bowl earlier that year, making his eventual selection to the NFL's Hall of Fame inevitable. He had nothing to prove, but in a meaningless exhibition game, he still couldn't help but go all-out. I fully agree with Charles Barkley--athletes and rock stars aren't role models--but Young's a thoughtful guy, and I do find his dedication inspiring.
I'm thinking about football because the NFC and AFC Championships to be held in Phoenix and Pittsburgh tomorrow mark the conclusion of the 2008-09 NFL season. (The Super Bowl's of interest to marketing execs and fans of the two teams involved, but it's more pop-culture festival than football game.) So here's a quote from an interview with Young last September 3rd on KNBR that has stuck with me:
Don't waste a snap, don't waste a moment. Every time that you get in practice, scout team, I don't care, if there's a moment that you're…working on your craft, you act like you're going to be the greatest player ever, and you take every opportunity to learn from it and make sure you're ready. Because if you don't waste this time, and you prepare like you're going to start every day, then when your chance comes, your window opens and you'll go right through it. If you don't, and you wait for it to kind of come around and complain and moan…then the window opens, sooner or later a window will open, and you'll have wasted your time, and you won't make it happen.
I appreciate Young's primary point about readiness--the longer I live, the more I want to make the most of every every experience. But he's also making a deeper point about attitude and approach:
If there's a moment that you're…working on your craft, you act like you're going to be the greatest...ever, and you take every opportunity to learn from it.
The paradox embodied in that sentence jumps out at me: Act as though you're the greatest ever and take every opportunity to learn. Exude confidence and embody humility.
We're constantly encouraged to do one or the other, but it's striking to realize how much more powerful it is to do both at the same time.
Photo by Mickey Pfleger. © All rights reserved.