From Amateur to Professional

from The Nehemiah Rules

Renaldo Nehemiah would make anyone’s short list of the best athletes on the planet during our life time. Renaldo was the top hurdler in the world for a decade, played in the NFL for the 49’ers, and won the TV “decathlon” show Superstars four times. Today he is still very active in the business side of our sport. AthleteBiz welcomes Renaldo as a guest blogger.

I was recognized as an amateur athlete in track and field before it officially became a professional sport in 1983. Whether amateur or professional neither label changed the way I prepared. One key ingredient to my success was that I was a student of my gift, with a relentless drive and determination to be the best.  My desire and commitment never wavered regardless of my status. Placing all of my efforts into ensuring that I was properly prepared to achieve the results I expected. In doing so, it was a prerequisite that my coaches and everyone around me were equally prepared as I was.  I wasn’t the type of individual that needed a cheerleader, I responded favorably to directness whether positive or negative. There was no need to sugarcoat my results, I either won or lost. “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” James 2 vs 25 ESV.

At the end of my freshman year in college I was the #1 ranked hurdler in the world.  As the spring semester of my sophomore season got underway, I was scheduled to  fly to California to race against my nemesis Greg Foster, a would be future Hall of Fame hurdler. I was already riding high off a string of victories against him and definitely came into that race over confident.  I naively assumed this race and outcome would be like the others. In front of his home crowd of UCLA fans, Greg ran a blistering 13.10 world leading time and soundly beat me. I was more embarrassed about my performance than actually losing. And I was angry because the race was nationally televised leaving my family and fans to endure that lasting image of me losing until I could redeem myself. I remember the first words out of the mouth of my agent were ” Now take your ass home and train!”. I had no excuses he was right, I hadn’t prepared. He didn’t pacify me by saying; don’t worry, or everything will be alright, or the guy had to run the race of his life to beat you. His words were the exact words I needed to hear, what every athlete should want to hear.. the unfiltered truth.

As more and more of today’s athletes leave the college ranks to embark on a professional career, most are not emotionally or mentally prepared for the fight that lies ahead of them as a professional athlete. Some appear more enamored with the idea of being a professional athlete with all of its’ benefits and the excitement of traveling, not understanding what it truly means to perform as a professional athlete, utilizing that same drive and determination that catapulted them to success in college. Having misplaced focused on the destination rather than the result. They are less prepared and in denial when understanding why they aren’t performing well. In the world of sports we’re rewarded for our performance and that will never change. I remember when I worked for and managed Michael Johnson, Olympic Gold Medalist in the 200 & 400. His philosophy was “Decrease the supply and increase the demand’. Meaning, that running more races doesn’t earn you more money, winning races does. He only ran when he was prepared to run well, and by doing so he earned more money running less due to the level of his performance. It was a profound and inciteful statement. That kind of perspective usually emanates from an athlete when he or she is reflecting about their careers, not from one still actively pursuing it. Many of todays’ athletes don’t understand how or what it means to be a professional athlete. It’s a mindset that needs to be nurtured and developed. Like any other vocation it’s a job not a hobby that needs to be taken seriously. And one of the hardest  occupations to maintain amongst a world of hungry athletes vying for what you have or are striving to have. Careers are made and broken in a matter of seconds. With that amount of pressure, one owes it to themselves to be prepared and ready for battle. You may not win every time, but you’re able to take self inventory knowing you’ve taken every step to put yourself in position to be victorious. Because the sport you loved and played as a kid just got serious. Trust me, it’s a grind. No sooner have you won one battle another looms, sometimes just days away. It’s true, you’re only as good as your last performance.

I feel for young athletes that struggle to make the transition to the professional ranks. There’s no manual that teaches them how, it’s trial by fire. As amateurs, ninety percent of what they’re up against is physical and ten percent is mental.  Most everyone went to college on an athletic scholarship. Most everyone was a college All-American. As a professional athlete the ratio is more akin to ten percent physical and ninety percent mental.  The playing field is level as it relates to talent..everyone is talented. Winning and losing is more between the ears than on the respective fields of play. Champions will never accept losing, reject mediocrity and are never satisfied. Being a professional athlete has less to do with money and everything to do with a mindset.

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