Now that the college football season is over, NFL hopefuls are getting ready for the chance to take their talents to the pros, training and hoping to make a 53-man roster. In my experience as a chaplain, many of the players training for the combine and pro days really have no idea what they are getting themselves into. The glory, glamour, money and all the things that come with life as an NFL player is something to prepare for. It comes quick and hits hard.
"I want to become an athlete of influence!"
Each year when I speak to rookies I encourage them with a message to prepare them for life after being drafted. Here are just three points of wisdom that I share with them and can be useful for any athlete getting ready to go pro.
- A wise rookie would never put God second.
“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
God does not want to be number one on a list of ten. He wants to be number one on a list of one. The most important thing a rookie can do is make an intentional effort to keep God first.
The schedule in the NFL is totally different from college. You are a professional in a professional space. You have to juggle a new schedule, environment, relationships and team. God is more than willing to help you. But He only goes in places where He is invited. Business is never an excuse to put God on the back burner.
I encourage rookies to get involved in the faith community on the team. Chapel, team Bible study and couples’ studies are available. God designed us to be in community because community is where encouragement and accountability take place. Learning how to spend time with God first by intentionally reading your Bible and having a consistent prayer life will set a sure foundation for a healthy spiritual life and career in the NFL.
- A wise rookie would find a mentor.
“Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out” (Proverbs 20:5).
One of the sure ways to become a successful pro player is to find someone who has been where you are and is willing to help you.
I watch young men come into the locker room looking like fish out of water. I can tell who will thrive and who will have challenges adjusting to life as a pro player. It’s easy to spot who’s who because I watch the people rookies attach themselves to.
On every team there are players of high character and low character. This is not a knock on any veteran players, but it is a fact. Some may be great athletes on the field, but the lifestyle they live off the field is a different story.
A wise rookie will find the high character guys and attach themselves to them. Pursue mentorships with them for sure. If you want the wisdom from a veteran player, you must be willing to draw it out. This type of mentee relationship does not come naturally. It will take a determined person to get out of their comfort zone to build the right relationship with the right person.
Many of the veteran players are looking for rookies to pour into. But like a Venus fly trap, the wrong veterans are looking to trap rookies into a lifestyle that can potentially be career ending. Use discernment as you reach out to players to learn from.
- A wise rookie would never be casual about their character.
“There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 16:25).
Rookies prep their bodies to become the best athletes they possibly can. They also fuel their bodies with the right food and supplements. But the most important part of life for a rookie is working on their character.
I define character as your moral compass partnered with a determined purpose to make the right decisions no matter the circumstances.
I have seen many talented players come into the NFL with high hopes and dreams, only to be kicked off a team because they do not have the same ambition regarding their character. They have pointed their moral compass in the wrong direction, and wherever you point your moral compass is the way you will go.
Character is who you are when no one is looking. Character is the willingness to bear pain now for a fruitful future later. This is the message I give to rookies that I talk to. I encourage them to work on their character as if their lives depended on it, because they do. Facing hard things, engaging in tough conversations and learning how to say “no” are profound character-building practices.
As the text says above, “There is a way that seems right to a man.” The way to make sure your life is headed in the right direction is to have the right map. The Word of God is the road map to building a life of character and without it, we’re left wandering in the direction of our demise.
Rookies, things will be a lot different after your name is called on draft night. Make your commitment to growing in Christ a priority in the pros.