Robert Griffin III probably thought social media was the key to his connection to his growing fan base when he first came to Washington. He happily shared his thoughts about his opportunity to play for the Redskins, his workouts, his expectations for himself. His Twitter followers gobbled up every tweet and responded with overwhelming positivity, encouragement and support. At the mention of his pending nuptials, fans everywhere flooded his home with gifts from his and his fiancee's bridal registry. The humble and grateful gentleman hand-wrote hundreds of thank you notes to his generous fans.
When the unthinkable happened and Griffin found himself under the knife, fans rallied on social media with words of encouragement. Griffin shared his personal recovery timetable, goals and struggles. I, too, was very interested in his discussion of his mental recovery (RGIII's Mental Game).
Social media, however, can be a double-edged sword. Even as it nurtured and lifted the bonds between favorite athlete and appreciated fans, it soon served as a method of slow, methodical destruction when the going got tough.
As Griffin's return proved more difficult and a second injury and rehabilitation effort hampered his efforts to be the exciting dual threat as per his billing, comments and debates ensued. Negativity grew. Griffin, for all of his humility and affability, could hardly hide the hurt he was beginning to feel with the backlash. He is human, after all. Study after study shows negative comments far outweigh positive when it comes to what our human brains attend and hang on to. It takes at least 10 positive comments to soften the blow of one negative.
For Griffin, the positives fell far short. The change in Griffin's once engaging and humorous larger-than-life personality had become painfully evident. If only we could tell ourselves, "Who cares what people say or think" of us. But sometimes that is a bell which cannot be un-rung.
[Full disclosure is warranted here: I am a lifelong Washington Redskins fan. And while not wishing to disclose my age, I did cheer for the Fun Bunch, the Hogs, and had a schoolgirl crush on Joe Theismann. I actually got to meet him once at the old Redskins Park after a practice. You could actually get close to the building back then. It was a great day I still talk about. I got an autograph and had a nice little chat which I will always remember--I'm sure he does too. OK maybe he doesn't. Still...I "knew" Joe Theismann just from watching him play. This was long before social media. How would things have been different then? How about a tweet to NY Giants Lawrence Taylor after the game which ended Theismann's career? "Man, LT, we were just wishing u luck when we said break a leg LOL" But I digress...]
Athletes who elect to put themselves out there on social media need to prepare for the inevitable bad that goes with the good. Prepare for how to handle and process what come in. Ideally, refraining from reading comments would keep negativity away, but we all know that is nearly impossible. A bit of perspective is required.
Remember that for the vast majority of "followers," social media affords an anonymous identity through which anything can be said without consequence. But for the celebrity athlete, such anonymity does not exist. Responses and reactions to negative anonymous postings should be kept to a minimum.
Athletes should strive to portray themselves in a positive light. Social media is a great way to do this, if done properly. And while it is great to feel the fans love, it must be taken for what it is--anonymous, conditional, and often, fleeting.
Athletes must decide who in their lives are truly important to them, whose opinions matter, who is really there for them. Anything and anyone else cannot be of great influence. It is the only way to protect oneself from mental anguish in bad times.
RGIII will bounce back. He is a proven warrior, who has beaten the odds with his style, and has impressed and entranced thousands of fans with his humanness. But the only one he really needs to fully support him is himself.
As soon as I reveal my occupation here in the DC area, I am inevitably asked, "Can you save the Redskins?" I wish it were that simple. I could just go to Redskins Park, meet with the team in their super-cool practice "bubble," flash a smile, say something magical and that would be the difference. But unfortunately, sport psychology is not magic. There is no one thing that anyone can do or say to completely transform a team in an instant. Working with a team is a process, and involves many facets. Could I ultimately save them? The good news is, I know in time I could make a difference, absolutely. How would I go about it?
I have been reluctant to comment on the Redskins this season. It just seems there is so much going on beneath the surface, so much that is not being revealed, that it would be folly to attempt to say definitively what is needed and how to solve all of the issues. Having said that, here is how I see it.
I see a team in turmoil, from both the top-down and the bottom-up. There is a lack of trust, a lack of team cohesion. There are egos involved; the almighty dollar and the business of it all are factors. There is a genuine and pervasive lack of respect between players and coaches, but also between players themselves. Many comments by players to the media appear laced with passive-aggression, daring us to read between the lines.
It has been questioned whether there is even any talent on the team. Whether the play-calling has been sufficient. Whether players are playing to their strengths, their potential.
The functioning of the team as a whole can only be considered as the sum of its parts. Each part must be in working order for the whole to achieve success. Individual efforts can be recognized and celebrated, but for a team sport, must be integrated appropriately into a team effort.
Here is my plan of action:
If I were able to attend practices at Redskins Park, I would look for several things. I would look for the existence of an effective practice and talent development environment. I would look for practice drills that are purposeful. The coaches would know why certain drills are useful, and this information would be relayed to the players. There would be learning, not just doing. The players would be encouraged to make decisions on the field.
I would observe the feedback coaches give. Is it well-timed, productive, effective? How do the players react to being coached? Do they encourage each other? Is there tension, or are there some light moments as well? What happens when mistakes are made?
I would go to the training room, often where we find the heart of the support staff, the caregivers. Mental skills can help injured athletes rehabilitate more efficiently, and prepare them mentally to return to the field. This is vitally important to keeping them confident, motivated, and to avoid re-injury. Healthy athletes are key to consistent high-level production on the field.
I would observe strength and conditioning training. Mental skills such as imagery, can produce huge increases in the training effect over physical training alone. Stronger players perform better. They are more resilient, confident. They can perform beyond their comfort zone.
Much of what I do involves a lot of observation, listening, asking questions that help define issues and subsequent interventions. In talking with coaches, staff, players, yes, even Dan Snyder himself, I could formulate intentions for impact and appropriate interventions. With everyone's cooperation, commitment and dedication, we could, together, make a huge difference. So...Super Bowl win? While there can never be guarantees, the newly transformed Redskins would have one heck of a shot.
"Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there."
Personal Best Sports
The sports world is filled with stories of perseverance, failure and success, personal struggles and public triumph. Each story provides insight into the mental side of sport and activity.