Starting this weekend, several teams will conduct their first rookie camps and the indoctrination of their draft picks into their respective systems. A lot of players will start this journey with little knowledge about what to expect and no compass for navigating these new seas.
Here are 10 things I’ll tell my clients:
1. Forget everything you learned. You may have had some great high school and college coaches, but if your NFL coach teaches a different technique or philosophy, embrace it and roll with it. NFL coaches have little time and patience. Don’t fight something different.
2. Being on time is being 10 minutes early. NFL coaches have the power to fine players for being late, and they use it every chance they get. It can be very expensive.
3. There’s no such thing as “off the record” when talking to the media. Rookies are better off initially keeping it very short with the media and not engaging in team or league issues with reporters. With 20-plus media outlets covering a single team, every word can be news, and it can be easily twisted to come back and bite them.
4. You will only take home 50 percent of everything you make. After paying federal and state taxes along with insurance, agent fees, union dues and 401k contribution, you will literally take home only half of what your contract states. It takes the players’ first check to comprehend this reality. The rookies who grasp this concept early will be more conservative in their spending habits.
5. You will make a lot of mistakes on the football field. The most decorated and establish college star will struggle in his first year in the NFL. The game moves so much faster that it can take years to adjust. Understand that you will make a lot of mistakes, then learn from them and don’t dwell on them.
6. Once you start counting the roster, you’re done. It’s very tempting for a rookie to take a head count of how many guys have to be cut ahead of him on the depth chart for him to make the team. Once a player starts doing this, he can lose the will and focus to give his best. Players who participate in camp without worrying about their fate can focus better on execution and even enjoy the opportunity.
7. Your rookie season will be the longest. Rookies will make the jump from 12 games to 20, counting preseason, but not including playoffs. Your body and mind can hit a wall as early as midseason. So players can’t live like they did in college. They must now get a good night’s sleep, eat extremely well and refrain from late nights and lots of drinking.
8. Get to know and respect the little people. Some of the most powerful people in an NFL organization can be the equipment manager, the trainer, the traveling secretary and/or the ticket coordinator. If these people like you, your experience at your new team can be pleasurable. If you treat these individuals like peasants, they can make your life downright miserable. Get to know the secretaries’ names and take good care of the bottom half of the totem pole, and they’ll take great care of you.
9. You’ll watch more film in your rookie year than in your previous college years combined. Learn “how” to watch film and learn to enjoy it. NFL players who become film junkies make big plays — and a lot of them. Your coaches will expect you to watch a lot of film on your own, so learn what to look for from your coaches before the season starts.
10. Learn to say “No” or “Call my agent, she/he handles that.” Every unsuspecting rookie will be asked for anything and everything under the sun, from tickets to loans. These requests will come from family members, long lost childhood friends and complete strangers. If you say no the first time, they’ll never ask again. Say yes and you open the faucet; you may never be able to turn it off. If you can’t say no, your agent can do it for you.
I can’t stress enough how important it is for rookies to stay focused in their inaugural year. It can be difficult with all the changes they experience, but keeping distractions at a minimum and keeping life simple will help.
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