Jim Brandstatter played offensive tackle for the Wolverines. This East Lansing high school football star doubted his ability to play on the big stage. He wondered, “Can I compete? Do I have the ability to be a legitimate competitor, Can I contribute so I can play with these guys?” While playing on the University of Michigan’s freshman team, it was very clear how difficult and physical were the team practices. Even the wind sprints were grueling for this large athlete. Over and over they would run these wind sprints and he remembered talking to Reggie McKenzie about the brutal punishment they were taking from their freshmen football coach. They even talked about wanting to kill him. Although they grumbled, they continued to undergo over and over and repeat the painful ordeal.
And then Schembechler became his coach. Jim said that Schembechler prepared his players to be mentally tough and for Jim, mental toughness was “never giving in.” He stated that mental toughness is an attitude, it’s not quitting. He also learned to form good habits and to develop a winning attitude, regardless of the physical and mental obstacles or punishment. He realized that failure was possible because there was always somebody on the field, who was better than him. He worked on fundamentals over and over again, because he didn’t want to let down his teammates. He remembered that he did drills and more drills and had plenty of physical contact with pads during practices. He thought the practice intensity was high, almost like game intensity as the drills were very physical. Because he weighed more than 250 pounds, he had to run what was called a penalty mile and remembered, that distance running, being very tough on him. Another brutal strengthening drill was pushing a blocking sled with both arms extended, which he practiced over and over again. He didn’t want to miss any blocking assignments, because then he knew he would let his teammates down.
Coach Schembechler and staff treated Jim harshly. For instance, his coach said things like “we wasted a scholarship on you;” and” you’re the worst tackle in the history of intercollegiate football.” Jim told himself that the coaches were doing this so that he would get better. They were verbally and physically pushing him and pushing him and then he said “Bo knew I could take it and I could.” In the end psychologically, it was Jim’s ability, his unconscious rebelliousness, defiance, and likely obstinacy and arrogance “to take it” from Bo. This allowed Jim to be the master of his own fate and destiny, thereby succeeding in front of his peers, and actually gaining the much needed respect.
Schembechler’s Wolverines had a punt blocked in one of their season games. So during the next week of practice, the coach told the players he would give money to any defensive player that blocked the punt. Lo and behold, during one punting drill, the ball was snapped, Jim made his block and ran downfield for the tackle. However, the ball was blocked. Schembechler was furious and ran down the field after Brandstatter thinking he missed his block, which resulted in the blocked kick. Upon reaching his player, coach Schembechler spitting, yelling, ranting, raving was angrily giving it to Jim berating him unmercifully. Jerry Hanlon, line coach to the rescue, ran after Bo and said to him “Jim made his block.” Stopping the beating, the frustrated Bo said something to the effect that” he needed it anyway.” More than once, and numerous times the young athletically talented Brandstatter submitted passively to the mighty and external force of his coach. He accepted criticism, he surrendered, he had to go along with this blame, and punishment. One can argue that he didn’t enjoy the pain, or was it a noble sign of macho, courage, mental and physical toughness? No one physically forced him to go out on that brutal playing field over and over again. Did he seek and enjoy it, certainly? Psychologically, it was expected just his father, brother and teammates endured. He was driven. His father was a Brigadier General; his older brother played on the big stage; he was the youngest; and he attended a parochial school. Yes, Jim knew very well about yielding and self-humiliation. His strong will allowed him, even at the risk of humiliation, to continue and thereby succeeding.
Murray and the Freudians had it right. Human behavior is highly influenced by need structure, or a hypothetical state of tension within the organism. These needs are based on goal directed behavior, with the many psychological and physical barriers in their path. No one ever said that the n Achievement was easy to accomplish. However, we do go after difficulties and, with achievement goal attainment we increased positive feelings about self. Achievement of significant goals feels good for a number of reasons. Further, n Abasement or sadomasochism gets expressed over and over again. Playing football is just one example of this expression of need. One has to remember, that seeking and enjoying pain or punishment is not always at the conscious level. Not only that, there are other reasons or motives that explain the drive to succeed. Perhaps, at times the n Achievement factors in goal driven behavior can be one such factor. The important goal is relentlessly pursued regardless of the impairments or barriers in its way.
For example, my last recent competitive 20 mile trail run was in the Sierra Nevada’s. That meant plenty of elevation gain during my run. Temperature reaching triple digits, added to my physical pain as I was punishing my 75-year-old body. I continued and finished the run and was very happy when it was over. Sure, I came in first place at my age group. Did I punish my body during the run, sure thing? Will I do it again, sure? How can I argue that I didn’t seek the pain? I rationalize that as long as I can, I’ll do it. For me, the “I can” is a very important component of my personality.
Don’t forget to join us at Sesi Motors in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on September 17 from 6 to 8 PM for a book signing of Bo’s Warriors -Bo Schembechler and the Transformation of Michigan Football and to interact with Thom Darden, Jim Brandstatter, Mike Keller, Fritz Seyferth, Jim Betts, and others in my book. Congratulations to our host and newly elected President of Michigan Football Athletic Network [MFAN] Jim Betts. Wine and hors d’oeuvres are on the menu.
Looking forward to it: Go Blue!