JJ Birden: An Inspiring Story of Perseverance in Football

Football Mindset

I’d like to share with you a short story of perseverance and mental toughness…

I recently talked with JJ Birden, a track star in college at the University of Oregon, who walked on as a football player. He turned his college career into a 9-year career in the NFL.

Birden was really pegged as a track star destined for the Olympic trials, but decided to try out for college football. One problem: Others told that he did not have the size to play Division I football.

But what people said about his size didn’t stop him. It gave him more motivation to rise to the challenge…

He went to University of Oregon to run track. But his coach helped him walk on to the football team while competing in track (that’s an unselfish coach). He made the team and it took him only two weeks to move up to the number two position on the team.

Not only was Birden small for a football player at 5’10”, but he was really a track athlete, not a football player. He knew he’d have to gain acceptance as a football player coming from the world of track. He’d have to learn how to catch, run with the ball, and take a hit from bigger players.

He earned a starting position on a Division I football team at Oregon. “The label about me as a track athlete started to change. ‘This guy is a football player that happens to run track too’,” Birden said. After college, he was drafted by Cleveland Browns and enjoyed a nine-year career in the NFL.

“I recognized football was a mental game and realized the more I knew and understand the game, it gave me an edge. When I got to the NFL, I studied the game so much that mentally I had an advantage, not only over other bigger receivers, but the defenders as well,” Birden said.

But as a small player, the pressure to be on top of his game was always present…

“When I got to the NFL and became a starter in 1992, that’s when the pressure really started to build. I did well, but because I was only 5’10” and they wanted a taller receiver, I felt the constant pressure that someone else was going to get my job. I had to give the coaches a reason to play me and not the other guys,” Birden said.

But the pressure he felt served as a positive motivator to excel instead of a mental handcuff…

The pressure to be a starter pushed Birden to work harder and smarter to keep his position, especially in the off-season. He wanted to be a step ahead of everyone else. He’d train harder in the preseason to be a step ahead of everyone else. He wanted to be fully prepared and not give others a chance to take his job.

The pressure on game day was often unbearable because he wanted to perform at his best–as if his job was on the line every game. But like any great athlete, he found his stride once he got in the game. At game time, he’d rely on his superior training and preparation to perform at his peak.

If you are a Peaksports Network member, run over and listen to this interview with Birden and get inspired by his story:

Inspiring Mental Toughness Story in Football

Or demo the membership program to learn more about my online mental training program:

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Your Mental Coach,

Dr. Patrick Cohn

p.s. You might not know that as an exclusive member you get 30 percent off the popular Confident Athlete CD series and most other Peaksports.com programs:

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