June 8, 2021

33: Mental Prep & Concussions with Jim Davis

33: Mental Prep & Concussions with Jim Davis

Jim Davis is a former professional football player, champion powerlifter and nationally recognized coach. He leads one of the largest and most successful strength programs in the nation at the New Trier High School and was honored as 2018 NASA National Coach of the Year, and was Runner-Up in 2019. He has presented keynote addresses all over the world including Chicago, Boston, L.A., Ireland, and Haiti. 

In this episode we discuss about his journey on football, powerlifting and arts, the power of psychology in sports and the evolution of self-talk. 

Jim's Information:

Website: https://www.goodathleteproject.com/

Instagram: @goodathleteproject

Twitter: @coach4kindness


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www.thereadystate.com/jase (Affiliate Link)


Jase’s Information:

Instagram: www.instagram.com/jaecheese

Website: www.scienceofsportsrecovery.com

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4cHv4ysGa6u3h22NjUkFEw 

Email: jase@scienceofsportsrecovery.com



[00:00:00] Jase Kraft: [00:00:00] Hey, everybody is Jase Kraft with the science of sports recovery podcast. I'm your host. But today. The feature of today's podcast is Jim Davis. He's the former professional football player and champion powerlifter. That's turned nationally recognized, coach, author, and speaker. He's a graduate of Harvard university, Northwestern university and Knox college. In addition to his work as the director of the good athlete project, he is proud to be the staff and student wellness coordinator at the new trior high school. And at new trior, Jim leads one of the largest and most successful strength programs in the nation. He's the founding director of Illinois high school powerlifting association.

He has been honored as a 2020 Semper Fidelis All-American mentor 2018, N a S a national coach of the year as well as the runner up in [00:01:00] 2019 and his accomplishments go on and on. But we gotta wrap it up sometimes. So while his research focuses on human development and psychology through sport, it's really the human connection that keeps them coaching.

So we are going to talk about today, the mental aspect of recovery we're gonna touch on concussions and how that affects you as well as how your thoughts. Have effect on your recovery from training, let's get into it.

Jim Davis: [00:01:32] You're listening to the science of sports recovery podcast. Each week. We explore how to recover more efficiently from training so you can work out harder and realize your full potential. This is the science of sports recovery podcast.

[00:02:00] Jase Kraft: [00:02:00] Jim, it's great to have you on the show, man. 

Jim Davis: [00:02:03] Jase, thanks for having me. 

Awesome. We always start with the athletic  career behind, the person that sits here today. So I know you a professional football player. Let's just  start there. What team did you play for? How did you get into that?

Was it always a passion for you football or did you start somewhere else? 

Yeah, I think, disclaimer, I didn't play any NFL. I did get a, I got a paycheck to play football, but I was mostly, I played for a couple different teams and I spent a few seasons over in Europe playing. And did I always have passion for it?

I think yes though, that passion in interest evolved over time. So the second was just jumping right into it. I th I remember football has always been part of my life. I just happened to come from a football family. On my mom's side, my, my maternal grandfather was an all American running back down at Mount Carmel [00:03:00] high school.

Anyone who. It's familiar with Chicago area football would be familiar with Malcolm. And, I just remember being at family reunions, all my cousins, there'd always be a football tossed around people would be talking football and just talking shop. They'd probably be a game on, in the background.

And the same was true. On my dad's side, my maternal grandfather played in Mount Carmel. Paternal grandfather was the captain of the Williams college football team and all of them, my same thing on my dad's side, it was a different sort of lineage, but everyone played sports. A lot of them played football.

Same thing. You'd be around a cocktail hour around the bar, around the dinner table, around the barbecue, whatever might be. Conversation was all on football. Nicknames usually came from teammates and things like that. So it was just sort of part of the culture that I experienced growing up. So the short answer is 

Jase Kraft: [00:03:50] you feel like a lot of family pressure to play football from the get go, or was it, do you think your own [00:04:00] choice.

Jim Davis: [00:04:03] Oh, yeah. Zero family pressure. I, I, it's funny cause I, I, and we'll get into this probably, but I see all sorts of external pressures, I see, you I see both the good and bad of sport on a daily basis and both are happening. There's some incredibly positive outcomes and troubling ones.

But I was very fortunate, was I subliminally pushed toward football, probably but in no explicit way my my family was wildly supportive. I was you know, I've been an artist, my whole life painter and a poet and all these things. And it just so happened that I loved football too.

Yeah, no, there was no pressure there. There was no, I'm trying to reflect and be as honest as I can with you in the audience, but no, I didn't feel pressure. I, I, my, I took up baseball and my dad took me to the batting cages whenever I had free time to try to support me there.

[00:05:00] And I liked painting and my whole family was that every, my whole family's been at every art opening I've ever had. You know, it's been, there's been a lot of support, but  went there on my own. I wanted to uphold a family. We should probably subliminally and I appreciated the support I got when I was there.


Jase Kraft: [00:05:22] Did you have siblings that were also in football too, or was it just?

Jim Davis: [00:05:30] No, so it's just me and my sister and she didn't play football, but she I'll brag on her all day. She was an Allstate field hockey player in high school and went on to play. She was captain of the DePaul university field hockey team.

They went to a conference championship your senior year. She's a rock star. 

Jase Kraft: [00:05:49] Yeah. Interesting. I had some family pressure. Not to play football which  yeah, we'll get into that [00:06:00] mainly because of concussion. I think part of it and my mom was just I'm 25. Right now as we're recording.

So my, my brothers, I have two older brothers, four years older than me. They're twins and they played football their seventh and eighth grade year. And that was like, I just want to do everything my brothers did. That was like, I was the young kid and following in their footsteps. So up to that point, I was like, ready for football.

Then they started this fifth grade kind of team that, getting people into it. And I was from a small school. So I know some people are, you can play football way earlier than that, but that was it for us. And then at that point I wanted to go do it. But I was really small. Like I was skinny.

I, man, I don't think I broke five foot till [00:07:00] seventh. All right. Sixth or seventh grade, so I was, I was short and then I hit my growth  spurt through junior high, but we all, and and I wrestled through grade school. I was always on the lowest weight class. Anyways, long story short, my family pressures was to run, not because they said you have to be a runner, but because my brothers did it.

And then that's when I ended up doing with my life as well. But so then you got into weightlifting or was that prior to football career? 

Jim Davis: [00:07:38] Yeah no, it was a result. I've never been a pure powerlifter. You mean you had some nice things to say in Nutro and I was lucky to fortunate  enough to win some power lifting championships.

But it was all, but it was, I've never been a true powerlifter. If I'm being honest. I was always pretty wild about football. Like I did, like I said, I didn't [00:08:00] play any NFL, but I did. Get a check to play football. I kind of checked a lot of boxes, a lot of sort of childhood threes in doing so, but I got to those places through work ethic.

Yeah, that was always my thing. I wasn't wildly talented, talented enough, but now wildly talented. And my advantage came from being not only being more physically strong and prepared. Although that matters obviously but the, the psychological empowerment that comes through that sort of preparation, that's where my advantages fit on the football.

So powerlifting came is I'm trying to think. I was, I had, I was a senior in college. I had not yet signed my first contract when a friend of mine, a teammate of mine said, you should check this out. There's a power as you meet up by Chicago, you should check it out. And I was so I did. And that was the first that I think I've competed seven times.

Seven for [00:09:00] seven. I'm happy to say, but but that's, but, but it's, but it's a result of training for football, so yeah, it definitely I'm passionate about it. I I'm invested in it, but it was definitely a compliment rather than a focus onto itself. 

Jase Kraft: [00:09:20] So you touched on a little bit like your super power was the psychology and sport.

And I want to get into that a little bit too, but I don't want to just gloss over the you know, you got paid to play football and as a lot of people's dreams, a lot of people think, NFL when they win. I think that you mentioned Europe what was what was your journey in, in that, getting that point where, Hey, you gotta check to play football, even if it was, not in the NFL.

Jim Davis: [00:09:55] So the jury was That's a great question. I think it's shine. I think it [00:10:00] shines a light on a lot of what I about now I went to a small college. It was a Knox college highly recommend. If anyone is looking for a elite blend of education in athletics, it's just a fantastic liberal arts college in the Midwest.

Lincoln dub debates where their underground railroad ran through canvas unique, really unique spot. So anyway but I went to Knox and I was again, timing preparation, a lot of things aligned, and I was able to start as a freshman. And I started all every game of my career and at the back half of my career, I suppose I was so grateful for the experience and kinda decided that I was not ready to give up.

I, you know, I. I'll  I'll say this with as much humility is inaccuracy at the same time, I just, wasn't getting beat a lot, junior and senior year. And what that meant was for me, it was like man, I got to kick this. I gotta find another challenge here [00:11:00] also. When I was done, I was like, I at least have to go to some tryouts.

I at least have to see what this all could look like. And well, he was amazing for one. I, I met some really incredible people, especially once I went overseas, teach some  lifelong friends one of my first trip to Ireland, he was completely life altering in a very positive way. The amazing people were the 

Jase Kraft: [00:11:27] Were tryouts over there, or were you trying out for American football and then try it out?

Jim Davis: [00:11:35] Gotcha. So I glossed over maybe an important step and I was trying out for leaks here. So I was going to open like the Chicago rush. They were just coming off a reasonable championship. I tried out for them send film to a bunch of places. So all of that was for like a REIA type football cause that's where based on my statute and skill set I w I, I didn't have any illusions that I would go much farther beyond that.

But I'll, I'll say [00:12:00] actually, because you ask it's fun, getting to establish, this is a fun thing to remember. I did have some things to just the truth that I had something to prove to myself. I, I, I really worked hard to get where I was, and I really wanted to see how I stood up to other competition.

And I, I think back to one day I was playing with the team called the Chicago slaughter. Actually our head coach was Steve McMichael. Okay. He's going through a battle right now. I don't know if you've seen that in the news, but many things to coach McMichael for what he did for me and given me that opportunity and all the rest of us on those teams.

But so I, there was a day that I, talk about flow as a runner. I'm sure you've experienced it countless times. There was a day that I was just flowing where I just felt like I, I had, I was having a good day. We were doing one-on-ones and a new guy had come into our camp and I, for whatever reason was paired [00:13:00] up against him, like four consecutive times.

And I beat him every time. And it wasn't until after practice, I found out that guy had just left a mini camp for the Vikings. He didn't use in conversation with the Minnesota Vikings. It didn't work out from there. He came out to trial for our team. He went through day of practice. They beat him every time.

And there's two things. One is that I mean, I, I feel like I did prove something to myself that day. And I sort sleepy easy and I answered some questions. I also wonder though, because we'll talk a lot about mindset today. Had I known who this guy was going into it? What would the outcome of change is?

Part of it was that I didn't realize how talented that guy was. I was just playing no, that 

Jase Kraft: [00:13:49] that's yeah. Good point. And we can get into this a little bit more, but who you, like sometimes it's better not to know who you're competing [00:14:00] against. 

Jim Davis: [00:14:00] But yeah. 

Jase Kraft: [00:14:05] So then how did that lead into you know, going to island and in European 

Jim Davis: [00:14:10] football.

Yeah. So I played for two, I spent a short time with a team called the Bloomington extreme that I played for the Chicago slaughter and the needs are so intense that I went, I essentially, I came to this realization. In fact, there's a guy, I won't name his name, but he's about you at the time. He was about my age.

Now. He had played in the sec. He was a quarterback for our team. And I remember hearing him in the locker room and he was just convinced that he was going to get a shot some day at the NFL. And it's funny because it's something just clicked for me where it's you know, I feel for the guy I'm also rooting for him, definitely rooting for him.

You never know. But the odds at that point for him were very low. And I remember driving home practice was about an hour away from where I was living. [00:15:00] And I remember thinking that I don't want to go down that rabbit hole. I I'm, I'm excited to. Test myself. Yeah. But really what I want is an experience.

So once that really became clear that I wanted a positive and fun experience through football, I started looking to the European league and started throwing my resume around. 

Explain a little bit 

Jase Kraft: [00:15:24] more what you mean by you didn't want to go down that rabbit hole? What about that? The chase of that was off-putting to you? 

Jim Davis: [00:15:35] You're going to go deep right away.

I think, what's so special about sports is that you usually come across them and a lot of people signed success in them or those who do find success around the time that they are developing truly there for the first time in their lives. A sense of self meaning, like you start to recognize and put together a picture of who you [00:16:00] are, at least who you think you are.

And and I really  identified hard. W as a football player for awhile now, I was so lucky to have a lot of other incidences in my life. Like I said, I was art and football were always my thing, so that never left me completely, but I didn't know. I always had this thought that I mean, my, my physical, my ability to push people around and run and do these things, that's probably one of the more fleeting gifts I have.

I can't just come back to this at 50 and, expecting. I dug into it hard. However, a lot of people, a lot of people don't have other components of their life. They give themselves fully to their sport. And there's this strange paradox in athletics where it's oftentimes the more success you have the more obsessive you become, like an Olympian, like you are an Olympian, you can [00:17:00] tie yourself so directly to that title.

To the training, to the nutrition that goes along with that. That's, that's you, that's a NFL football player. My goodness, like that's who you are. And if you want to get to that level and stay at that level, like Tom Brady is a football player. And if he doesn't think like that first and foremost, then he doesn't get to the place where he is.

I, I think I, I don't think I could have needed it Jase at the time, as well as I, I might be able to now but I did see something off about the idea that someone in their mid thirties, who probably was not gonna make an NFL roster still, convinced that they would. I now recognize that what was really going on was that this wonderful human being all I can tell was having a really difficult time finding the other versions of himself couldn't let go.

So I didn't, I did not want to ever want to, I didn't want that to be my full identity ever. [00:18:00] And At that point, like I said, it was probably just a suspicion. And now I've looked into it with greater depth and understanding a little more 

Jase Kraft: [00:18:10] that there any part of you that was like afraid of failure or, cause I feel like sometimes we can say you know, I am my sport.

I find my identity through sport and then therefore the more I achieve, the more people like me or, more status I have. And then if I fail, then that means I'm, I'm not only letting me down, but now people probably won't like me as much and I didn't hold up to I didn't hold up to the consistency and we like consistency as humans.

Do you think part of  that? 

Jim Davis: [00:18:55] I, I don't know. I think I, I think. I I've [00:19:00] never, I don't think I was afraid of failure mostly because I just got beat a lot. I got used to feeling, like once once I got to those levels, I was, I was one of the very few small school guys on the roster.

These guys are all big 10 sec mountain west athletes. So I wasn't afraid of failure, but I do. I see what you're I see what you're saying. And, and I wonder, are you thinking that maybe that the person that I was seeing was afraid of failure? Is that what you're thinking? Maybe. 

Jase Kraft: [00:19:30] Yeah. Like he wasn't able to admit that he's not going to make it because he's told so many people that he was going to, and he's told himself 

so long.

Jim Davis: [00:19:42] I think you're spot on and it actually reminds me of what I was. Saying at the very beginning, which, I'm at the, I'm at the barbecue with my family and we're talking shop, that person, these are the sort of subtle subtleties of life that really make a life. But that person, all of a sudden goes to the barbecue and is no longer saying [00:20:00] I'm a football player and you have to confront that, it's a lot.

Huh. Yeah, I guess you're right. We tied ourselves, so tire cells into sport, like the identity as an athlete, that it becomes difficult to move on to the next thing. So yeah, I don't know. I wish the best for him. I, I know that he did not end up making the NFL, but anyway w we, we dug into this in part I just feel very fortunate that, that triggered sort of an epiphany in me.

That football itself was not necessarily the outlet football was the vehicle to positive experiences. And that's more what, I've, what I've adopted next week of my career. 

Jase Kraft: [00:20:44] You had that epiphany, you're like, it's about the experience where can football and take me as an experience level. That's what led you to Europe.

Jim Davis: [00:20:55] Yeah, exactly. And I just, in the process, there was as simple as [00:21:00] there's a website, your old players.com. I wonder if it even still exists, but it used to be on that thing all the time. And I just identified a small handful of countries that I would want to go to and check out. I had it narrowed down to Ireland, Italy, and Spain.

And I was lucky to hook up with a guy who's still a good friend of mine, Mark Thompson from the Limerick Vikings. They were at the time, the defending national champions in Limerick or in the Irish and went over there and. Played and we won. And then the next season, I actually went over to Europe with a friend of mine, tiering cone, and we played and we won and then we came back to Ireland and we played and we won one more time.

Jase Kraft: [00:21:40] And that was American football, right? 

Jim Davis: [00:21:43] American football. yeah, yeah

Jase Kraft: [00:21:44] awesome. And any rules different than they are here that listeners want to expect? 

Jim Davis: [00:21:52] No, they they play in the FAF European Federation of American football, and I think it follows NCAA rules [00:22:00] pretty close. 

Jase Kraft: [00:22:02] So it sound like, you're kind figuring out, you have identified as like your psych psyche being one of your assets throughout life.

Did you always know that. Or is it now looking back saying, Hey, I have this psychological advantage. 

Jim Davis: [00:22:23] You've given me a lot of compliments. They don't deserve you use the word superpower earlier.

You know, I, it's funny because I don't know. I'll tell you that now the more men self-awareness is a powerful tool for anymore. And I would say that, although I think I've been thinking deeply since I was a kid. Like I remember even as a child alone in my room, reading comic books and drawing pictures and thinking in a way that I now recognize was a little different at the time.

I didn't know that I was [00:23:00] thinking any differently. So it's hard to use it as an asset if you're not aware of it. So I think once I gave him control of well, first awareness and then control of the dialogue to my ears it, it did start to become. An advantage, I, I like, self-talk is a really  powerful thing.

Probably I would say now I did it. I definitely did it in high school, but as I moved through later high school in college definitely, I would, I would talk myself up. I would call myself down. I would talk with my teammates. I slowly started  to take on motivator. Once I had myself figured out yes.

Or turn into more of a leader, it was a slow build for me in a lot of ways. And and then, yeah, now I definitely, I don't know that I have it as any sort of super power, but I know that those I work with now, as I've transitioned more into education, coaching consulting, [00:24:00] That like that is, it's a differentiating factor among even high-achievers.

Yeah. So that's something I certainly try to empower other people 

Jase Kraft: [00:24:10] you mentioned self-talk let's dive into that a little bit. And what that entails you know, is it out loud? Is it in your head? Is it a mantra? Like when you say self-talk, I'm sure it's different for every athlete, but what should people be thinking about if they're like, Hey, maybe I should try self-talk.

Jim Davis: [00:24:38] Yeah. So, so here's  the thing, we're all using self-talk yeah, I think back we're all engaging in self-talk all the time. All of us. It is a ubiquitous quality among conscious humans, whether or not we use it as a tool, it changes everything. You know, there's always a [00:25:00] dialogue running there's always a dialogue every time we worry every time we prac maybe do a gratitude practice at any time when you just projection reflection crunching through a math problem, there's some sort of dialogue going.

Most of that time, it sound sometimes, especially I'm picturing like working through like a word problem in math. Like when you see people like mouthing things, sometimes you, like you said, you can say things out loud that become tools, but we're talking to essentially now about the evolution of selves, really, self-talk is that consistent dialogue going on?

Gaining awareness that's happening is always a step one. It's always step one. And then evaluating is step, step two. And then making conscious Amy and conscious directions is step three. And after step three, there's like a, it's probably a lifelong project of evaluating what works for you [00:26:00] you that's definitely  individualized, but I think the biggest miss for a lot of people is that they, is, is a mindlessness to coasting recognize them through something.

You feel that too, right? Yeah. Directly. Tell me where you want to go with this. Cause I can talk self talk all day. 

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Jim Davis: [00:27:48] So I think 

Jase Kraft: [00:27:49] minimal. Yeah. 

I like how he's like my endlessness.

I tell people like all the time, it's it's amazing how many people are just going through life and not really thinking about [00:28:00] where they're going and just do it, you and it's that's sad to me because then they're getting their life lived through them instead of their own in their life.

But I want to go down the route of a self-talk where it's, like you said, it's this constant dialogue. Identifying it is sometimes a challenge because I feel like the self-talk like people, like your thoughts. Okay. That's the self-talk, but I think self-talk is or more impactful when you're thinking about how you're viewing yourself in this moment and what I mean by that.

Okay. So let's go back to the example of you running. Are you up against this guy? That was just a random stranger you're up against this guy. You have your history of you. You're like, I'm pretty good. I [00:29:00] don't mean to make you sound arrogant or anything like this, your self-talk and be, Hey, I'm used to winning.

I beat people like this and you, you view yourself like that. Once you learn that he is, he came down from the Vikings camp or something. Then you can, you can start to think of yourself. Like I don't beat this type of guy. And we see this in running a lot where it's coming down to the last hundred meters of your race.

And if you typically lose to this person that you're racing. You're very likely to lose in that last hundred, even though, you know how the race shapes up, you might have the heart, the, whatever to win, but you'll hold yourself back because you think you're the type of person that loses to this person.

So like, how do you identify [00:30:00] how you're actually thinking about yourself? 

Jim Davis: [00:30:04] That's interesting. I think you, you got to listen to yourself. I, it's interesting to hear what you just said because I think you're right. And really what you're tuning into is the idea that like what you think plays what you think is gonna happen, happens in certain situations and in certain realms, it's not quite as simple as that, but in the situation you described it, if what's going through your head is a dialogue about like you say, I'm not as fast as this person.

I'm not going to have kick them at the end of the race. This is not happening for me. That's what's going through your head like that. Person's too fast. I'm not gonna win this. Then minimally, it's going to affect the way that you engage. You could, you could get even, you could dig even deeper in and imagine the idea that this is affecting potentially creating some sort of stress effects, some sort of ripple effect that certain hormones are being produced in ways that wouldn't have otherwise.

So [00:31:00] maybe there's even a psychological outcome on the backside of a certain sort of self-talk. But I think minimally, we can all agree that if you you know, all things, just imagine all, this is one thing I share that's all the time. Let's pretend everything's even just go in with that assumption.

This person is as prepared as you are, as talented as you are all the above. If one of you is thinking optimistically and it's using that as a driver and and the other is thinking pessimistically, doesn't think they can beat the other. There's the, there's the differentiating factor right there.

It, it truly it's as simple as that. Sometimes it doesn't always play out that way, but oftentimes it is as simple as that put that into there's a researcher out of Greece. His last name is theater Rawkus. I thought if I'm pronouncing that correctly and he distinguishes oftentimes between motivational and instructional self-talk and I think what you're, when you go like that high level stuff, like the big stuff, like I can do this, or I'm [00:32:00] not good enough to do this or whatever, it looks like you're talking about motivational self-talk.

And that's a big one. I think that's what a lot of people get into. And it's just for sake of continuing to self-talk discussions, structional self-talk would be, let me frame your situation. If you said hypothetically that the person laying beside you is really talented and actually looking forward to football.

I'm sorry, I can't speak your language better than you. So if I'm saying, if, if, if I'm functioning, I psych myself up because the guy across from me is big. Psyching me up is one thing that's motivational, but I go to instructional. Okay. That you have to be able to go a 30 mile view and in three inch feet, you gotta be able to go back and forth because hyping myself up is important.

It could be good. Maybe give me some extra juice and confidence. Excellent. But instructional aside is more analytic. And I say, okay, that, guy's bigger than me even look [00:33:00] stronger than me. I've got to play leverage really well. If I stand up straight against this guy I'm toast. So here's where my advantages lie.

And now I say okay, so I've got to kick step this way. I'm going to be pat under pat. I've got to stick my head, whatever you can get to that. And then 

Jase Kraft: [00:33:13] they start visualizing that right. 

Jim Davis: [00:33:16] Visualizing it. Exactly. And once you have the instructional part down to a sort of routine, then you can come back to the motivational part, turn up the volume on it a little bit.

You know what I mean? These things there's a reciprocity. These are just working in conjunction with one another. So, so really, really tuning into self-talk and being able to  what's what that is the sort of superpower that you were referring to that's when it that's, when you see people, seeing totally different outcomes and maybe the most important outcome is that folks feel empowered becoming  in control of their self-talk. 

Because even in say, I go through all that. I hide myself up, I do [00:34:00] my motivational, self-talk my instructional self-talk and I lose the battle still. Okay. I can S I can still reflect on that, and I'm not just in this sort of absently upset place where things are just happening to me. I can say, okay this didn't work now let's begin some evaluation.

Here's what happened. Here's where I went wrong. I'm gonna try this next time. And the process continues, but I will say this, you as a. As an athlete and all the things that you're involved in. I know you've heard this countless times, but a lot of people want to be process oriented people. If you're not tuned into yourself talking, you can't come back to your inner dialogue.

You're not self-aware then a lot of these procedural, I think they fall flat grit gross. Any of those things outside of self-talk they're largely inefficient. 

Jase Kraft: [00:34:53] So how do you prepare for self-talk during a [00:35:00] game? And I'm going to frame this question with another example from my background, and then you relate it to football.

Cause I think that's a good back and forth here. I I teach athletes or the athletes that I mentor when it comes to a race, you plan for the race. So let's take a mile cause I was my specialty and in college is you break down the mile, everybody who's going to be racing cause you've done your homework and you know, you know what their strengths are, kind of where you lie in the field, your goals.

And you have  some sort of idea of how the race is going to go out fast, slow, medium. And then you start to play these different scenarios and you come in with a plan. So you come in, 800 meters, I'm going to be at this point 1200 meters. I'm going to be at this [00:36:00] point, this is where I'm going to go for the wind or for this place or pass this person.

And then that's the instructional self-talk. So then you don't have to worry about that when it comes to the game, because we've already done that prep work, visualization, that kind of stuff. So then during the game or during the race, you can just focus on that motivational. And that's my thing is then when you're visualizing, I tell them, remember how that last 400 feels like you don't want to move, their legs are dead.

You think you're going to die, but then you have to, kick, like there's going to be thoughts that are consistent every time you do that. So when you're doing your kind of visualization instructional talk, you can mix that in with, Hey, I'm going to start thinking like this then do you know then, repeat my mantra or do this or that kind of stuff.

So how do you prepare [00:37:00] for those situations in football when it's. A little less predictable and there's a lot of fast moving parts, but you have to, you can't always be analytical during the game. 

Jim Davis: [00:37:17] I think it's a really good question. I'm gonna make them take some notes here. So it's hard, I think, but I think you tapped on some of these really good.

I think, we work with a lot of coaches, the organization took it out on the project and the instinct usually is to go fast and, hear things   like coaches just go, if you're gonna make a mistake, make it fast and all that kind of stuff. And I think it's valuable advice but the question is for me is always when and how do you instruct and winning?

How do you motivate? Because that's really, that's the balance that needs to be. [00:38:00] Then we need to hit football is more complicated than running. That is true. Not better or worse or harder or easier or anything like that, but it's more complicated. So there's less  account for.

In my opinion, that's all the more reason to, as essentially, as coaches, we have to say what are, what are the things that everyone must know? What are the conditional statements that everyone must know? I'll give you an example. If I'm an offensive lineman, if I'm an offensive guard I think we are tasked as coaches with doing as much instructional work early as we possibly can even though our part of our us as coaches wants to go fast and install the next thing and get some kind of competitive advantage.

I think you have to go as slow as possible until the learning really sinks in create clear directions. Like for example, the what's the rule for an offensive lineman. On power, the rule is on down is hypothetical, the way that one [00:39:00] could run it variations. Of course. And then you  talk about what are the very few odd things that might happen and work on conditionals?

Meaning? So the call is power. The rule is on down. If someone is on head up on you, if they align head up on you, cause we don't know what defense they're gonna call and that's, you're going to block, here's the flip step with here's the pad level, et cetera, et cetera. But then you add conditionals.

So if someone's on you and they slant this way, and you're going to squeeze down and put your eyes up for the linebacker that might be folding over the top. And then you have to build those in. And then I think as coaches decide when that's enough kind of, can only onboard so much instruction.

But I, but I think it's really important factor you've got depending on where someone is in their process, we often say this, we say go fast to go slow and then go slow to go fast. What I mean by that is like the earth go [00:40:00] fast to go slow. So the earlier you get started the faster you get into working with people, the more time you give yourself the slower, you can go in that instructional process.

And when you go slow for long enough and you are a good enough instructor in people and understand the directions well enough that you can uncork it and let it go fast on Friday night. You it it doesn't always happen that way. It requires both patients and urgency go fast. It can go slow and go slow for long enough.

So then in competition day, you can go fast if that answers your question or not. But 

Jase Kraft: [00:40:36] I think it does. And I can relate even though the majority of my careers and endurance running I was a wrestler through grade school and it was similar where you know, you're matched up with one person you have your kind of moves and then you have your reactions, they do this, you do this, they do that, you do that.

[00:41:00] And then that's the philosophies that you use. And then it's about getting, mentally ready, hyped up. And, in that space, 

Jim Davis: [00:41:13] wrestling's a really good comparison. Thank you for bringing that up. Cause that's, you're totally right. It's it's all conditional. If he does this, then I'm going to do that.

And you work on your,  your toolkit of your moves and responses. Yeah. Yeah. 

Jase Kraft: [00:41:27] And then one, one guy does something totally different. I had this I had this one, one, one guy like put me, I forget even what the move was called. Never seen it before, just pinned me in nine seconds.

And I was like the most embarrassing match in my life. And I was like, what the heck happened? But then we went back and we're like, okay, we're going to face this guy again. This is his go-to move. We know it got pinned again. And [00:42:00] then face him again, got pinned again, faced him like two years later and I knew what he was going to do.

And I pinned him and 15 seconds and the look on his face after we got lost, then that was like, we were both in shock. Cause he's been rocking me ever since, until this one time. But yeah, I want to get into the concussion conversation and football. Cause I know obviously there is, there's a lot of media around it.

You know, in your opinion, where does, where is football right now when it comes to the concussion you know,  protocol and safety is it on the right track? Is there still work to do you know, in your opinion, where do you see? 

Jim Davis: [00:42:57] I think, well, That's a [00:43:00] really good question. There's always work to be done.

EV everything is going to, it's all an evolution, it won't, there's no way whenever we think we're absolutely right about something. That's the first time we'll be at almost guaranteed. It's gotta be evolving. I will say that I'm encouraged by a lot of things. I'm I feel very fortunate to see football from a variety of angles as a player, as a coach at the administrative level, talking in a variety of ways, doing a lot of research on my own.

And I would say a few things. Number one, that they put out a long podcast. I'll I'll try to send TV, but I recorded with a friend of mine, GP in Europe and we really got into a lot of the depths of it because there's no easy answer. If the question is football just inherently safe and all that?

No but neither as being alive in general and yeah. And the truth is I just happened to [00:44:00] be in thousands of people. Like we're all physical embodied folks. And in, this as well as out of you, you don't always just seek out the same thing. To say that we can't play contact sports because they're not 100% in here at the safe is I think that's missing the idea, the real idea, the real concern, when it comes to concussions in football, I would even go this far.

Do you want a concussion? I don't want anyone I love or care about. They have a concussion, but really, concussions heal. So it's like any other concern, what people really concerned about, I think necessarily. So is the long-term effects of what an accumulation of concussions or concussions, which compound compounding injuries, what that can eventually lead to, because the truth is whatever, if you've got if you're mildly symptomatic and then you make a full recovery, then okay, But if you have some of those sort of terrifying longterm neurodegenerative [00:45:00] concerns, then that, that's, it's tragic when it plays out like that.

It is tragic. I, and I'll be the first to say it. If there's ever some conclusive evidence that participation in not just football, I think that's missing discussion, contact sports predisposes one. Absolutely. To that kind of outcome. Then I would say fricking shut them down, a hundred percent.

But I think sometimes it's scary enough that we put ourselves in, we put blinders up. So yeah, there's a study. I think the concussion legacy foundation came out with it. And I have, totally honest, I have differing opinions on some of the way that they message stuff. Cause I think messaging is really important in all of this.

Yeah. But like they, there's a report out there it's concussions per exposure, which is an interesting thing to consider. When you talk about sports and football usually falls like three or four on that list. This is usually evaluating collegiate [00:46:00] athletes, but men's, and women's hockey are both above wrestling lacrosse.

You have to consider field hockey is like not as different as you'd think from some other contact sports rugby, obviously women's rugby is more and more. I maybe, this already, but the number one in terms of ratio, number one sport in terms of concussion danger in terms of ratio to exposures is questionings, horseback ride tragically.

When you're kicked off a horse, sometimes it's, that's it can be a pretty bad thought. So. Whenever I get into this discussion and it's brought to me often and I welcome it every time. I hope that we can all pause and think deeply about what the question is. We're actually asking. Are we trying to do away with football as a sport?

That feels [00:47:00] shortsighted to me. I think what we're trying to keep people safe within a reasonable, like within reasonable set of expectations. We don't want to drastically impair the future of young people. I don't know. So that, that changes the discussion. We I'm telling you though, you're gonna have to cut me off cause I could go on this.

Jase Kraft: [00:47:22] So it sounds to me what you're saying is you're acknowledging there's a risk, right? There's no question that there's a risk. The question is the risk versus reward worth it? And then from the outside perspective, it's are we putting athletes? Is there so much like media attention and cultural attention on football that it's putting people [00:48:00] at risk when, if there was more cultural attention on a less risky sport, would that be better?

Cause I think that also drives what where people lay on sports and what people, aspire to be. If NASA wasn't a thing, how many people would want to be an astronaut, probably not. If NFL has never televised, how many people would want to be a player, those kinds of things.

I think that's the question, at least in, in my eyes So, I guess, let's talk about maybe the rewards to sport, outside of fame, money for the select few what are people like? What does sport do for an athlete? Long-term that, you wouldn't [00:49:00] want to take away from athlete it's, 

Jim Davis: [00:49:03] Like a, a million different things potentially.

No I think again, I'm taking notes here. I think when it comes to risk reward, I do think that's a good way to look at it. I also think it's important that like the discussion has to be context dependent. If I can add this layer to it and then answer your question directly context, spin it in the sense that the reward is different at every level.

The risk is different in every level. So there's, again there's not people when people say like football is bad, hypothetically. Yeah, it's just so it's just, so you wouldn't allow that kind of thinking in other areas of our lives, meaning like there's a different, there's a different risk when you play youth football and there are different set of rewards when you play football, just as an example there's a much different risk when you play NFL football, much different set of rewards.

So you play NFL [00:50:00] football, so like at each sort of stage of one's career there's a new valuation and that's just how that's, how life in every  regard. But you know, I think it is sometimes well I played a lot of football, so I'm, I'm very aware of this.

I also have a young nephew who I love as much as anything on the planet and you know, he's at least going to have the opportunity to play football. He's got two very athletic parents and you know, Use football injury rate per exposure. It's just a totally different thing. Let me throw this out there.

Just to give you a little bit of how I contextualize it. Sure. But you play youth football for fun. You move toward the junior high and high school ranks and there's some weeding out that happens. Some people make varsity, some people don't, some people actually, don't a tiny percentage of those people go on to play in college at any [00:51:00] level, any incredibly tiny percent go on to play it like Alabama.

And when you get to a place like Alabama, first of all, if you can play four years of college football, you've almost doubled the average football career, just in that. Wow. Will you play four years with the intensity of getting hit by you know, SCC linebacker at practice every day? It, it's not not only is it frequency in total number of impacts going up, but the intensity of those impacts.

Now you finished your career in Alabama and a tiny subset of Alabama. You won't even think about this, but like on draft day is celebrated as the Alabama Crimson tide are. And they deserve to be celebrated, but 80% of their roster goes and gets a job. They're not all going to the NFL, some of them, some do.

And they go on and do really well and might have four guys drafting the first round, but most of those guys go away. So anyway, the point is Eddie, every level, the intensity [00:52:00] of the impact rises, right? The cream of the crop of the cream of the crop of the cream of the crop goes on to play in the NFL where you play.

I don't know how many more years, but say you play a 10 year career in the NFL. You're like at this 0.3 or four times longer career than the average football career. The intensity of impact is like incalculably higher. Then, like the kid who played in fifth grade or whatever. And, and there's all sorts of other complications that go into that discussion.

But anyway, I have to leave that in that's, that that really is, you mentioned  risk reward. If if my nephew, like I said, who, I love as much as anything if he said, if my sister and her husband came to me and said, she would let him play football. I don't know, to, he want to play football.

And if they say, yes, I'd say, okay, does he have good coaching? Are they going to follow the rules and stay current on best practice? If the answer to those things is yes, then go for it. I wouldn't say [00:53:00] this to be completely candid. If, if that same person said, should I start a career in the NFL?

I would say, dude, the risks are wildly different. Here's what you should know. Here's what you're up against. And if you want to really make a career out of this, you've got cyber risk award. Just know that the risks are really high now, but but again, it's a different beast. The guy who plays 10 years in the NFL is just nothing like the millions of kids who play pop Warner high school.


Jase Kraft: [00:53:34] Yeah. So what do you say, when do you think is like the top three takeaways from subway who goes through high school, say doesn't even go to college to play football might go to college, but came up through, through sport. Like what is sport going to do for them for the rest of their life?

Jim Davis: [00:53:56] It's a really good question. And I think, and the reason the good athlete project exists is [00:54:00] because is in response to that question, I think there's a lot that can happen, but there's an asterisk that too is a conditional it's like you could learn some of those important lessons for life. If you're in a culture that supports it with coaches that teach it, so like, I can tell you what I'd hope for, but I also can tell you that it doesn't always happen this way. The three big staples the three big things in terms of is the term SEL familiar, social, emotional learning. It's huge in schools. And it's a lot of like character development stuff, really the three big SEL realms or character development stables that we're interested in are grit, growth, and gratitude.

And so if you can develop a passion and perseverance for long-term goals, develop a growth mindset, which is essentially a sense of optimism. And we've talked about today, this idea that we can, you can name your obstacle and go back to the drawing board and keep growing in, develop an appreciation for [00:55:00] that.

And then gratitude man, to be grateful for the opportunity to play your sport, even after a loss or you get knocked out or things aren't going right to deliberately cultivate gratitude in your life. Like those are the three, those are three powerful forces. I would say, what are the absolutes that we wouldn't want to get rid of?

There's nothing more community building, in my opinion and football, it's just in that right or wrong. There's something about football fall that brings a community together. I think in terms of the intricacies of the game, there's nothing else in sport. As far as I know, it has such a different array of body types and responsibilities.

All 11 people working simultaneously in conjunction with one another with totally different skillsets and responsibilities for a similar purpose. That sort of goal directed group directed behavior is unique. I would say to the sport. And then [00:56:00] here's the other real truth piece. If we do away with contact sports, I've interested in a hypothetical world, we will find ourselves in a different and probably worse position because what you have is a lot of.

A lot of embodied human beings especially through adolescents, with testosterone high and and risk seeking behavior. Hi, and all that kind of stuff. We take those outlets away from them. Then we have to deal with those instincts in different ways. So I think it's necessary on a number of fronts.

Jase Kraft: [00:56:41] Yeah. Well, we're getting towards the end of our time. Probably past the end of our time here, but great conversation. Really, I I don't know how much really specific recovery we talked about today, but it was a good conversation, [00:57:00] about where sport is, what it can do for you really the mindful part of it.

And it's all in, it's all wrapped one, because. How you view sport and how you like, think this is what this is doing from you is also going to affect, the, in between, in between games, in between training sessions. If you think this is going to do something good for you you're going to be more excited to go to practice the next time and more excited for the games and more likely to do all the recovery stuff that we talk about in other episodes as well.

So it's all connected. Jim, thanks so much for being a part of the science sports recovery podcast. If somebody wants to learn more about the good athlete project or about you where can they find you? 

Jim Davis: [00:57:57] Yeah. Thanks for having me on, man. I enjoyed it. Yeah. [00:58:00] I got plenty to say I'm on recovery too.

We'll have to talk another time.

I like that. Well I, I think you're right though. I think it all does fold into itself the way you approach recovery is, it's, it's similar mindset matters. We are at good athlete project.com. Our, our best Instagram is at good athlete project. And on Twitter work at coach for kindness.

So it's coach the number four kindness. 

Jase Kraft: [00:58:30] And is that, is that those resources for athletes, for coaches or who's that for? 

Jim Davis: [00:58:40] Both. So our primary involvement, we have three sort of tiers of engagement. So we do team workshops. So that's focused on the athlete. We do professional development workshops and that supporting coaches do their work.

And then we  actually have more and more, we're doing leadership consulting and that's usually a combination of you know, administration [00:59:00] at like department level folks alongside coaches. So tiers of engagement. And actually we're just recently, we're starting to go more and more into parent facing workshops because that's an essential piece of the puzzle as well.

Jase Kraft: [00:59:15] Yeah. Yeah. I think it's man, it's a whole another rabbit trail, but how their kids, that's and how they view the sport is the whole start of everything as far as being healthy in sports. But anyways, we got, I gotta stop recording otherwise, we're going to have a two hour episode here but thanks so much, man.

Jim Davis: [00:59:44] Yeah, absolutely man. Thanks for having me. 

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Jim Davis

Former professional football player, Champion powerlifter, Nationally recognized coach.

Jim Davis is the Director of Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. He founded the Good Athlete Project. Jim leads one of the largest and most successful strength programs in the nation. He is also the Founding Director of the Illinois High School Powerlifting Association.