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“Ninety percent of the game is half mental” – Yogi Berra
Yogi Berra was a catcher for the New York Yankees who became better known for his unique use of language than his Hall-of-Fame playing career. His malapropisms may live on forever, but in most cases, there was something to what he was saying.
If an athlete makes it to professional sports they obviously have an incredible level of athletic ability, but what usually separates the good from the great comes down to their mental approach.
Being positive about things is easy to do when everything is going well. When times are tough – a team is struggling, or a player is going through an individual slump – maintaining the proper mental toughness can be difficult.
Corey Chamblin is aware of that.
While the Toronto Argonauts head coach continues to preach the Xs and Os of the sport, he’s trying to keep the team’s collective spirit positive despite its record.
“It’s not so much about positives and negatives as it is seeing things as reality, but not letting them be an excuse.” said Chamblin. “What I mean by that is this is where we are, and here is how we’re going to get to where we want to be. There’s always something that’s going to be singularly negative. There’s never going to be a perfect practice, there’s never going to be a perfect game, it’s how we overcome those things.”
Chamblin is counting on some of his veterans to help deliver that message, both vocally and how they carry themselves on the field. He met with a group of them following Thursday’s practice.
“I told them I need them, I gotta have you,” the coach explained. “(I) talked to several guys who have been on championship teams, playoff teams and said we need you right now. We need you to step up and that message has to be reinforced that it’s no longer here’s the coaches, here’s the players, it’s here’s our message that it takes all of us to win.”
He wants the veterans to help the younger players with the details, and fortunately he has some great messengers to help with the delivery.
S.J. Green has been through a series of extreme highs and lows over his career. Along with the championships and all-star recognition, he’s been on some bad teams, recovered from what many felt was a career-ending knee injury, and turned pro after being next to invisible in his college days, catching just 62 passes in 46 games.
He has one main question to ask of himself and his teammates.
“Who are you in the face of adversity?” he asked bluntly, before having some follow-up questions. “Do you lay down? Do you crawl into bed and put the covers up over your head? Or do you stand ten toes down, man up, and just go out and give it all you’ve got?”
Nobody has ever questioned the veteran receiver’s ability, or his dedication to his craft, and that’s something that rubs off on his teammates.
“I care a lot about this game, I’m very passionate about this game,” Green admitted to Argonauts.ca. “I have a lot of emotion and feelings towards the lack of success. It hurts. But I also know that this is professional sports and it’s very hard to win. It’s just the matter of being a consummate pro and just coming to work every day and just grinding bro.”
A nerve may have been touched with Green. The passion he has for the game and his team came pouring out.
“As simple as it sounds, just come in and do your job every day. It really is hard, because you have the outside noise, you have the record, you have the lack of stats that I’m used to having at this point in the season, so may thing going on that continue to take you out of the mindset you have to have to be successful, but if I allow that to happen, what does the future hold?”
His best advice for younger teammates who may not have gone through a slump like this is to “stay the course.” That’s advice an older teammate has used this year as well.
Jermaine Gabriel is in his seventh season with the Argos, the longest tenure of anyone on the team. His year started out in the worst possible way, a one-sided loss to the hated Ticats, and an injury that took him out of the lineup for the next six games.
He acknowledges his leadership role on the team and while he admits he’s ready to step in if he feels negativity creeping into the locker room, it hasn’t become a problem at all.
“I don’t feel that,” Gabriel emphasized. “When they do start to slip up we step on that real quick. We just try to get better each and every day, no slippage. This is professional football, win or lose you’ve got to come to work.”
Gabriel quickly pointed to Abdul Kanneh, Alden Darby Jr, and Bear Woods as the defensive players being the most vocal about keeping spirits positive.
Yes, that Bear Woods. The new guy.
“He’s very vocal about things,” explained Gabriel. “Even though he just got here we still respect him, respect his game. He’s been here. We have a standard here and we try to keep everyone to that standard.”
If you attend a practice, or could spend time away from the field with the Argos, you’d have trouble believing that their record is what it is. There’s a confidence that things are going to turn around, that the mistakes they’re making are correctable, and because of the playoff structure of the CFL they are still not out of the race.
Other teams going through similar problems might become negative, would be verbally sniping at one another, or making defeatist comments in the media. None of those things are happening with the Argos, and credit must be given to Chamblin, Green and Gabriel among others for keeping the positive vibe alive.