Monday, September 29, 2008

Body Language Comes Through Loud and Clear

By Scott Lowe
API Management & Marketing

Professional athletes, by and large, are some of the most competitive people in the world. They have to be. Without that type of drive, commitment to excellence and desire to achieve success, they would not have ascended to where they are. Competitive or not, with thousands of people in the stadium watching and hundreds of thousands or millions viewing in high def, these guys have to gain a better understanding what their body language says about them.

Football, in particular, is the ultimate team sport. You are truly only as strong as your weakest link. If all 11 players are not in sync on a particular play, the result can be disaster - a loss of yards, a turnover or even an injury. With that being the case, why do so many of the higher-profile athletes show open disgust every time a teammate blows an assignment. If you are a quarterback and ended up on your back at the end of a play, what makes you think that publicly expressing your displeasure with the lineman who missed the block is going to make that player perform better the next time?

Leaders don't shake their heads, raise their palms to the sky, belittle teammates or stare down those who aren't performing to the best of their ability. A leader picks his teammate up, pats him on the back and says, "You're better than that. Let's get them next time." Leaders rally the team instead of beating it down. Leaders don't show negative emotion through their facial expressions or actions. Leaders exude confidence in themselves and their team and never let that confidence waiver publicly. Leaders are attractive to general managers, coaches, businesses and fans.

In the past 48 hours I've watched numerous NFL players excude negative body language on the field. Fans pay big money to watch millionaires run around like little boys, so they have every right to express their displeasure when a player or team's effort is subpar. Personally, I don't like negative or bandwagon fans - many seemed to be at Heinz Field tonight, by the way - any more than I like a professional athlete who is a crybaby or a finger-pointer. Still, those fans work hard all week for the right to express their opinion, and this is a country built upon that very unalienable right. Players, especially players with talent who play in traditional leadership positions, have the same right, but they need to be more guarded about when and where they express that displeasure. There is a time and a place for everything. The time is not during the game and the place is not in direct view of thousands or millions of people.

Ben Roethlisberger certainly was being hung out to dry earlier tonight against the Baltimore Ravens. He had no time to throw and was taking a beating for the second straight week. Still, his head-shaking at teammates on the field and coaches on the sidelines, smiling when he threw an interception as if that could never happen to a player of his caliber and general look of disgust in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage wasn't helping the situation. Despite the intense pressure from the Ravens, for the second week in a row Roethlisberger was taking too long to set up, was completely immobile in the pocket and was not making quick reads. And, on top of that, he wasn't adapting. He wasn't dumping the ball off, calling appropriate audibles or trying to get rid of the ball more quickly.

So, while his teammates weren't doing their jobs, Big Ben - as the leader of the offense - certainly was doing more to hurt the situation in terms of his reaction and performance than he was to help it. In Roethlisberger's defense, he often plays hurt and does hang in the pocket despite absorbing punishing blows. If he can combine those leadership qualities with a little better on-field demeanor, who knows how could he might become.

Another example of bad body language came courtesy of Donovan McNabb. McNabb never has been considered a great passer. But, at times he has been a great quarterback because of his athletic ability and knack for moving around long enough to give his teammates time to get open or to run for a big game. Over the years McNabb has taken his team to multiple NFC championship games and one Super Bowl. He has been a great player, but has he been a great leader? A great teammate?

McNabb has cost his team many games over the years because of poor decisions and careless interceptions. Yet, more times than not, when he makes a mistake he gives the impression that the receiver ran the wrong route or otherwise crossed him up. He did it again last night when rookie receiver Desean Jackson was bumped off course while running a pattern. McNabb threw the ball to where Jackson should have been - even though it was pretty clear that he had been re-routed, so to speak - and the result was an ugly interception. McNabb threw his hands in the air as if to say, "Where were you going?" And then he hung his head before realizing that he better try to keep the defensive player from returning the pick for a touchdown.

Jackson is a rookie. McNabb is a veteran. He is a veteran who has had his share of ups and downs. The Eagles haven't had a playmaker with Jackson's ability on the outside for a long, long time. McNabb should make this kid his best friend and nurture the relationship for the good of the team. He should be a mentor. A well-placed pat on the back or arm around the shoulder and some fatherly advice would be better for the young player, the team and McNabb's image. Donovan McNabb is a good guy with a lot of talent who has won a lot of football games. He's never been able to understand why he's not liked better in Philly. Maybe he should start studying the game film for different reasons.

If you are an average talent who works hard, is a team player and gives 100 percent every time out, you can become a crowd favorite. If you are a player with great talent who does the same you can become an icon. If you are an enormous talent who is perceived as selfish, you may spend an entire productive career bouncing from team to team wondering why you are underappreciated by your teammates, the media, the fans and the business community.

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