A Human Resources View of the NFL Combine

Posted by Kenneth N. Winkler on

The NFL Combine just finished this week.  The media attention surrounding the Combine has been overwhelming.  Airtime that was previously devoted to the Sochi Olympic Games was quickly filled with coverage of 40-yard dash times and the results of vertical leap, broad jump, three-cone, and shuttle drills.  For the next ten weeks until the NFL draft, pundits will be offering opinions about who shined at the Combine and should be drafted in the first round of the draft.

I never paid much attention to the Combine, other than to see how a player from my alma mater ranked.  This year was different, however, because I had the unique experience of observing NFL prospects prepare for the Combine.  Chip Smith, owner of Chip Smith Performance Sports, is an internationally recognized strength and conditioning expert with vast experience training prospects for the NFL draft.   Chip invited me to his facility to see how he gets players ready for the Combine and he even ran me through some of the drills.

I was immediately impressed by the strength, speed, and pure athleticism of the players.  The linemen were all physically massive and quick.  Standing next to Kony Ealy made me feel like a little kid.   I doubt I could get up after being hit and tackled by any of these guys.

Most impressive, however, was how hard the players trained.   Their typical training day to get ready for the Combine consisted of two hours of intense practice with a position skills coach, two hours of combine drill training, and two hours of weight training.  Every two-hour session was intense, fast-paced, and purposeful.   The players adhere to this grueling schedule for six consecutive weeks.

I left Chip’s facility extremely sore and with a greater appreciation for the effort and dedication it takes to make it into the NFL.  Certainly, many of the NFL players are gifted with extraordinary natural talent and physical ability.  But, more than their natural talent, the success of these players depends on their dedication and willingness to work.

Perhaps no player illustrates this point better than Hall of Fame Wide Receiver Jerry Rice.  Rice’s work ethic is legendary.   Even after he reached stardom, Rice ran grueling uphill sprints to stay in top physical form.   Rice acknowledged his hard work was the cornerstone of his success:  “I was always willing to work; I was not the fastest or biggest player but I was determined to be the best football player I could be on the football field and I think I was able  to accomplish that through hard work.”  Rice’s work ethic has not only led him to him to be one of the all-time football greats but has also garnered the respect of fans.  We praise athletes like Rice who demonstrate a strong work ethic and dedication to their teams.  We admire those who give it their all — those who stop at nothing to achieve greatness.

On the other hand, we are quick to critique athletes who do not exhibit a strong work ethic.  We are critical of players who have the reputation of taking plays off.  We get angry when one of our favorite players holds out or fails to report early to training camp.  We mock athletes who do not see the value of practice.  Few have forgotten Allen Iverson’s attitude toward practice:

“We’re talking about practice.  I mean listen, we’re sitting here talking about practice, not a game, not a game, not a game, but we’re talking about practice.  Not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game like it’s my last but we’re talking about practice man.”

While Iverson was indeed a talented athlete, his comments led people to question his dedication and his willingness to work.

Most recently, one of the biggest stories coming out of the Combine relates to the work ethic of defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Despite Clowney’s athletic potential, Clowney’s college coach, Steve Spurrier, commented that Clowny’s work ethic was “OK.” Commentators reporting on the Combine and the NFL draft have stated that there are red flags about Clowney’s work ethic and questioned whether he has the dedication  it takes to maximize his potential.

The Combine gives players the chance to showcase their potential future value and allows scouts an opportunity to evaluate both the players’ physical and non-physical performance.  Although many of us do not have to endure the demands of the Combine, many of us do face similar evaluations every day at our jobs.  Each day we have the chance to showcase our abilities and our work ethic.  Each day, our partners, supervisors and colleagues assess our job performance – they judge the quality of our work, our productivity, and our dedication and work ethic.

It is easy for us, as fans, to sit back and watch our favorite players (or our least favorite players) and opine about their work ethics.  It is easy for us to say that a player should have pushed himself a little more, or attended that extra practice, or played hurt.  But if we were to apply those same opinions to ourselves, how would we measure up in our own careers?  Below are five questions that will help you determine whether you practice what you preach.

  1.  Are you more like Jerry Rice or Allen Iverson?  Do you work hard each day to better your performance or do you rely on your natural skills and talents to get the job done?
  2.  Do you take extra reps? When the regular work day ends, do you leave for home or do you put in the extra time to produce the best possible work product?
  3.  Do you watch extra game film?  Do you read, take extra classes or attend seminars to enhance your knowledge or are you content with the education and training you have already obtained?
  4.  Do you come to the game prepared?  Do you come to work with a positive attitude, ready to work, and with the desire to be productive?  Or do you arrive late, with a poor attitude, and a desire to avoid work?
  5.  Are you a good teammate?  Do you work solely for your own gains, or do you take time to help colleagues? Do you mentor younger employees and show them the ropes?

Players who demonstrate both a natural ability and an excellent work ethic accomplish greatness and also garner the respect and admiration of fans across the board.  As owners, managers or employees, we should strive to demonstrate a dedication to our careers and an unfailing work ethic that earns the same respect from our colleagues that players like Jerry Rice have earned from us.