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Sport psychologists and graduate students help prospects prepare for NFL Combine

For many athletes, it takes more than raw physical ability to make it in the National Football League.

The proper psychological approach is also necessary for prospective players who want to reach their full athletic potential by maximizing their speed and strength.

Georgia Southern University sport psychologists Daniel Czech and Jonathan Metzler and a group of their graduate students have been helping college football players from around the country hone their mental approach to competition as the prospects prepare for what has been called ‘the ultimate job interview.”

During a recent trip to New York, the Georgia Southern contingent spent two days working with 10 players who have been invited to the upcoming National Invitational Camp, an annual event more commonly known as the NFL Scouting Combine.

The players will be put through a variety of physical and psychological tests at the combine, which will be held on Feb. 21-27 in Indianapolis. In addition, the players will be interviewed by executives, coaches and scouts from all 32 NFL teams that are gearing up for the annual draft on April 28-29.

‘Of course, a certain percentage of peak performance is physical,” Czech said, ‘but an important percentage is mental. We try to enhance the mental aspect by teaching the athletes specific psychological skills that will help them reach their peak performance.”

Czech and Metzler are co-coordinators of the Graduate Sports Psychology Program in the Department of Health and Kinesiology at Georgia Southern. Two of the nation’s leading authorities on sports psychology, they have been published in numerous professional and academic journals.

In addition, Czech works as an envoy for Major League Baseball International, a position that has enabled him to teach sport psychology in more than 35 countries around the world.

Czech is also a longtime friend of attorney Eugene T. Lee, who runs ETL Associates, a sports management and representation agency based in New York.

The NFL prospects that Czech, Metzler and eight of their students tutored during their late-January trip to New York are clients of ETL Associates. This marked the third year in a row that the Georgia Southern group traveled north to help Lee’s clients get ready for the combine.

‘Dr. Czech and his team of graduate students have made a profound impact on our clients as they prepare for their pre-draft workouts at the combine,” Lee said. ‘They teach specific techniques and exercises that allow our clients to unlock the mental component to optimal athletic performance.

‘Their work has given our clients a decided advantage over other players in each year’s draft.”

In their quests to find athletes who can help them win the Super Bowl, NFL teams leave no stone unturned. At the combine, more than 300 of the top college football players in the nation are poked, prodded and studied by an army of doctors and coaches.

The heights and weights of all of the players are accurately measured, along with the lengths of their arms and the sizes of their hands. All of the players also take a 50-question intelligence test known as the Wonderlic.

While a few opt out because of injury or some other reason, the vast majority of the players at the combine undergo a series of tests that measure their speed and strength.

Among other things, they are timed in the 40-yard dash, and they attempt to bench press 225 pounds as many times as possible.

This is where the pre-combine meetings with Czech, Metzler and their students enter the picture. While they can’t make a player bigger or stronger, the sport psychology sessions can teach him how to perform at his best in pressure situations.

When a mere tenth of a second in the 40-yard dash can play a huge role in which round a player is drafted  or if he is drafted at all  the pressure to perform at the combine can be substantial.

‘We use concepts such as imagery and arousal regulation,” Czech said. ‘Imaging success can help with creating mental blueprints for future success, and being cognizant of arousal levels are very important for peak performance. We teach the players how to regulate themselves through breathing techniques, progressive relaxation and meditation.

‘In addition, we take the time to just listen and work through some of the debilitating thoughts they may be thinking.

‘Once they master these concepts and work through some of their worries and anxieties, the players can put themselves in position to perform at optimal levels when they really need it.”

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