There is sadness this morning.
But before I get into that, I want to share important and unexpected context. For the past several weeks I’ve been listening to interviews with Rick Rubin, one of Hollywood’s most successful music producers. He’s notorious for lying down and meditating as famous rock and hip-hop bands play music in his studio and when something stirs him emotionally he tells the musicians to keep making those sounds. He has a unique sense of what sounds good and has helped Adele, Johnny Cash, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and many other famous musical groups produce powerful art.
In the interviews he talks about the creative process: “The only advice I would give is to not listen to anyone. And to do what you love and make things you love. Whatever that is. You be the audience. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.”
This advice is more inspirational than any advice I’ve ever heard as a chronically self-doubting writer who constantly hears other peoples’ voices in my head: will they like this? will they think this is funny? will they click on the headline? will they think if I phrase something this way will they think I’m clever?
Right now and for as long as I write I plan to consciously erase these voices from my head and follow Rubin’s advice. I am writing right now what I love. You, the audience members, come last.
In addition to writing and the whole notion of creating, what I love is Wake Forest football. I am sad about what happened yesterday. Florida State destroyed my team, 41 to 16. The score doesn’t matter; might as well have been 81 to 16. A game summary won’t add anything substantive to this tearful story. It was like a college team playing a high school team. My team was the high school team. Watching this hurt.
This loss bummed me out plenty, and it got more unpleasant when during the post-game press conference our coach Dave Clawson painted a bleak image of where this program is headed with no real chances to get four- and five-star studs in the transfer portal as Fla. State continues to get them.
“We got out-prepared, out-coached and they’re a much better football team than we are. They overwhelmed us.”
Not a lot there to feel good or hopeful about. Nothing, actually. Far too much of this whole football season has felt overwhelmingly stressful and improvement scarce.
This feeling contrasts sharply with the one we felt last weekend when the Great Santino hit Cam Hite for a winning TD pass with under one minute to play to stun Pitt.
It was blissful.
From that rousing moment last week – sheer ecstasy – to yesterday’s game and press conference – downright dejection.
Credit Clawson for being honest about his team’s shortcomings and making no excuses. That’s honorable. But his frustration leaked out when he was asked about having to play Duke on Thursday night – four days from now — meaning his team would only have a short week of practice.
“I hate short weeks especially this late in the year,” he said.
Players on his team aren’t going to be too excited to come to practice knowing their coach is annoyed about the short work week, not only because of his attitude about it but also because he’s signaling his concern his team – and it seems Clawson himself — may not have the ability to bounce back from yesterday’s emotional slug to the stomach.
He’s not giving them nor himself confidence and that’s not a good way to lead nor bounce back from getting your butts kicked.
All of this brings me back to what I wrote at the start about Rick Rubin. You can work hard, which Wake’s entire program has been doing all season, and continue losing and not playing well for big stretches of games. And you can worry about what fans such as me think about your performance. Or you can change your mindset and start a new approach to football the rest of the season.
Here’s an honest proposal: Decide from here until the last game all they care about, in order to produce great art and play better, is to do the things they love.
They could change how they practice, insist in every minute having fun, have players do some stand-up comedy, or write silly essays and read them to the team, or sing songs in the team meeting room, or paint pictures of whatever they want whether sad images of football players crying or whatever.
The current approach has produced a mediocre team with 4 wins and 4 losses, a lot of repeated mistakes, a coach galactically frustrated, a quarterback who has lost confidence, a team reeling and unsure of itself and humbled hugely. All of this is hard to watch because it keeps happening week after week. None of the players nor the head coach appear to be enjoying what they’re doing. It feels as if they’re losing their love for football.
They need to, as Rubin says, “not listen to anyone and make the things they love.”
Producing great music and art and football play comes down to letting go, not holding on.
If during practices this week they decide not to put on pads and just have an entertainment week for the whole team where they all express who they are in whatever ways they love to do so, they should do that. Each player could get up and tell a story about their childhood that the others had never shared before. At the very least the players would understand their teammates better as human beings and that understanding could deepen their relationships long after football, when they get together as grandparents, when that close relationship will mean much more to them than what record they finished with this season, because it won’t matter then and doesn’t matter much even now when you consider all the other more important events gripping the world right now.
Forget the critics. Forget the practices. Forget the compulsive film watching. Just create whatever. Each guy should do the thing he loves. What have they got to lose? The current process obviously isn’t working. Stop trying so hard.
The answer, Rubin would say, and I agree with, is to try less rigidly and conventionally. They need to enjoy themselves and stop taking football so seriously.
Lighten up. Live it up. This is college football, a game, a sport. It’s meant to be fun.
It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of how they practice, or if they don’t practice, of if they have a face-painting day or take the next four days off.
All that matters is they do what they love, do what feels good to them emotionally. The last thing they need this week is to stress out, panic, and spew more negativity. Prepare well, but in a different way.
I believe the problem will be solved, the team will produce its best art, if they just do what they love and stop thinking about anything else.
There will be less sadness enveloping this football team. They will feel better. They will feel more fulfilled as human beings. They won’t keep feeling they’re inferior.
Nothing else should matter for the rest of the season – not the wins, not the fans, not Duke. All that should matter is creating things they love.
And they’ll feel better, which will help them play better.
Sammy Sportface, a sports blogger, galvanizes, inspires, and amuses The Baby Boomer Brotherhood. And you can learn about his vision and join this group's Facebook page here:
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