Golden Tate, wide receiver with the Seattle Seahawks started a firestorm in the motorsport world by questioning why 5-time champion Jimmie Johnson should be considered an athlete.

As a sport physiologist with 30+ years testing and working with endurance athletes (running cycling triathletes), professional soccer and basketball players and motorsport pit crews and drivers, I will weigh in from my professional opinion. Here is a list of athletic components that can define what an “athlete” is or is not. Granted, there will be a debate as to whether more components can or should be added.

I guess the key question is: How many of these components do you have to possess to be called an athlete?

  • Accuracy – controlling movement in a precise manner
  • Agility – controlled change of direction
  • Balance – the ability to control the body’s stability while moving or stationary.
  • Body Composition  – the ability to maintain the optimal ratio body fat/muscle.
  • Cardiovascular Endurance – the ability of the body, process and deliver oxygen.
  • Coordination – the ability to combine several distinct movements
  • Efficiency – the ability to perform movement with minimal exertion.
  • Mobility/Flexibility – the ability to move freely and easily.
  • Muscular Endurance – the ability of muscles to contract repeatedly
  • Muscular Power – muscular force exerted over time
  • Recovery – the ability of body to return to its pre-activity state after exercise.
  • Response/Reaction Time – the ability to react quickly to external stimulus.
  • Motor Skill – the ability to develop gross and fine motor skills to refine technique.
  • Speed – the ability to move as quickly as possible over a given distance.
  • Muscular Strength – the ability to exert a force against resistance.
  • Mindset – the ability to remain focused and deliberate during performance
  • Environmental Stress – heat, cold and other external stimuli

Okay, so is Jimmie Johnson an athlete? Based on my working with and collecting various data on racecar drivers, here is Jimmie’s score:

  1. Accuracy – racecar drivers live by precision based movements and proprioception through their entire bodies.
  2. Body Composition – weight is important but not critical. Lighter is always better.
  3. Coordination – very important with clutch/throttle and hand eye.
  4. Muscular Endurance – G forces make this important, more at some tracks than others.
  5. Recovery – this component is what performance enhancing drugs is all about. Don’t let any athlete tell you different. The ability to recover from the mental and heat related stress after a 4-hour race determines how you will perform the next week.
  6. Response/Reaction Time – no need to comment here. Can I say re-starts?
  7. Motor Skill – split second decisions by vision transmitted to muscles critical to success. This along with Response/Reaction time may be genetic and lends to argument that drivers are born not made. I put eye hand coordination under this item.
  8. Mindset– very important and why many athletes with all of the above fail.
  9. Environmental Stress– heat stress is major factor here and on occasion carbon monoxide, which can affect aforementioned mental function. Noise also major factor.

Now for Mr. Golden Tate – Football player, specifically wide receiver. I have not worked with football players, but it’s not hard to assess the requirements.

  1. Accuracy – precise route running makes a wide receiver
  2. Body Composition – not many fat receivers.
  3. Coordination – no brainer
  4. Muscular Endurance – try being part of 2-minute drill.
  5. Recovery – critical in some offenses, particularly hurry up offenses
  6. Response/Reaction Time – very important in turning and catching already in the air ball.
  7. Motor Skill – routes, patterns, eye hand…
  8. Mindset– very important and why many athletes with all of the above fail. To be honest, you can’t be a successful athlete without disciplined mindset.
  9. Environmental Stress– heat, cold and noise.

10. Agility – critical to wide receiver. Changing directions is what it’s about.

11. Balance – how about sideline ballet catches? Avoiding tackles? Critical component.

12. Speed – you don’t make it in football without this one.

13. Mobility and flexibility – critical for most catches

14. Muscular power – this is critical component of speed acceleration, deceleration and jumping.

15. Muscular Strength – a key component in muscular power but also holding onto footballs etc.

So, Mr. Tate beats Mr. Johnson 15-9 on the Lepp Athletic Scale. Does this mean that Jimmie is not an athlete? Not at all. Many athletes I have coached have less than 9 on this score. I consider Tiger Woods an athlete, but I would guess he would be in that score range. Lance Armstrong is a tremendous athlete, but would not accumulate a high score.

My point of this exercise, is that defining  athleticism is very difficult. Do you need to have 3 of these components? 5? 1? I know where Golden Tate was coming from. We need to stop reacting to these casual comments. Athleticism is made up of many components, some of which I have surely missed. Who do I think are the best athletes in the world? How about Seal Team Six. I guarantee it.

The Green Bay Packers Super Bowl victory culminated 3 years of clear and decisive decision-making. General manager Ted Thompson, head coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers stuck to a mission and reached the ultimate goal for an NFL team – a Super Bowl ring. It was not an easy path. Here were my 3 observations from Green Bay’s Super Bowl triumph.

Leaders often have to make tough and unpopular decisions to reach the big prize. In 2008, Coach Mike McCarthy became engaged in a controversial struggle with Brett Favre, when the quarterback decided to back out of his announced retirement. The Green Bay Packers are a storied franchise, and other than Vince Lombardi, no one Packer was more legendary than Favre. Favre felt entitled to his old starting position, but McCarthy had moved on and was grooming Aaron Rogers as the future quarterback. GM Ted Thompson backed his head coach. It was certainly not a popular decision with the fans in Green Bay. Ultimately, the Packers traded Favre to the Jets for a 4th round draft pick. This was a very unpopular decision that took conviction and guts by the Green Bay organization. McCarthy and Thompson had a plan and they believed that Aaron Rodgers, who had been Favre’s back up for the past couple years was their man. McCarthy was willing to take the criticism, realizing that if he failed, he would probably lose his shot at being a head coach. Despite his unproven pedigree, Aaron Rodgers was Thompson and McCarthy’s choice to lead their team. I am sure they had to convince not only the fans and media, but also veterans on the team. After two seasons as a starter, Rogers has developed into one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. The rest is history. Lesson: Believe in your plan, deflect criticism and hit your target.

Mental toughness is as or no more important than physical abilities. In 2008, Aaron Rodgers replaced Brett Favre as starting quarterback with the Packers. The weight and pressure of replacing a “legend” must have been immense; from his teammates, media and fans. Denver has never been able to replace John Elway. Miami has not replaced Dan Marino. I am sure that the prospects that tried to replace these quarterbacks faltered partly due to the pressure. Rogers was sacked over 50 times in 2009 and suffered through two mediocre seasons from a record standpoint. His quarterback rating was good, but I am sure he was hearing the grumbles. This is a team sport and your record defines you. In 2010 Favre was now playing for divisional rival Minnesota. I am sure this created even more pressure for Aaron Rodgers.

The gamble on Aaron Rodgers paid off last week. He did not crumble under the pressure of his “inheritance” or the big game. He also showed class by not reminding every one of their lack of faith in him when he took Favre’s place as the field general of the Packers. He accepted the Super Bowl and MVP trophy with class. Lesson: Mental toughness and focus rule. Throw in a dose of humility, and you have a champion.

No one player is more important than the team. This is true in sports and just about any endeavor that requires a group for overall success. Brett Favre is a sure bet, first ballot hall of fame player, but unfortunately his last few seasons will be remembered for his selfishness. Putting himself and his ego above the team. Don’t get me wrong, the New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings are partly to blame. They let him get away with it. McCarthy and Thompson called his bluff after he had “unretired” on the Packers in 2007. His teams did not know who to draft, how to set up their offenses, and practice repetition was limited due to his showing up for training camp late. The Jets and the Vikings sacrificed long-term success for possible short-term outcomes. One player effected multiple decisions. Ultimately, the Packers moved on and they have the trophy and the ring. Lesson: Individual goals are important, but they have to match the overall team concept and mission.

Posted: February 12, 2011 in General

The Backpack

Posted: February 12, 2010 in Uncategorized

Got a message from a race fan who saw me walking into Daytona. They wanted to know what I had in my backpack that seemed so heavy. Well, that is a weekly routine at every race, and there is nothing much different in it each week. What does this JGR coach carry in his Oakley Kitchen Sink backpack to each race?

  • Apple MacBook Pro computer
  • iPod Touch loaded with my weekly movies/TV shows/audio books and my playlist of the week.
  • iPod Nano for motivating music pre race while I prep. Also great little video camera.
  • Robic Stopwatch
  • Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones
  • Muscle Milk Refuel Shot
  • Wicked Quick JGR rain jacket (if not wearing)
  • Rhodia legal pad (love their paper)
  • Racing Electronics Custom Racing Earmolds
  • Canon EOS 7D Camera
  • Belkin multi card reader
  • Oakley Juliet Jupiter LX and Oakley Jawbone sunglasses
  • Small bottle of disinfectant hand spray and mini-first aid meds.
  • Paleo nut mix for snacks
  • Pit crew rosters and contingency plans. Pitstall selection sheet/pit road penalty card.
  • Mechanix Wear winter gloves (until it warms up)
  • Spare socks and t-shirt to wear after getting soaked in victory lane!

It is a real treat watching me pack this. I use an app on my iPhone called MechCheck to make sure I don’t forget anything. And finally, the big payoff is burning more calories getting in and out of racetracks each week carrying it.