While football, or any athletic sport, has a strong physical component to it, and generally, the more athletic you are, the better off you’ll be, there is also a strong mental component. That is especially true in a game like football that requires so much strategy and planning, studying, memorization, recognition, and so on.
But all sports also require a significant emotional component as well, both positively and negatively. Being able to effectively harness your emotions to take you where you need to be to excel, to display that cognitive maturity, is another facet of the great athlete that can be overlooked.
One of the clichés of sports—that is a cliché for good reason, because it’s important—that best summarizes the importance of possessing emotional maturity is the idea of ‘having a short memory’. Basically, the idea that you don’t get too excited about making a great play, or too down on yourself for a failure. Why? Because the next play is coming right up, and the last one is gone already.
“I think it’s so important, especially at every level of sports, to have a short memory”, Watt recently told a USA Today affiliate in Wisconsin. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a great play; it doesn’t matter if it’s a bad play. You have to move on”.
“And I think that’s so important in life, too, because you can be humbled so quickly, especially in the NFL”, he went on. “If I make a sack on one play, I can get pancaked on the next play, and the play before doesn’t mean anything. So I think it’s very important to realize that we’re all human, we make mistakes, but always be eager to learn and try to get better”.
You can bet that exact scenario has happened to Watt before. If you get enough sacks, it’s bound to happen to anybody. And it can be a helpful reminder that you are only as good, at some level, as your last play says you are. Or as your next play.
One thing the Steelers defense has long done a good job of has been to keep everybody focused on putting the effort in on every play. This is driven largely by certain players like Cameron Heyward, and now Watt, who are tone setters. When you see a 300-pound lineman chasing down plays 20 yards down the field, you know as a cornerback that you can’t take a play off.
Of course having a short memory is an expression, and not meant literally. Memory is actually critical to success. Remembering how your opponent beat you earlier in the game will help lead you to figuring out how to beat them as the game wears on.
What Watt was getting at is having composure, or as Mike Tomlin would say, not riding the emotional rollercoaster. Of course you get your emotions out, but then you move on and reset for the next play, only channeling that energy into making you better, not distracting you.