The Mental Games: Are You Winning or Losing?

TAGS: Arena Football League, wrestling coach, national suicide prevention line, Chris Janek, surgery, passion, iron game, mental toughness, football, Sports Training, rehab, strength training

I've been reflecting on the last four or five months and all the crap that happened to me. One major theme that constantly kept coming up in my head was, "Why me?" I've done everything correctly my entire life...or so I thought.

Thinking back to my first surgery, I remember being a little confused while signing papers and talking with the nurses and doctors. I was confused when they had me go over a page from the national suicide prevention line and where to go for help after surgery if I needed it. I instantly responded by asking, "Why would anyone need this after surgery?” They went on to explain that many patients need someone to talk to after surgery, as their emotions go up and down. I couldn't get it. How could someone be this "mentally weak?" I know that sounds horribly insensitive because it's a very delicate and sensitive subject.

What I went through was the hardest thing I've ever gone through. I can't imagine what patients with more serious issues go through and the feelings and emotions that they must have. Waking up after being put under for nine days and looking in the mirror was the single craziest thing I've ever seen with my own eyes. I literally didn't recognize myself! Some of this was the anesthesia and pain killers (morphine), but some of it was my brain attempting to figure out who this person was standing in the mirror looking back at me!

Everything got worse during the next few weeks in the hospital. I remember vividly calling my wife early in the morning and crying to her to pick me up because I felt like they were trying to kill me. Again, much of this was the drugs talking, but some of it wasn't. My mental toughness was being tested to the brink—mental game 1, Chris 0.

I grew up in a steel mill/blue collar town surrounded by many urban cities. You needed to be mentally and physically tough. I can remember my father picking me up from the arcade and kicking my ass because I had stepped down from a fight. I went to the arcade and was supposed to be meeting some friends. I walked in and some punk kid who was probably 50 pounds lighter than me but a lot older popped me in the face. I never even saw it coming. I had no idea what had just happened or why, but I took off right away and called my dad from the phone at the front.


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My dad showed up and looked like he was going to "f--k" this kid up. Instead, he grabbed me as if I were the kid. He got me into the car and screamed, “If you ever do that (back away from a punk) again, I (dad) will beat your ass and you (me) won’t have to worry about the other kid trying to fight you!” I feel that this was a turning point in my mental and physical toughness—Chris 1, mental game 1.

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Standing next to my dad

The following season, I went out for football and wrestling and started to lift weights. All three would become my passions. I ended up playing football from seventh grade until I was 32 years old, lifting weights from 13 years old until the present and wrestling from seventh grade through my senior year. For the short amount of time that I wrestled (six years), wrestling was the most influential thing that helped form my ‘mental toughness.’ My high school wrestling coach, Mike Garland, was the single toughest coach I've ever had. Looking back, I can say that he made everything else in life easier.

Every season, going out was a struggle because I knew how hard he made us work. Every other practice, it seemed like I literally wanted to quit because it was so tough. I can remember our Christmas present was a drink of water from the water fountain. There weren't any water breaks like there are now. He would be fired in this day and age. However, this is the era when I think things started to change for athletes. (See my article "New Era of Athletes.")

Thank God my dad wouldn't let me quit. We literally got in arguments about me not quitting. Little did I know then that my father was teaching me the right way to do things: "Be a man and never quit!" Today, most parents just say, “OK, quit. No big deal.” Well, sorry to say, it is a big deal. When shit gets tough, you must fight through it. Be mentally tough—Chris 2, mental game 1.

Looking back, going to college to play football at a high level Division I program was a phenomenal experience. Again, carrying over my mental toughness from high school was huge. While playing football in high school, in both my junior and senior year, we only won one game. That's right—only one game. Not quitting wrestling literally got me a full ride scholarship to a Division I school. (Thanks again, dad!)

Back to our high school record, you want to talk about being mentally tough? I literally lost my marbles after every game because we practiced, played and lost. I remember losing my final game on our home turf and crying so much and being so lost that I punched a hole in my wall at home. Anyone who has been through the recruiting process can and will understand that it's nuts and it pushed every emotion that I had. With our record being so poor and me not being signed yet, I had to be very mentally tough—mental game 2, Chris 2.

Now, let’s move on to lifting. Luckily, when I was very young, I took an interest in lifting. When I was around 12 years old, my father dropped me off at an old school, hard core gym called Hard Body. This was a great mental turning point for me. Picking up this hobby eventually became my passion.


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Randy Presswood was the owner at the time. I was fortunate enough to lift with him and others. They were a true meathead powerlifting crew. Learning the techniques and movements that they had me do literally took me from a chubby 12-year-old weighing around 160 pounds to a 275-pound meathead by my senior year. Lifting like this also had my mental game up. Add in wresting and football, two very physicals sports, and I didn't have to worry about much—Chris 3, mental game 2.

Training with the powerlifters had me a step ahead of most on the team in college, regardless of age, but the thing that killed me was that I didn't understand techniques or proper stunts. Here is where I met a person who would have a huge effect on me mentally—our defensive line coach. Looking back, he was the biggest douche bag. Knowing that a kid right out of high school or in college couldn't talk back or fight back made this guy the world’s biggest fake tough guy. He would, without a doubt, motherf*&k us if we made an error. I'm all for getting on an athlete if he messes up, but this guy was extreme. He would literally push/pull and cuss us out regularly. To this day, I'm still surprised that nobody filed a lawsuit against him. Most of the defensive line wanted to smack the crap out of him, but getting kicked off the team or suspended wasn't worth it. "Take it like a man" was the overall feeling. I can remember literally crying because this man had broken me down mentally.

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My beautiful wife and I after competing in the 2014 XPCs

Mentally, he challenged me more than anyone in my life. I learned a lot about myself during those few years. I see many athletes transferring to other schools, and I wonder if they could be getting mentally pushed like I was—Chris 3, mental game 3.

I know many of you reading this are thinking, “Janek's mental game is some pussy shit.” I disagree. My physical and mental strength allowed me to get paid to play sports after college. I had a tryout with the Cleveland Browns, but that didn't pan out. I was fortunate enough to get offered to play for the Milwaukee Mustangs of the Arena Football League. I ended up playing arena football for eight seasons. During this time, I had many coaches, teammates, trainers and sponsors (some great, some good and some bad). As an athlete making a living by playing a sport, your mental game is pushed constantly. In the off-season, you wonder "Am I working hard enough?" In the pre-season, you're thinking, "Am I ready?" During camp, you think, "Will I make the team?" During the season, you wonder, “Will I get traded? Will I have a job tomorrow? How will I feed my family?"

Looking back, I was fortunate enough that everything positive fell in line. However, going through the ringer was a different story. After my NFL dreams didn't come true, I signed a four-year deal for arena football. Mind you, this is different from what you see today. When I played, we had the National Football League Players Association as our union. We had full healthcare and a minimum wage of $35,000 a year with a maximum of $165,000 a year (I don't really know if there was a max; that was just what a quarterback made).

During my seasons in Columbus with the Destroyers, I was fortunate enough to have Chris Spielman as my head coach. You want to talk about mentally tough? Research Chris Spielman after you read this article. This man literally quit football in the NFL. He did this because his wife had cancer and he wanted to take care of her. I remember that Coach Spielman was always so intense. He constantly lifted with me and did his best to keep up even though he had injuries and wasn’t supposed to lift at all.

At our first home game, I remember him telling me to stand up while he gave us our pre-game speech. I thought, "Oh crap. He's going to tackle me or something." I tried to keep it cool mentally, and he simply grabbed my helmet and gave a warrior speech. I can't remember the entire speech though because I was just waiting for him to punch me or tackle me!

Back to the national suicide prevention line...looking back and seeing myself and the constant emotions that I was having in and out of the hospital, I now get why they offer this service. I feel that I'm very fortunate to have been through some tough, mental "stuff" in life because I was able to handle it. It's hard to explain unless you've been through it. While I was under, I vividly remember my wife telling me to keep fighting. Now mind you, I was sedated, and I wasn't supposed to hear or see a thing! I was able to repeat stuff that people were saying and doing that shouldn't have been possible while I was under. I truly believe that if I wasn’t mentally tough, I would've died! I remember praying over and over again, "Please God! Keep me alive! Please God! Forgive me for all I have sinned!" Mind you, the surgeon came to my family and told them that it wasn't looking good. My temperature was at 106 degrees Fahrenheit. I also had to be resuscitated.

No matter what has happened in your life or what does happen, don't let the mental game win! Final score as of now—Chris 3, mental game 3.


“I'm committed to using the newest techniques available in order to enable my clients to reach their highest competitive level. They must have the desire to do so.”

The word great speaks for itself: Growth, readiness, exercise, attitude and toughness.

Janek's Training Log 

 

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