Why the Autumn wind is a Raider

Psychology + the False Start

You won't believe this, but I used to love football. I haven't watched a game since September of 2016 when taking a knee in peaceful protest suddenly cost one of the best players in the league his job. Hindsight is 2020, or at least it should be in this case. We love you Kaep. And THANK YOU. But before that, in the early 2000's at the then height of the former Oakland Raiders, I was a season ticket holder. Yes, you heard right. Jersey, hat, tailgate, coming home hoarse from screaming obscenities at the opposing team. All the things you are imagining right now about an Oakland Raiders fan, yep, 100% me. It was big time fun. Until it wasn't.

After the few incredible years and agonizing losses the Raiders suffered in the early 2000's things began to slow down. The Raiders had taken the losses hard. They were awarded the second overall draft pick in 2004 signaling that they had a rough 2003 season. Here's a hint, the team with the overall worst record is awarded the first draft pick the following year. It's meant to level the playing field. It usually doesn't but it gives fans something to hold onto after a brutal season.

The Raiders first round pick that year was Offensive Lineman Robert Gallery. He ended up playing for the Raiders from 2004-2010 mostly at the position of Right Tackle as number 76. I'm not sure if it was my own heartache after the 2000 season and subsequent Super Bowl loss but I became a little obsessed with tracking penalties. The Raiders were notorious for them and for essentially getting in their own way. All the time. As a Right Tackle on the offensive line, Gallery's main objective was to protect the quarterback and prevent sacks at all costs but it seemed like in 2004 every two minutes number 76 was being charged with a False Start. To be clear, that year Robert Gallery was charged with a total of 6 false starts and a career total of 26 false starts during his time in Oakland. Not super awful, but enough to be annoying.

A false start is an interesting penalty in football. According to the National Football League, a penalty is a "False Start if the ball has been placed ready for play, and, prior to the snap, an offensive player who has assumed a set position charges or moves in such a way as to simulate the start of a play, or if an offensive player who is in motion makes a sudden movement toward the line of scrimmage. Any quick abrupt movement by a single offensive player, or by several offensive players in unison, which simulates the start of the snap, is a false start." Now that either made sense to you or not, but all it really means is that a false start is when a player moves before they are supposed to. Football is an exciting game and players are in a fight or flight response of excitement and survival. Cortisol and adrenaline are running high. It's not hard to imagine being in a cat-like state of readiness and jumping the gun. It happens. But what is unique about a false start over other penalties is this, a false start deadens play. Completely. The team responsible is given a 5 yard penalty, but things start from the beginning all over again. Back to the line of scrimmage, back to the snap. Here we go. Now 5 yards can either make a big difference or a small difference. Football might be played in yards, but in reality it is a game of inches. Small movements, big movements. As long as you make it to the end zone, both work. But the important thing here is that a false start stops play and starts it all over again. In a sense, the false start gives players mastery over time.

Is it possible that Robert Gallery had figured out a loophole in the time space continuum. Sure, let's say yes. Why not give that to Robert Gallery. Here ya go number 76. Have at it science nerd.

So why is this all relevant? Well, as you've probably learned, I like to talk a lot about the power of stopping time when it comes to changing the way we think and behave. There's something really magical about taking a time out, or in this case a false start. Also, I like the language. While a false start is technically a penalty, in my mind it's super worth it. Maybe this is what Gallery understood that I failed to grasp. He was in it. He was out there to play. Seems like you might as well be ready. Worse comes to worse you jump the gun, but you are out there with enthusiasm ready to go. If you step too far or move too quickly. Lose your footing, well, then it's a false start. Everyone stops. Everyone starts and everyone resumes play together. It's a start with the promise of starting all over again. Together. See the magic now?

Also, it's important to note that a timeout in football is different from a false start. A time out is strategic. The players run off the field, some stay, coaches yell, plans are made. When a player calls a time out, it's signaled from the sidelines and is 100% about strategy and harnessing control of the momentum of the game. With a time out, there is a clear next step. A plan. Not so much with a false start. But here's why Gallery was a genius, at least a behavioral genius. Perhaps he was unknowingly better at psychology than football. Again, this is why I find psychology 100% hilarious. Gallery was essentially taking the first step in changing the trajectory of a moment. We can think of this moment as a conversation, an argument, or in his case, the momentum on the field. A false start may yield a 5 yard penalty, much like many missteps in life. Two steps forward, one step back. But it is also the first step to stopping time. And that can be really really hard. Stopping time and trying to change the way we respond and behave can often feel like a penalty. We are working so hard and sometimes it takes like 500 false starts before our actions can yield the well thought rehearsed strategy of a time out. But in those few moments of a false start, we still stop time. And that's super important. Perhaps we lack the strategy. Maybe we don't yet have a plan. Perhaps all we can do is recognize the moment as being in opposition to how we wished things had started. So we call it. There's a flag on the play. False start Oakland, number 76 - 5 yard penalty. And everything starts over.

Here's the really cool part, sooner or later all the false starts yield the quality of a time out. Maybe not the next time, maybe not the 200th time, but eventually if we are willing to risk the 5 yard penalty, the false start yields results. If nothing else, it provides the opportunity to hit the field with the chance to conquer again. And just maybe we do a little better than we did the last time. Psychology is full of false starts. Flags on the play. And yes, 5 yard penalties. But all those really mean is that you are on the field. Out there, suited up and ready to play. Doing the work. Sitting on the sidelines won't get you any penalties, but it also won't win you any championships.

So perhaps psychology is a lot like a false start. To change, you just need to be willing to trust that at some point you'll figure out how to advance down the field with fewer penalties.

That, and yes, the autumn wind is most definitely a raider.

Thank you for being here.

Listen tO this episode of JOY IS NOW here. 

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