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Looking at Athletics, Pothole by Pothole : Philosophy: Consultant Jim Walsh warns of win-at-all-costs approach to sports in the United States.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jim Walsh has had a close-up view of the potholes that pit the road to athletic success. Heck, he’s plowed headlong into lots of them. But now the former San Jose State and Seattle Seahawk fullback is a sports consultant who has embarked on a mission aimed at enlightening today’s youth to those pitfalls.

Along the way, he hopes to spread a soothing balm of perspective on the win-at-all-costs wound he believes infects almost every level of athletics in the United States. And Walsh supports his points with a wealth of first-hand anecdotes, candid observations and outrageous opinions:

On the volatile combination of vulnerability and immaturity in professional athletes: “When your ego is involved, when your heart is on the line, you’re really exposed. And, in this regard, the majority of professional athletes are emotionally 15 years old. Look at Jose Canseco or Roger Clemens. Then look at the state of sport in our society. Clemens can go punch a cop in the face, but he can throw the ball, so they give him $5 million a year.”

On his introduction to professional football: “My locker was right next to Conrad Dobler. The guy’s smoking four cigarettes, he’s got screws sticking out of his helmet, tacks sticking out of his shoulder pads and shin guards on his calves so he can leg whip better. I thought, ‘God, what have I gotten into?’ ”

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On the cattle-call atmosphere of scouting combines: “All their testing procedures are punitive. It’s, ‘Let’s stick a needle in your arm to see if you’re on drugs. Let’s time you to see how slow you really are.’ And then they give you one of these (psychological screening) profiles, but they keep it. They won’t even show it to you. Who really needs the results? Management or player?”

On the academic privileges afforded athletes: “What a joke! My senior year at San Jose State, I had one professor who said, ‘Jim, you’re not going to get away with it. You’re going to do all of this.’ I spent 40 hours a week in the library. The first week I hated it. The second week I couldn’t wait to get there. The third week I thought, ‘Boy, did I get ripped off.’ ”

On the failures of most youth training programs: “I had five surgeries before I was 20 because I listened to people who were telling me, ‘Never quit; get stronger.’ I could bench press 460 pounds, squat 660 pounds and run a 4.5 40. But it didn’t make me a better player. It made me a strong guy who could run. And it blew my body apart. Most people train by doing 98% of things like running stadium steps and 2% rehearsing the actual activity they’ll be involved with. Of course you’re going to get hurt. Rehearsing those movements means your body is acclimated and reduces the propensity for injury. Lawrence Taylor won’t lift a weight. The best athletes in America aren’t training this way, but our kids are. The high schools have a ‘they-do-it-at-Nebraska, so-we’ve-got-to-do-it-here’ philosophy. There’s a lot of illogical training going on.”

On the role of a coach: “A coach is nothing more than a teacher. It doesn’t mean you’re omnipotent. Coaches have varying talents at imparting knowledge, but if you rely only on what a coach tells you, you’re going to get beat. Most players learn the important lessons from other players.”

On the misrepresentation of football as a sport and its effect on the players: “Football is a beautiful sport. Sure, it’s highly combative, but it’s more like a martial art than the sort of out-of-control hysteria that it’s portrayed as. When I covered kicks in the NFL, I used to hate the guys who called us kamikazes or psychos. It takes a tremendous amount of innate ability and finesse, not just courage, to cover kicks. And you keep telling a guy that he’s nuts, he’s crazy and a psycho and then you tell him to go home.”

On the resistance to sports psychology programs: “There’s fear among coaches. They say, ‘Hey, why are you checking under my hood? I’m OK.’ The person who needs the program is the participant. But the person who makes the decision about making a program available is a guy with budgetary constraints who’s thinking, ‘We gotta get chin straps, helmets, bus scheduling, a team mom and, of course, Nike pump-me-up shoes.’ And we’ve forgotten that what goes in the shoes is more important than what he or she is wearing.”

On the hope for the future: “I think there’s an increasing awareness of this epidemic in sport. There’s a new wave of parents who have seen or been through this madness. It’s not fun anymore. It’s all performance and no play. There is an increasingly strong voice saying, ‘Let’s get some balance in here.’ ”


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