It’s a long and tough road to get to the NFL for most players, but it might be an even more difficult task to get yourself mentally and physically “Ready To Play” in the NFL week in and week out. As we work our way towards the start of the NFL season, we’re speaking with a different NFL player each week and getting a first-hand account from them on how they get themselves ready for all of the rigors that come with competing at the NFL level. Here’s Detroit Lions safety Alex Carter discussing how he gets “Ready To Play”.
The biggest difference, I’ve found, between the college level and the NFL in terms of training is just how much of the training falls on you to do. At the college level, you have a lot of the coaches on you in the offseason to push you to do a whole bunch of the workouts.
At the pro level, because we have so much free time where no one is telling us what to do, it’s really on the player to take ownership of his training and to push himself in the offseason. There’s a lot more responsibility on the players themselves in the NFL. For me, I know my body and know what I need, so I told my personal trainer back home what I thought I needed to improve on and he came up with a plan for us to attack these different problems that I was having.
The other big thing that I’ve learned in the NFL is that taking time off after the season is important for your body to be able to recover. This past year, since I left early from school to enter the NFL, I went back to Stanford and took classes after the season ended. That gave me a solid month where I wasn’t working out and was resting my body while attending classes. That’s really key because not only does it allow you to get your physical health back, but it also allows you to get your mind right. It allows you to get some distance from the game so you can come back feeling rejuvenated.
Once I got back to training and really picking it up in mid-March, I got into my training program that my coach designed with me for this offseason. As a safety, strength is obviously important as I’m taking on guys that are usually bigger than me, so I need to be able to get them to the ground, but I also worked a lot on my hip movement and fluidity and getting that explosive power to fully take on somebody or close on a play quickly. The final thing that pretty much every defensive back always works on is footwork.
To improve in those areas, my coach brought a variety of different tools to our training sessions to try and maximize my growth. One worked on my reaction time using different lights that would flash on and you had to touch it as fast as you could before getting back to the start position and then reacting to the next light that popped up. Then, we would pull out the resistance bands and work on strength and explosive movement with those.
We even got in the sand and worked out there. I worked out in the sand a couple times during the offseason and that really increases endurance and strength in your lower body. Starting the training regimen when we did really allowed me to be feeling my best come April when we reported to camps.
The other important element for any player at any level of football is learning the playbook and scheme that you’re in. For me, the best way to learn the system was to write down all of the plays on flash cards in the spring and then keep them with me in the down time over the summer to study them that way. One other thing that my coach actually did for us this offseason was he got these checkers pieces and wrote all of the positions on offense and defense on them. Then we would play football checkers essentially, so that I could understand the schemes and the run fits. It was a great mental exercise that we would do every morning before meetings.
In terms of nutrition I just recently this offseason got more into clean eating because I started to understand that my body is my job. In order to perform at my best, I need to be putting the right things in my body.
So, now, I’ll usually start my days with a kale-pineapple smoothie, that I then add my various nutrients to. With that, I’ll have an egg white omelet for breakfast in the morning to get things started off right. At lunch, I’ll usually go with chicken or a chicken sandwich; something that is light, but will also refill me in the middle of the day. Finally, for dinner, I make sure to get my vegetables in then along with whatever they have prepared for us at the team facility. Usually it’s steak or chicken or something along those lines so that I have a pretty balanced meal.
The final aspect of being ready to play, of course, is music to get you ready for the game or workout. I know a lot of guys like to have that hype, high-energy music to get them ready, but for me it’s more about getting in a zone. I feel like that’s more productive for my game play. So, instead of just getting hype and going crazy, I like hip-hop and some R&B before a game, something that will almost calm my energy so that I can control it better. Right now, I’ve actually been getting a little bit into 21 Savage, because I just like his tone and I like the way that he raps. It could be him, it could be Kendrick [Lamar], anything in that kind of category. That said, I have a pretty wide range of different types of music and artists that get me locked into that zone.