Tressel’s game plan for sports and life includes GodWritten by Chris Schmidbauer | | firstname.lastname@example.org
As the soft morning light turns to dawn in central Ohio, Jim Tressel is where he always is — already at his desk preparing for a day’s work.
Tressel has been on quite an odyssey since his life dramatically changed almost a decade ago.
Despite all the hustle and bustle that follows The Ohio State University football coach, there is one thing that has not changed: Tressel still spends his early morning hours, reaching not for his Ohio State playbook but for God’s playbook.
“It is healthy to start your day by giving thanks for your blessings,” Tressel said. “It’s important to start each day with the right things in the front of your mind. Sometimes we wake up with all of our problems and burdens already consuming us. The devotion works in kind of the way an air conditioner freshens a room. The thoughts and reflection time refreshes our minds.”
Tressel believes in the practice so strongly that he requires his players spend time in prayer and reflection every morning during the team’s annual preseason camp. Before the Buckeyes’ thoughts even turn to the pigskin, Tressel, his staff and his team engage in this daily ritual.
“Each morning, we ask our guys to reflect on one thing that they are thankful for. They can read, meditate or spend time in prayer. It is something that we are trying to be disciplined in doing to start our day. To me, the way you begin anything, whether it be a game or your day, is very important.”
The Buckeyes’ daily reflection is just one example of the culture and attitude that Tressel and his staff have worked hard to instill in young men since he was hired as Ohio State’s head football coach prior to the 2001 season.
While success on the football field is very important to Tressel and his team, the ninth-year head coach reminds his players that football is just one part of the experience.
“This is a very important time in our players’ lives. I feel it just as important to help these players grow totally as a person, as well as a football player. It’s neat to watch that journey they go through and watch our young men grow.”
A farmer’s faith
As a young boy growing up in Berea, Ohio, Tressel’s understanding of a higher power was like most children. He was religious and went through the motions of attending Sunday services with his family, yet he never quite grasped the concept of faith and an omnipotent being.
“My faith was not shaped because of things that were from a more traditional setting. They were not things that I had been doing since I was 5 or anything like that. My faith grew from impressions that others made upon me as I grew up.”
It was the head coach’s grandfather, Lee, who had a significant impact on the young Tressel. His grandfather was a farmer in Ada, Ohio, and it was his daily routines that impressed upon the boy how faith can sustain someone, even during life’s most difficult moments.
“He did the same thing every day. My grandfather got up and the first thing he did was milk the cows. He would finish all of his chores, have dinner and for the rest of the evening, his nose would be in his Bible. He was the one person that I took the most notice of as a kid.”
His grandfather’s home also served as the town’s place of worship during those days.
“He would have meetings because they didn’t have a church. He held the worship services at his house.”
Lee worked until his death at the age of 87 and the devout farmer ended his life in the same fashion he ended his days.
“He had been living alone for a while because my grandma had passed away about 20 years before he did. My aunt came over to check in on him and she found him in his chair with the Bible open in his lap. The book was opened to Psalm 23, and he was not living anymore. He was just at peace.”
His grandfather’s life and subsequent death left a lasting mark.
“He had a tougher job than I do. When you farm, you are at the mercy of many things. When the heavy rains come or the droughts hit, the farmers have nothing. They can’t control any of those things. For him to be buoyed by his faith as much as he was has just always stayed with me through the years.”
A life-changing event
While playing football at Berea High School, Tressel was given the opportunity to attend a Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) camp.
“If my coach had not asked me to go, I probably would not have gone. But when my coach asked me to do something, I said, ‘Yes sir!’ and did it.”
Little did he know that it would be a defining moment in his life.
“The camp gave me so many of the tools that I still use today in my religious faith. It is where I learned the concept of quiet reflection time. It also taught me about the importance of fellowship in faith.”
Ever since the camp, Tressel has been hooked on FCA’s message, and he does whatever he can for the organization.
“Sports was the carrot that got me to bite and got me interested in going to the camp. With the interest people have in sports and the public forum that athletes and coaches have, it has grown into one of the largest ministries in the world. It’s not any better than many of the other programs and paths out there, but this organization speaks to that person who is a sports junkie like me.”
More than just football
Since he first set foot in Columbus, Jim Tressel has strived to provide his players a fulfilling and complete college experience that will reach beyond the gridiron.
It is that goal that has driven the head coach and his staff to incorporate life lessons to complement the lessons learned on the football field.
The ideals he works to instill are not radical, but they are sometimes a foreign concept to athletes who are worshipped more for their triumphs on the field instead of those off it.
“This thing is bigger than just football. As I listen and learn what is important to our players, so many of them want to search and develop their faith and they want to learn about the world that surrounds them. They want to learn things like ‘who am I?’ and ‘what does life mean to me?’ I have a responsibility to them to help them with that journey.”
Along with quiet time, Tressel has instituted other things that have become part of the college football experience at Ohio State. The head coach enlists the aid of a diagram that is plastered all over the walls of the team’s football complex called The Block O Life.
The Block O Life is something that Tressel brought with him from his days as the head coach at Youngstown State University.
Tressel uses Ohio State’s trademarked block O to emphasize what he sees as the six essential keys to leading a successful life. The sections are split into personal/family goals, spiritual/moral goals, caring/giving goals, strength/fitness goals, football family goals and academic/career goals.
Tressel accompanies the Block O Life with his Winner’s Manual. The Winner’s Manual is a 460-page binder that each Buckeye receives upon arrival at the team’s preseason camp.
The manual covers everything from mealtimes to the team’s alcohol and drug abuse policy. The bulk of the manual focuses on the six core fundamentals that Tressel tries to instill in his young players.
Each one of the six sections is peppered with inspirational quotes and goal building sheets that help to illustrate the importance of each. The manual is so popular that Tressel published a revised addition for public sale in 2008.
“We let them know in recruiting. We tell them that it is more than just playing football if they come here.”
Tressel also has tried to instill a sense of pride in their adopted community. The football players take part in many different functions that focus on giving back to the citizens of central Ohio.
“We are always telling them that all of us in the program are very fortunate. Whether you get to play at Ohio State or coach at Ohio State, you are blessed. With those blessings, we feel that we have a responsibility to share, help, and give back to others.”
The players, coaches and support staff make visits to hospitals, read to schoolchildren to promote literacy and spend time with veterans all in the name of serving their God and others.
“It is all intertwined to me,” Tressel said. “Your spiritual life, your duty to your family and your duty to your community are all linked together, and in my opinion they go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one of those without the other.”
Tressel welcomes many different points of view on faith and religion and believes it adds to the overall experience his football program provides the players.
“We feel that we try to achieve unity in diversity. To me that is what college is about. These kids leave their hometown and they experience people with different points of view and different backgrounds. The fun part is watching those different viewpoints mold them into one cohesive unit here.”
A person’s road of self discovery often takes place during college years and Tressel works tirelessly to help each of his players on each of their own unique personal journeys.
“The age range of 18 to 22 is when I think most kids are questioning who they are and what they believe in. This is the time that they can test their life plans. I get to help them learn and grow from their successes and failures. They tweak their goals and plans as they learn about life. It really is a neat process to be a part of.”
A little perspective
It has been a whirlwind adventure since Tressel became the 22nd head coach to take the reins of the Ohio State football program.
The 57-year-old uses his faith to keep football in its proper place.
“The harder I have worked on my faith and the more attentive I have been to it, it has helped me improve as a husband, a father and as a coach. Without it, I would have been consumed in that spiral where all I thought about is how things affect me. It has given me some perspective on life,” Tressel said.
Tressel, for his part, tries to keep a steady pace regardless of outcome of the contests played on Saturday.
“The things in life beyond football are so important that I don’t always see and feel the highs and lows that accompany a win or a loss. I know if we don’t win games and beat Michigan that we are going to be fired. But the world won’t end if we don’t win every game, and life will go on. It is disappointing when you lose, but compared to other hardships, it doesn’t really stack up.
“Faith bridges that gap and it helps you deal with the good and the bad life has to offer. Football, wins and losses can’t do that.”
Perhaps, there has been no time where the criticism has been greater. Despite posting a 10-2 record this season, claiming a fifth-straight Big Ten championship and earning a trip to the Rose Bowl, fans and critics of the program believed the Buckeyes still could have done better in 2009.
Tressel keeps his priorities in order.
“The most important game that I take part in is the game of life, and the greatest challenge I face is fostering a deeper relationship with God,” he said. “That is not to belittle what I do here, because I still spend 18 hours a day on football. But the thing that means the most to me is growing as a person in my faith.”