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How to stand up and compete in today’s COVID-19 world

Riley Jensen’s 2020 Mental Leadership Conference brings words of wisdom from Stanford’s Lance Anderson, Weber State’s Randy Rahe, Dixie State’s Jon Judkins, others

Weber State Wildcats head coach Randy Rahe watches the action during the game against the Brigham Young Cougars at the Dee Events Center in Ogden on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018.

PROVO — Tough times bring out the best competitors. And this COVID-19 challenge is especially tough for athletes.

This is why I like the words of wisdom from these coaches who’ve seen trials with teams, of changing jobs, reestablishing themselves and redesigning careers and athletes. These quotes came from the 2020 Mindset Leadership Conference hosted by former Utah State, BYU and Snow College quarterback Riley Jensen, now a mental performance coach at Weber State.

Jensen decided to collect words of wisdom from coaches with Utah connections. Can you create mental toughness? His source was his cellphone directory. He began texting for contributions and they began to flow.

Here’s a sampling of words for tough times:

From Weber State head basketball coach Randy Rahe: “I tell kids the story of cows and buffaloes all the time. When a storm comes, a cow runs away from a storm. A buffalo always runs into the storm in hopes of conquering it. I tell our kids all the time we’ve got to be like the buffaloes, and lean into the storm.”

And, “We never really know how good we are until we get punched in the face. Or when we hit adversity. That’s going to tell the true character of our team. Everyone is going to go through it, you can’t avoid it.”

Rahe said the toughest person he’s ever been around was Damian Lillard. “His mental toughness was off the charts. He had a chip on his shoulder like no one else. The chip just keeps growing. In the NBA … it just keeps going with him. He absolutely never thinks he’s made it. He’s always looking for the next challenge.”

Rahe said of the COVID-19 challenge, “Be grateful and thankful. Right now it might be the smallest thing. So many people will be willing to help you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help mentally.”


Stanford defensive coordinator Lance Anderson talks during a news conference in Los Angeles, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015. Stanford is scheduled to play Iowa in the Rose Bowl NCAA college football game on New Year’s Day.
Richard Vogel, AP

Stanford University defensive coordinator Lance Anderson on if kids have changed over the years: “Yes. I approach things a little bit differently. Especially at the Division I level, kids have such high expectations. There are immediate rewards and gratification. Some are less willing to work and wait for the reward or results. Sometimes that can be challenging.”


Dixie State Head coach Jon Judkins complains about the calls with referees, Stanley Reynolds (left) and Chris Rastatter against Utah in the Huntsman Center at the University of Utah. Photo: Michael Brandy. January 9, 2008.
Michael Brandy

Dixie State University basketball coach Jon Judkins: “If you don’t make it your freshman or sophomore year, the worst thing you can do is quit. You just gotta work harder.”

Judkins on if mental toughness has changed: “Yes. There are things you can and can’t do now. You have to find what buttons will motivate. Some like to be challenged and some don’t. You have to find what each player responds to. … Your mind is a muscle. I really believe that. I asked Dr. Rich Gordin to send me relaxation tapes when I was playing in college. It’s not just a physical game, it will stretch you mentally.”


Weber State softball coach Mary Kay Amicone (center) cheers on her team during a game in 2016.
Robert Casey, Weber State Athletics

Weber State softball coach Mary Kay Amicone, the Big Sky Coach of the Year: “I think mental toughness really speaks to a person’s ability to get knocked down and realize what the next most important thing to do is. … It’s really how they adapt to failure.”

How does Amicone recruit mentally tough athletes? “Reading their body language after a strikeout. How they hold themselves, how they return to the dugout and their teammates.”

Mental toughness in being coached: “How players receive coaching says a lot to their confidence and their toughness to the feedback they receive.”


Derek Jones, associate head football coach at Texas Tech, on humility: “At some point in life we all have to grasp and realize that everything we go through in life has a conclusion. Every time something concludes, something begins. ... Sometimes I did things I wanted to do rather than what I had to do. I should have been more focused on being great, not good. It’s a maturity process.”

Advice to a young Derek: “I would have said to a 25-year-old me to think, like your 35. Some of the decisions I made back then I wasn’t making decisions with vision, I was making decisions with sight.”

On mental toughness: “Being able to sit and say ‘yes sir’ when you’re offended by something someone is saying to you, instead of trying to talk back and give an explanation.”

Wise words in worrisome times, indeed.