Academy Preview: Befriending Emotions

Pressure can make athletes better, or it can make them crumble. Similarly, a poignant occasion can distract an athlete, or it can make the athlete perform with great inspiration and creativity. Navy has to find inspiration and magic on what should be a very emotional Saturday afternoon in Annapolis.



In so many ways and on so many levels, the cauldron of competitive athletics tests the mind of the athlete even more than the body. Yes, the body must be physical enough to withstand punishment. Yes, the athlete must be skilled enough to outclass his opponent between the white lines. Yet, human beings are whole persons more than athletes. The person encompasses the athlete, not the other way around. An emotional, vulnerable, potentially distracted person inhabits a body. If the mind is not able to get the body to respond properly on gameday, the athlete doesn't shine through. Skills don't come to the surface. Physical prowess does not emerge in all its fullness.

A team that should win will instead lose.

The mind-body dualism that is so central to superior athletic performance will be the proper focus for the Navy Midshipmen this Saturday, Ken Niumatalolo's crew faces the South Alabama Jaguars in the home finale for the season and the Navy senior class. This is a day that will be drenched with emotion and packed with poignancy. It is precisely the kind of occasion in which a team can be distracted, pulled away from its main point of focus by the sweet sadness of saying goodbye to Annapolis football in a very real way. The hugs, the tears, the remembrances, the gratitude – all the gestures and feelings that are part of Senior Day for a college sports team – must be poured out. Yet, once the "pouring process" runs its course, a football game will need to be played and played well. The Midshipmen do not want to face a short week and a long trip to the West Coast with a 5-5 record and the very real possibility that they might not forge a winning season.

The Men of Ken must be all business once the ball is kicked off this Saturday against the school whose acronym is "USA."

Emotions need to work FOR this team, not against it. That will be Niumatalolo's main challenge during this week of practice.

Navy's quality on offense is shining through. The Midshipmen, after struggling against Duke and laboring at times against Pittsburgh, have found the sweet spot in recent weeks against Notre Dame and Hawaii. Keenan Reynolds needs to keep the triple-option freight train rolling against South Alabama so that this team can maintain the dream – and a very realistic one at that – of winning nine games in 2013. Navy lost to Western Kentucky because Reynolds was injured. It lost to Toledo for multiple reasons, but chiefly because of a missed extra point. The Midshipmen maxed out against Notre Dame but still came up a few plays short at the end. All of these "almost moments" were and are painful for this team, but if it can win the rest of its regular season games to reach 8-4 heading into a bowl, Navy will be seen as a team that achieved richly in 2013. That desire to be remembered as a special team is precisely what can turn Senior Day into an affirming moment – not a distracting one – for this band of brothers.

Army and Air Force have the week off. Navy has the service academy spotlight to itself. What a great time this is for the Midshipmen to show what they're made of. If they make emotions work in their favor, and if their mind-body dualism is precisely where it should be, they should head to San Jose with all the confidence in the world. Top Stories