Book Review: The Point After by Sean Conley

To improve as an athlete or coach, you don't just have to read sports psychology or self-help books. You can also read lighter books such as autobiographies and still soak in a lot of wisdom and inspiration. This is why I chose to read Sean Conley's autobiography, The Point After: How One Resilient Kicker Learned there was More to Life than the NFL.

In this book, Sean Conley tells his story of being a kid from a small town in Pennsylvania working his way to accomplish his dream of becoming an NFL kicker. Along his journey, he experiences a lot of high and low moments that shaped him to become the man he is today.

The best part about this book is that Conley is extremely relatable to the average athlete and person. This isn't an autobiography written from a legendary, Hall of Fame athlete. 99% of football fans probably have never even heard of Sean Conley before. But this doesn't make the book any less interesting or valuable. While reading this well-written, entertaining book, you'll find yourself empathizing with Sean and his family. Honestly, this may have been the first sports book that has made me cry.

Anyways, here are the top lessons I've learned from this book.

The psychology of kicking:
Throughout this book, Conley often shares his mental process of kicking field goals in games. As you can imagine, kicking field goals is mainly mental. In fact, I've realized that the psychology of kicking is very applicable to almost every sport. The need for quieting your mind, positive self-talk, laser focus, trusting your instincts, and bouncing back from mistakes is shared by all athletes. There's much you can learn about performance skills and mental toughness from this book.

The importance of perseverance:
The challenge of making it to the NFL is extremely difficult. As Conley writes in this book, only a fraction of 1% of high school football players make it to the NFL. The NFL is a cut-throat business with thousands of players competing for only a small number of open positions. So for any athlete with lofty goals, you must be prepared to face failure not just once, but many times. You will be overlooked. You will be doubted. You will be rejected. You will suffer from slumps and injuries. But throughout all this adversity, you must stay positive and persevere! If you're very passionate about your goals, then all the hard work and sacrifice will be worth it in the end! If you're currently facing adversity, you can gain a lot of encouragement and inspiration from reading about the struggles that Sean Conley overcame in his life.

The temptation to overtrain:
One of the most important lessons in this book is the need to prevent yourself from overtraining. Sean's biggest regret as an athlete was his tendency to obsessively overtrain. This overtraining eventually wore down his body and kept him from maintaining a career in the NFL. However, resisting the temptation to overtrain is easier said than done. As explained in this book, many athletes are faced with a dilemma. Either they overtrain to help maintain/improve their skills and keep their position on their team, or they give their body a necessary amount of rest and risk being passed by their competition and cut from their team. When faced with this dilemma, Sean Conley often chose to push through the pain because he was scared of being benched by his coaches. As athletes and coaches, we need to do a better job dealing with this dilemma. As athletes, we need to do what's best for our long-term health, which means we need to train smart and prioritize rest and recovery. And as coaches, we need to stop incentivising players to overtrain. Instead, we need to give players the assurance that we care about their overall well being and won't punish them for taking care of their bodies.

More than an athlete:
Perhaps the most important lesson from this book is the fact that we are more than just athletes. Our self-worth isn't dependent on our success in sports. In this book, Conley talks a lot about how his self-identity was based mainly on being an athlete, and how this both helped him and hurt him at times. Conley's athletic identity helped push him to reach his goals, because he saw himself as a football player and he wouldn't stop training until he reached his goals. This is a good thing, because as athletes, we need to be comfortable seeing ourselves as athletes. Truly believing you're an athlete can help give you the motivation to train harder. However, if taken too far, our athletic identities can hurt our mental health. If our self-identity and self-worth revolve around being a successful athlete, then we may not know who we are anymore once we fail or retire from sports, and this can greatly lower our self-esteem and happiness. This is why it's important to have a better perspective on life and realize that we are more than just athletes. We are humans, fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, and children of God! When we realize that there's more to life than just sports, we feel liberated and are able to live happy lives no matter how successful we are as athletes. Also, having a better perspective on life helps us perform better in games since it reduces pressure and allows us to play looser.

Supporting a family:
Lastly, I want to talk about what is one of the most important motivations for success and happiness in life. It is the motivation to support a family. In this book, Conley admits that he lived most of his life being a self-absorbed athlete, only worrying about his own goals in life. It wasn't until he had his first child that he began working hard for something greater than himself. Once he started a family, he realized he had a duty to support and provide for his children. This not only woke him up to the bigger picture of life, but it also provided him a ton of motivation to keep working towards his goals. At this point in his life, he knew he had to be even more disciplined. It didn't matter if he didn't feel like training hard. He had to suck it up and do it anyways to put food on the table. This motivation, when combined with all your other motivations in life, can greatly push you to succeed!

This lesson also reminds us that sports, while fun in themselves, are ultimately a means to a greater end. To make this point, Conley quotes Bill Parcells and says that deep down, athletes just want to "keep their jobs, make their money, and go home." However, just because sports aren't as important as family doesn't mean sports aren't important. In fact, sports are very important because they can help us support our families. Rather than reduce your passion for sports, this should make you even more passionate for sports, knowing they can help you be the best father or mother you can be. This book reminds you that your athletic life and your family life don't have to go against each other. With the right priorities and attitude, being a better athlete can make you a better person, and being a better person can make you a better athlete!

Overall, this is one of the best sports autobiographies that I've read. I highly recommend it to all athletes and coaches!