Questioning the title of this post? Wondering where music and football meet? Training to become an elite musician and training to become an elite athlete are shockingly similar- they both require detailed, consistent practice and developing elite physical tools. Where the athlete is training the large (running, jumping) the musician must train the small (movements of the fingers, of the arms, of the lips, of the tongue), but they are fundamentally the same, requiring strength, endurance, accuracy, awareness, fluidity. Musicians are often called the "athletes of the minute". And how do I know this? Because I am a trained professional musician.
But what about Tim Tebow? What does any of this happen to do with him? Follow me after the break and I'll show how my path to success paralleled Tim Tebow's every step of the way...The year was 2000- I had just begun my freshman year at the Eastman School of Music (one of the top music conservatories in the US), and I was handed the world. As an incoming freshman, I auditioned for and won the principal chair cello spot (the highest place for a cellist in an orchestra) in the highest orchestra (of 3) at the Eastman School- to put this in perspective, there were only 4 non-junior/ seniors/ graduate students in the entire orchestra of 100. I was in demand for chamber groups, for outside engagements. I was on top of the world.
But my teacher (an amazing cellist, and a supremely gifted musician) would have none of it. He pointed out repeatedly that I was succeeding despite, not because, of my physical tools. He would scold me, and tell me the story of my audition for Eastman- that when he closed his eyes he heard music, but when he opened them he saw a mess. A hot mess. He, and the other faculty, were borderline amazed that I could perform as I did, with the physical tools at my disposal. Which is why they awarded me a scholarship. But he knew, and kept repeating, that my physical skills were at an incredible deficit to my musical talent. And I would never be a successful cellist, no matter how many student honors I won. Not until I took the time to really refine my physical craft, to become as good of a technical cellist as I was a natural musician.
Does this sound familiar to anyone?
Of course, I was an arrogant little punk, and heard nothing he said. I was too busy reveling in my student successes, enjoying my status as a "badass" and making music, to worry about the physical craft of the cello. After all, I was already succeeding, right? How hard could it be to take it to the next level? Everyone enjoyed my performing, and that's what counts right?
I wasn't even done with school before I had my first injury. Tendonitis is an insipid injury, slipping in quietly without notice. Until you can't even open a doorknob, or carry a plate. I was lucky they let me graduate from Eastman- I had to stop during my senior recital and take a 10 minute break just to be able to make it through the concert. Not to mention having to drop out of orchestra. I'll spare the long version of my injury history, but it took 4 years medical attention, physical therapy, rehab, and constant searching before I found a craft to bring me back to health. But that isn't even the point.
Because even if I had been healthy, I wouldn't have been successful without seriously rebuilding my physical tools. As a student, people are willing to look past small inaccuracies to hear music being made. But as a professional musician, especially in the incredibly competitive field of classical music, small inaccuracies are everything. Try walking into an orchestral audition (as a faceless entity behind a screen), asked to play the hardest bits of repertoire from the whole history of orchestral music, and explain away "small inaccuracies"- all the charisma and performing chops in the world won't matter if you can't play perfectly in tune with the people around you. As a soloist, will people pay to see your concert if you have a habit of making small mistakes? Even if they enjoy the music, they will remember the mistakes. You're not a student anymore. And they paid full price.
So how again does this relate to Tim Tebow? I see myself in Tim Tebow every time he drops back to pass. Just as I am a natural musician, Tim Tebow is a natural football player. He makes plays happen, he wins football games. Even as his technical craft lags behind his talent, people still want to see him play. He is charismatic, and a leader. He has had tremendous success on the student level. And he is a hot mess of a technical quarterback.
Why do Elway and company keep dumping on him, taking away his chances to star? For the same reason my teacher forbade me to enter any competitions after my first year at Eastman- he needs to complete his technical teardown, and then master his physical craft. The work needed to overhaul and refine physical tools cannot be done while also performing on a high level. There is tremendous truth to the statement that you must get worse in order to get better- at least when it comes to dramatically changing lifelong physical habits. How long do you think Tim Tebow threw the football his old way? 10 years, 15? You think it is easy to unlearn a lifetime of bad habits, and then learn a whole new set? I was a much worse cellist when I finally decided to overhaul my technique- and this lasted for some time. I hated the way I sounded, and I turned down performing opportunities. I even lost faith that I would really get better few times along the road. But in the end, I became a much better, stronger, and healthier cellist for having undergone this physical transformation- and when the tipping point came, I could not have been more joyful and grateful. But it took a good long while.
So why do certain football players succeed when they are thrown into the fire? Because theirs is a case of refining existing physical tools, not tearing down the old and building from scratch. Philip Rivers throwing motion is odd, but it has never lacked for accuracy (and he sat for years). Certainly Sam Bradford and Ben Roethlisburger needed no tear-down jobs- they throw the same way they did in college. Same with Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, etc. Look at any successful quarterback, and you will see someone whose mechanics do not interrupt their accuracy. The same cannot be said of Tim Tebow. It is a testament to his tremendous football talent and drive that he has succeeded despite, not because, of his physical tools. But the day has come when that will no longer be the case. And even if he were to succeed in the NFL with his college mechanics, would he be maximizing his potential as a QB? Someone with his gifts, and with a truly refined physical engine, could be one of the greatest football players we have seen. But first he has to get worse, in order to get better.
This is what has been happening. Imagine the Tim Tebow we know, but with the accuracy of Peyton Manning, or of Tom Brady. It is not impossible by any means. Just as years of changing physical habits, followed by refining those new habits with practice and technical work allowed my to master my intonation (which is the same thing as saying left-hand accuracy) Tim Tebow can greatly improve his accuracy. But first he has to tear down and rebuild, much as I did several years ago. It is not a fun process, and you have to get worse before you get better. But he is being given every chance to do this, and for that I am thankful to John Elway. Because Elway saw this process unfolding and realized he had to give Tim Tebow the chance to become the best QB he can be. And he happened to have an Orton, to give him a little more time.
So this is what I see from the Broncos right now- an organization that has realized both the potential, and the work required, for Tim Tebow to maximize himself. And they have realized that the only way to do this to allow him the time to focus entirely on his physical craft. People may question the wisdom of having spent a 1st round pick to acquire a quarterback who would need this type of rebuilding. Maybe they asked the same questions when I was given a scholarship to Eastman. But for his potential it is worth spending- and waiting. Even if he could succeed this season, I truly believe he'll have more success if he is allowed to complete his physical transformation. And once the tipping point is reached- once it becomes a matter of repetition and refinement, rather than reformation- watch out. Then we'll see what Tim Tebow can do. And I can't wait for that day- even though we all should.