Johnny Manziel, aka “Johnny Football,” became the first freshman ever to win the Heisman trophy on when he edged out the competition for college football’s top award on Saturday. It goes without saying what an incredible feat this is when you consider all the great college football players before Manziel who did not win as freshmen — including great players like Michael Vick, Herschel Walker, and Adrian Peterson. Still, Manziel’s greatest challenge might be “what happens next,” as the pressure he will face in the coming years will in all likelihood be nothing we have ever witnessed before.
Aside from being the youngest Heisman winner, Manziel will be challenged by the 24/7 omnipresent social media that includes Facebook, Twitter, and anonymous forums & chat rooms. With all eyes on Johnny Football, you can expect fans nationwide looking to snap a picture or grab video of Manziel – especially anything that appears to be controversial, scandalous, immoral, or illegal. And that’s just what he will face from the fans! Just think about how aggressive the media will be from this point forward — this kid won’t be able to take a shower without someone jamming a microphone in his face.
From a sport psychology perspective, there are a couple things Johnny Football will need to do in order to minimize future pressure while at the same time continuing to improve his on-field football success. This kid is going to need some serious mental toughness, which will likely include:
- Making key cognitive appraisals. In other words, just because he won the Heisman as a freshman does not necessarily mean he is destined for future failure or bad luck – nor does it mean he will automatically win again next year. Manziel will need to do what it appeared that he did this year – play one play at a time, don’t get caught up in the hype, and focus on the things he controls.
- Keep a clean schedule. As if time management weren’t already important to Manziel as a DI college student athlete, his time demands will be even greater from this point moving forward. As I already mentioned, he is going to be the #1 target of every sports media person in the country, making the value on his schedule that much more important. Proactively keeping a balanced schedule between school, football, and social time will be a real challenge, but it’s also necessary if he wants to build off of his spectacular freshman season.
- Learn effective coping. When Manziel has a bad game from this point moving forward, you better believe the world is going to know about it. What might not have even made the news a few weeks ago will now be amplified, compounded, and talked about until the cows come home. Consequently, Manziel will need to develop his coping abilities so that he gets mental breaks from football in healthy and effective ways.
- Live up to role model status. Already a role model as a QB playing college football, the expectations will be even greater for Manziel in the future (fair or not). While we know it’s impossible for this young man to lead a perfect life, that’s kind of what society will expect of him now.
Here’s hoping Johnny Football gives us a couple more years of terrific football in the years ahead – and congrats on being the first freshman ever to win a Heisman – what a feat!