How do athletes deal with the enormous mental pressure? Ex-football professional Sebastian Vollmer knows the NFL very well – and gives insights into the billion-dollar business in an interview.
Sebastian Vollmer is the most successful German football professional in history. The ex-professional won the Super Bowl twice in the NFL.
In an interview with the German Press Agency, the 37-year-old talks about the favorites, the prospects for German professionals and why his former sport in the USA is an “insane” business before the start of the season.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys open the new NFL season. Do you trust Tom Brady to win the title again?
Sebastian Vollmer: Absolutely. Knowing Tom well, I know that his team will now be even better than last season. Back then everything was new, the squad a bit thrown together. Now they have played together for a year and found each other. In addition, all important players could be held. The title gave extra confidence. For me, the Buccaneers and Kansas City are big favorites.
Brady is now 44 years old. How does he manage to be so constant at this top level even at this age?
Vollmer: First and foremost is his huge, God-given talent. He’s a millennial talent that didn’t exist in this sport before. But he also invests an incredible amount – in his fitness, his health, his diet. For years he has had to hear that his performance would decline at some point. Instead, it gets better and better or at least keeps its level. His game lives mainly from his intelligence and that doesn’t get lost in old age. Tom once said: “If you want to hit me, you have to give up your family and everything else.” There is something to it. He does that himself too.
How good is each year he still plays for the whole NFL?
Vollmer: Every year that Tom is still there is a year won for the league. I always say: love or hate him. But I also advise everyone: Realize what kind of player this is. At some point there will always come a time when the Michael Jordans or Tiger Woods of this world are no longer playing. And then later you realize: Oh, no one else actually came close. That is why one should enjoy these performances that certain athletes bring, whenever possible. Because maybe you will never see her in this form again.
What about the German players in the new NFL season? What roles do you trust Jakob Johnson with the New England Patriots and Amon-Ra St. Brown with the Detroit Lions?
Vollmer: Jakob is a special player who fulfills the requirements of a fullback well and has done an excellent job with the Patriots so far. In addition, his team has an injury problem in the tight-end position. He has already said himself that he wants to be a kind of German pocket knife that can be used flexibly. I see him standing on the pitch a lot. Amon-Ra is a good receiver. He was traded high in college and has done a lot right so far. I think he has big goals.
Equanimeous St. Brown did not make the leap into the 53-man roster of the Green Bay Packers. How far does that throw him back?
Vollmer: It’s not the end. The NFL is a tough business. Getting fired doesn’t mean that you are not good enough. Maybe you just don’t fit into this team right now. Dozens of players are sorted out every summer. But many of them still find their way later.
You yourself have experienced this tough NFL business for years, including its downsides. With your new book “What It Takes”, do you want to sensitize people to the work behind the show?
Vollmer: Yes, at least I wanted to tell my truth. In the three hours on Sundays you only see all these great catches and blocks. You cannot see what leads there. In my book I want to describe what you can do and how you can learn from others to deal with this great mental pressure in order to survive in this league and maybe even play a part. Ideally, non-athletes can then build a bridge to their own professional life while reading. It’s an insane business that enables me to have a great life, but has also demanded a lot from me.
Pressure is a much discussed topic in competitive sports. Are young talents really missing the last bite here and there or has the mental stress simply increased significantly due to social changes and the influence of social media?
Vollmer: Yes, social media is definitely a huge factor. They already existed when I was active, but they weren’t that dominant. Many say they do not influence them. But after a game, I think over 50 cell phones come on in the dressing room today. In case of doubt, you can then read unfilteredly how you or even your family are being attacked. That often goes too far. And not letting it get close to you is not always easy.
How do you become master of it? Do clubs have to expand their range of sports psychology?
Vollmer: At least there is a lot on offer in football. There is an opportunity to get advice and help. When I was active, the sports psychologist’s office was often empty. It also takes a lot to admit your fears and worries in front of the others in the cabin. This is the first step.
Another arc back to the sporty side of the NFL. How do you explain this boom that football in Germany has experienced in recent years?
Vollmer: I think football catches people who have little use for this omnipresence of football and who have been looking for something else. The broadcasts on free TV and this staging as an event gave a big boost. You can have a barbecue with family and friends on Sundays and watch sports on the side. What it also takes are players you can relate to. Dirk Nowitzki was a present for basketball and the NBA. The German fan may be more happy with a team if a German also plays in it. Just guys like Jakob Johnson.
ABOUT THE PERSON: Former American football professional Sebastian Vollmer (37) played from 2009 to 2016 in the National Football League for the New England Patriots as an offensive tackle. At the side of star quarterback Tom Brady, he won the Super Bowl twice. After his career, Vollmer worked as a TV expert and published his second book.