From The Joy of Sculling

[I helped a college classmate, and ex-oarsman, to publish a book by a revered coach and mentor, James C. Jones. Since the Super Bowl is upon us, I thought it might be time to share the coach’s observations about another outstanding athlete. SB SM]

by James C. Joy, from The Joy of Sculling

Jim Brown of the NFL Cleveland Browns of the fifties and sixties was a highly intelligent athlete in four sports at Syracuse University: football, basketball, track and lacrosse, earning All-American honors in football and lacrosse.

He pushed beyond the normal frontiers of human endeavors and transcended the basic levels of being. He was a master of controlled effort. As such, he knew his body’s capability as well as the total competitive environment facing him on the field of play. The field or court was part of him.

My recollection of him is that he was the ultimate flow artist in the NFL. He was so dominant with his fluid and massive power. He is an excellent example of an athlete who only exerted the right amount of energy for any given situation.  He fully understood and embraced the concept of conservation of energy. He possessed an innate awareness of how much strength and speed were needed in any given situation. He was relaxed, concentrated and totally mindful of his immediate environment.

In whatever sport he was playing, Jim Brown was a master of utilizing the “Right Effort”. His university coach Ben Schwartzwalder, when asked, “How fast does Jim Brown run?” replied that, “He was as fast as he had to be, never any faster.” Today no one knows how quick Jim Brown was or how strong he was. He just did what he had to do. How did Brown reach this level of subtlety and transcendence in his performance?

Was it intelligent coaching early in his development? Was it long hours of repetition where the body learns? Alternatively, was it an innate ability? Was it because he was a three-sport athlete? I would suggest that it was a little of all these factors. This quality in his performance was evident early in his athletic life. He knew exactly what each move, each action and situation required.  I would suggest that he was probably blessed with some excellent mentors at an early age and this factor combined with his awareness of the importance of efficiency and his dedication to perfecting his movements made him a skilled athlete. 

An excellent example of conservation in an athlete was Jim Brown.  In that period, quantifying the various physical aspects of every athlete did not occur. His movements personified economy of effort. He always got up slowly from a pileup and, with the same unhurried motions, made his way back to the huddle.  Brown established himself early in his career as an outstanding performer in the National Football League. Besides his strength and speed, he possessed excellent body wisdom, rhythm and conservation that far exceeded the ability of his competitors.

Brown, an exquisite dancer on the football field, set the standard for conserving energy. In many ways he was the ultimate integrated athlete. Jim Brown exemplified these characteristics of his team for nine, very outstanding years. He was a subtle example of the Centaur working effectively.

Coach Joy, surrounded by acolytes.

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