A few months ago, I found myself thinking more and more about Jim Tressel, the successes he had on and off the field, and the guidebook he used to shape the lives of young men. The Winners Manual, first started in 1986 by Coach Tressel at Youngstown State University, has been a guiding force for hundreds of men for countless years.
Some, if not most, of Tressel's former players still refer to The Winners Manual on a consistent basis. Some go back to it looking for guidance. Some refer to it to remember their goals and purpose. All of them continue to use it because of the powerful and genuine messages it contains.
One could do nothing but read the quotes provided in the Manual and still come away from it a better person, if they just apply the quote to their particular situation. Yet getting deeper into the Manual and really applying the lessons and suggestions therein will open your eyes to a person you may not have known existed before.
I have been using the teachings of the Manual since that day a few months ago. Back then, I used only what I could glean from the internet. Then, by providence, my good friend Adam Pratt told me that he had a copy for me to borrow. Since that day, the Manual has provided me with food for thought on every single day that I've picked it up.
The Manual has helped me in so many ways, I wanted to know if it had the same effect on former players. So I reached out to Jon Thoma, who just so happened to be spending some Quiet Time with his Manual one day. Thoma, a former punter for Coach Tressel, was gracious enough to answer the questions I had.
Here is our conversation:
1. Of all the tenets of the Block O of Life, which do you work on most and why?
The real strength of the Block O of life to me is the balance it deems necessary for success. It takes a measure of success in all portions to win in life.
2. How often do you perform a personal review of your Purpose?
When I was a member of the team, each player did a huge, in-depth personal review before the season. We would turn our review in to Coach Tressel, who would go over our goals with us. We then would establish a plan with short and long term steps we would need to complete to reach our goals. When I say Coach Tressel cared about us, I mean he legitimately cared for every single individual in hat locker room, on and off the field.
3. Which of the goals do you find yourself revisiting most?
I have my family goals in my head most often. I remember writing that I would stay in constant contact with my sisters, and I make it a point to call or text them as often as possible. When I find myself slipping on that, I think about the goals I wrote in my Winners Manual.
4. Of all of the Big Ten Fundamentals, which do you believe is the most important and why?
I believe all of the fundamentals are extremely important, but my personal favorite is excellence. If one strives for excellence in all facets of their life, they will not settle for anything but the best. I know that I fall short of excellence in just about every part of my life, but reminders of what I can achieve when I settle for nothing but the best continually push me forward. Can you imagine a world where all people strive for excellence? Amazing things could happen.
5. Of the myriad quotes in the Manual, which do you find yourself identifying with the most?
"Your own resolution to succeed is more important than any one thing." - Abe Lincoln
"Moving beyond your comfort zone. That's how you achieve things." (not sure who that one is by)
6. Coach Tressel stressed putting service above yourself, having integrity, and striving for excellence. These tie almost identically to the Air Force motto. We all are keenly aware of Coach Tressel's reverence for the Armed Forces. In your experience and opinion, how did the military shape Coach Tressel's approach to the Manual?
First and foremost, Coach Tressel was grateful for the freedoms that our military affords us. He and Coach Bollman were constantly reminding us how lucky we were to be Americans, playing a game we loved for a free education. For young kids with fame and power, these reminders were necessary to keep our perspective in the right place. I wish these lessons would have sunk in a little more with us players. The time we spent with the military members who returned from service, and the things we sent to those overseas currently serving for our country were among my fondest memories at Ohio State.
7. Handling adversity and success is one of the central points to the Manual. How did you, as a team, handle these situations during your time at Ohio State?
After big wins and losses, we always referred to the Handling Adversity/Success success section of the manual. Again, reminders to stay grounded were always necessary. Coach Tress often said "good is the enemy of great". Handling small successes incorrectly could prove extremely detrimental to our over-arching goals of the Big Ten and National Championships.
8. Out of all the success that you have had in your life, do you still look at Hope as a fundamental to your life?
Absolutely. We, as humans, must always be striving for more. If we are not, what is the purpose in life? There are so many times in life where we can not see the light at the end of the tunnel, and our goals may not seem attainable. It is in those times where we need hope.
9. How often do you spend time with the Manual?
There was a time for about 2 years after I had graduated that I did not even look at the Winners Manual. I have been reading parts of it twice a week for the last few months, and it has provided me with some great guidance and inspiration.
10. Tressel always said that the punt is the most important play in football. So you were pretty much his favorite guy, right?
The blessing I was afforded at Ohio State was coach's thoughts about the punt. When you think about it, the punt starts as an offensive play, turns to special teams as the punter kicks it, then becomes defense after the ball is kicked. With all facets of the game involved, coupled with the potentially huge swing in field position with every punt, it is easy to see why so much importance was placed on the play. Also, we had starting linebackers, safeties, tight ends, fullbacks, cornerbacks, and safeties on the punt team, so I was always in good hands.
11. Do you still keep in contact with Coach Tressel? If so, what pearls of wisdom does he impart to you, even years after you left Ohio State?
I speak with Coach Tressel once every few months. I recently asked him for a letter of recommendation for business, and got an in-depth letter in my e-mail later that day. I really don't know what more I can say about him. He made a mistake, he lied to the NCAA, but that in no way shows the content of his character. I want the world to know that. Write him off if you need to, but Coach Tressel cares about his players, and cares very much about BuckeyeNation.
12. And finally, if the game of life ended tonight, would you be a winner?
I actually can not say that I would be. I have had my share of shortcomings, and succumbed to more temptations than I am proud of. However, life is about action and reaction. My actions have not all been perfect, but it is the way I react to the consequences and better my future that will ultimately define me. With the help of the Winner's Manual, and the lessons I learned under Jim Tressel at Ohio State, I think I will one day be able to say without hesitation that yes, I am a winner in the game of life.
UnScripted Ohio thanks Jon for his candid answers and insight into how The Winners Manual is still used by former players even years after they left the University.