FAU taking defeats in stride
By Ted Hutton
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Posted September 23 2006
They do not sound like players on a team that is 0-3 and has been outscored 147-14.
They talk about learning, about the great experience of playing in front of huge crowds, about welcoming the chance to play their first SEC opponent.
Florida Atlantic's fans may be in the dumps and dread today's game against South Carolina, where the Owls figure to be on the wrong side of another blowout score, but the players remain upbeat and ready to take on the Gamecocks (2-1).
"It's an honor and a privilege to play these big schools. There is a plan behind it. If we want to be the best, we have to play the best," said running back Willie Rose.
"It's been tough, but tough for a reason," said defensive back Corey Small.
According to sport psychologists, sentiments like that show that coach Howard Schnellenberger has done a masterful job of preparing his team for the mental challenges they have faced this season.
"I think it's pretty clear Howard knows how to win in big-time football. He is in the business of making it happen," said Craig A. Wrisberg, professor of sport psychology at the University of Tennessee.
With the four nonconference games against teams from the ACC, Big 12 and SEC to open the season, Schnellenberger has been careful to keep winning in the background. Instead, he talks about how his players have to get a first-hand look at how the top teams play.
"These teams tell them where the bar is," Wrisberg said. "It is important to know that."
And Schnellenberger is constantly reminding players and fans that this is part of the master plan that will move FAU into the upper echelon of college football by the end of the decade.
"He has a track record, so when he talks about short-term and long-term goals, he has credibility. And it is clear the road map is sinking in with the players. That is how they can be 0-3 and not be discouraged," said Joel Fish, director of the Center for Sport Psychology in Philadelphia.
When asked about how the team did not get discouraged during games as the opponents piled up score after score, FAU linebacker Andre Clark showed how the overall plan is omnipresent.
"First you've got to see the big picture. Then we tell ourselves they are not going to score anymore. That is the motivation. It is tough, but you have to be out there and play your hardest. It's a pride thing," said Clark.
And finally what Schnellenberger has done is understand his players are not ready to compete on this level, and therefore not criticize them for the lopsided outcomes.
"If he ripped their lips off for losing, then what kind of risk takers is he going to get? They'll be afraid about screwing up and not losing so badly instead of playing hard," Wrisberg said.
"The tendency is to want to look at outcomes, but victory is in the process. If you take care of the process, you are going to be successful. That may take a while, but it will happen, and Howard has proved that before," Wrisberg said.
Let's have a good showing today, no mistakes, no injuries and go after the Conference Title!