This is a phrase from the New Testament and, to me, it applies to many different things. One afternoon I walked into our meeting room at Jets camp and told it to my guys. 'What you do in the dark will come to the light, boys. You gotta remember that.' Well, that sent them reeling. They all went, 'Oh, man . . .' Every single guy was saying to himself, 'What did I do last night?' You could see their brains at work, thinking, 'What did I do in the dark? What does he know about what I did in the dark? What is he talking about? Is he talking about me?' I guarantee it made them think.
What it means is that what you do when nobody is watching will surface at some point when someone is watching. And that means both the good things and the bad. If you're working out and eating right when nobody is watching, eventually someone's going to notice you've lost weight or become more fit. If you're always drinking and staying out late away from the job, eventually the job will notice that you're tired, run down, and ineffective.
When I had issues growing up, I wasn't very effective in practice or in class. If I was dealing with problems with girls or friends or the trouble they were trying to pull me into and I was trying to listen in the classroom and then listen to the coach, it just didn't work. I couldn't deal with problems outside the classroom and off the field and be effective in the classroom and on the field. Fortunately, I figured out early in my life what it was I wanted to do, and I found a way to rid myself of the problems that were threatening my progress. I also found a way to say no to the temptations that lure a young man to the wrong side of the street. Once I knew that going that way wasn't preparing me the right way to accomplish my goals, then it was clear what I should and should not do.
Now, that's not to say I wasn't on the edge at times. What I learned, though, was as soon as my friends led me to that edge, to turn and go in the other direction. I knew if they were going to Fifth Street, I had to check out by Fourth Street. Becoming a professional football player wasn't just a goal for me, it was a passion, and I wasn't about to let vice and foolishness deter me in my quest. Once I got my issues cleaned up, I was able to focus on the right things I needed to do, and I got things done.
What I tell my players is what I learned way back then: that until you get your outside problems cleaned up, you'll never accomplish what you want to accomplish. Your problems might be partying a little too much or way too much, or even staying up too late watching TV at night and not getting enough sleep. I think all players understand that issues will show up at some point. They all think they're fooling everybody until one day their issues show up on the field. They're a step slow, or they're winded early, or their reactions are delayed. And once their issues show up on the field, then their issues become my issues.
'Because,' I tell them, 'I just let my team down because I trusted you to go out there and play, and you didn't come through because you didn't clean up your issues away from the game. So now I don't trust you, and if I don't trust you, you can't play.'
My players expect me to put the best players on the field. And those are the players who have prepared themselves mentally and physically in the dark and in the light. I am accountable to the team for making the right decisions. And if what some guy is doing behind the scenes isn't conducive to his being prepared, then we'll all find out soon enough.
This is all about making sure your life is in order to do what it is that you want to do-doing whatever it takes to get yourself ready for the task at hand.
During my first day of class at Berkeley, one of the professors told us, 'Here are the books you should read. I don't take roll. I don't care if you come to class. All you are required to do is take the midterm and the final. That's all you've got to do.' At first I was thinking, 'Wow, this is great! I don't even have to go to class.' But I soon realized that if I didn't go to class and I didn't do the reading, then I wasn't going to pass the midterm or the final. If I wasn't prepared, it would come to light on that report card.
I've had players show up for training camp who tried hard to convince me that they had worked hard during the off-season and were ready for camp. 'Oh, yeah, coach. I ran sand hills. I was in the weight room. I was a workout freak. I'm ready to go.' Halfway through the first day, they're gassed. That's the easiest example of showing how what you do-or don't do-in the dark will come to the light. There is just no way to fake being in shape. Mia Hamm, the great soccer player on the U.S. Women's World Cup team, said, 'Great soccer players are made when nobody is watching.' She was referring to her relentless workouts during the off-season, and it applies to everything else, too.
Say you're trying to lose weight and you're on a program that is bound to help you lose that weight, which most likely involves eating less of the bad foods and exercising more. So you're walking or running, you're getting some weight work in and eating healthy food, and pretty soon you start seeing results. So you're happy about that and proud of yourself and thrilled with what's going on, and that's a good thing. But maybe one night you decide, well, maybe just this once, I'm going to skip that workout or eat those brownies over there because they sure look good and nobody's around, so why not? And then the next night it's something else. But nobody's watching, right? And you're still down a few pounds, and you're feeling good, so why not? But then gradually it becomes a habit, and you keep making excuses. Pretty soon all that weight has come back on, and you don't know why, and none of your friends know why because all they've seen is you trying hard, working out, and ordering the right stuff when you go to lunch. But you know why, really. You know it's what you were doing when they weren't around that has sabotaged your efforts.
The best thing I can do as a coach is prepare my team to come out on Sunday, where they will be judged. What we do in the dark comes to the light every Sunday.
The best thing I can do as a man is make sure that what I do in the dark is something I am not afraid to do in the light.