Once A Jayhawk, Always A Jayhawk: Isaac Byrd
In the world of sports today, young athletes are focused on developing physical strength, and oftentimes do not realize how import the mental aspect of the game can be in order to achieve success. However, at every level, athletics requires both physical and mental strength.
Kansas football and baseball alum Isaac Byrd knows exactly what it takes both physically and mentally to become a great athlete, but not many up and coming young athletes do.
Byrd, who had a decorated career at the University of Kansas in both sports, went on to play six years in the National Football League or the Carolina Panthers and Tennessee Titans. He recently published a book titled “How to: Think Like A Pro Act Like a Pro & Play Like a Pro,” which he promotes by traveling across the country speaking to amateur athletes and coaches about maximizing their full potential not only physically, but mentally as well.
“I felt there was nothing out there that focused on mental preparation,” said Byrd, who came to KU after a standout prep career at Parkway Central High School in St. Louis. “Not many people are teaching athletes how to mentally prepare, so I believed it was my calling to teach athletes these techniques.”
Over the past two and a half years, Byrd has spoken at some of the largest camps in the country, such as the Nike Sports of the Year Clinic, which over 4,000 of the top high school and college coaches attended.
Byrd began to mentally prepare himself around the age of 14, when his grandfather taught him what he refers to as the “Elite Process.” This process consists of eight simple steps an athlete should use to develop, maximize and sustain athletic ability. These steps include: affirmation, concentration, short-term goals, long-term goals, confidence, visualization, game day preparation and persistence. His entire “Elite Process” and insight on his mental training can be found on his website at isaacbyrd.com.
Now that his playing days are over, Byrd focuses on teaching kids from seventh grade to high school these very same steps. He believes the “Elite Process” can help athletes succeed not only on the field, but off the field as well.
“When I discuss the principles to build a strong mental game, they are the same principles I teach in order for kids to do better in the classroom as well,” said Byrd, who is in attendance at today’s game versus South Dakota. “Concentration, short-term goals and long-term goals are all things kids can use not only on the field, but in the classroom, in their relationships with their parents and in their relationships with other kids and classmates.”
Byrd’s time as a two-sport athlete at Kansas had a substantial influence on his speaking career. During his time as a Jayhawk, he was a dominant player for both the baseball and football teams. He played centerfield for the baseball team, where he earned Second-Team All-American honors in 1996. Byrd also played wide receiver for the football team, earning Second-Team All-Big Eight honors in 1996. He was then drafted in the sixth round of the 1997 NFL Draft.
Unfortunately, Byrd believes the two-sport athlete in college has fallen by the wayside in recent years. He said juggling sports and academics was one of the toughest parts of his athletic career.
“Not only was I able to apply the skills my grandfather had taught me when I went to Kansas, but I became even more mentally tough because I was playing two sports at a big Division I school,” said Byrd, who ranks ninth on KU’s single-season receiving yards chart with his 840 yards in 1996. “Having to be a student on top of playing two sports was definitely more challenging than I thought it would be.”
Byrd believes it was his elite mental training that allowed him to succeed both on the field and in the classroom.
“I really started to bring back the mental aspect of the game into football and baseball when I was a sophomore at Kansas,” said Byrd, who credits his time at KU for ultimately guiding him down the right path in life. “I entered college with some of the skills I needed to be successful, but being a Jayhawk really shaped and molded me into the person that I am today.”
After having such a rewarding experience at KU, Byrd created his Elite Mental Training workshop following his professional playing career in order to help young athletes to gain a mental edge on their opponents.
Byrd has many goals for the athletes to learn from his speaking seminars. The main focus of his forums is to influence athletes to understand that if they’re not training mentally, they will not reach their peak performance both on and off the field.
“Young athletes must understand the eight steps of elite mental training in order for them to maximize their full athletic potential and as a result their physical and mental aspects must come together to work as one,” said Byrd. “My athletic career really took off after I started to not only physically develop, but mentally develop as well.”
The principles of his speaking workshops are intended to influence athletes in all areas of their lives.
“The principles I am teaching kids to develop for a strong mental approach to their sports are the same principles kids can use in the classroom, with their parents, with their friends and to ultimately become a better United States citizen,” said Byrd. “If I get the kids to work not only physically, but mentally on and off the field, I think I have done my part.”
While Byrd hopes to have a positive influence on many of the people he speaks to about the steps to becoming successful, he would also be pleased if he could steer a few of them towards his old stomping grounds.
“Being a student-athlete in college will shape your life more than you really know,” said Byrd. “I would be honored if some of the young kids I work with choose to become Jayhawks like I did. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.”
Once a Jayhawk, Always a Jayhawk.