Inside the head of BC Lion’s fullback Rolly Lumbala
By Davie Wong, Sports Editor
When we talk about high performance athletes, so often we talk about their physical ability. How fast can they run? How long can they run? How tall are they? All of those questions come up when watching a high performance athlete do what they do best. That’s because, when someone watches an athlete perform, they can only see the physical. But what about the stuff we can’t see? I’m not talking about ghosts, or some spiritual energy here; I’m talking about the mental side to the game, or what many coaches and scouts have referred to as the intangibles.
Mental performance is hard to measure, even hard to spot. Sometimes it’s referred to as the fighting spirit. Sometimes it’s referred to as the will to win. More often than not, it’s referred to as the intangibles—the stuff you can’t measure because it’s not physical. It’s an area that scientists are only beginning to grasp and explain. But if you ask a high performance athlete how they manage to perform week in and week out, they will tell you that it’s all mental.
To get a better insight into the topic, I spoke to BC Lions fullback Rolly Lumbala. Lumbala had a chance to make the Miami Dolphins NFL team, and was invited to their training camp. However, he was cut from the team in September. While it was devastating at the time, Lumbala describes this as the moment that changed his life. “I was hurt at first, [getting cut]. It was extremely difficult, knowing how much time and effort I put into getting there. But at the same time, I can look back, and it was definitely a blessing in disguise. It helped me grow a lot, mentally, physically, and spiritually. I worked at my game. I asked the coaches what I needed to work on and I took that to heart, and I tried to be the best I could.”
For Rolly, the biggest part of coming back was his mindset. But even for the hulking 6 foot 2 Lumbala, all that could help heal was time. “It took me a little [time] to bounce back. But then I had to come back here right away. I took the time I had from Miami back to re-energize myself. I told myself that once I land in BC, no more pouting, no more being frustrated, just take it from there.” It was this strong mindset that allowed him to bounce back, and keep his career on track. Though it may seem complicated, Lumbala says it’s just one philosophical thought that keeps him grounded: “My biggest thing is that you’re never too high, and you’re never too low. You’re never as good as you think, you’re never as bad as you think. Just try to stay as positive as you can. Focus on one play at a time. Just pile them in that way.”
In many ways, one of the most important parts of playing sports over a long period of time is passion. Those who understand football understand that the fullback position is an undervalued position. Much like the left tackle is the quarterback’s best friend, the fullback is the running back’s best friend. Tasked with blocking the rushing lane, fullbacks are hardly players to rack up the numbers, and are often unrecognized for their effort. But that’s why being in love with the game is so important, and Lumbala illustrates just what that looks like: “I love the game. I love watching the guys, and I take a lot of pride [in them]. I rally my guys. I make sure the O-line is getting a good push, and it’s awesome to block for JJ [Jonathon Jennings] or [Chris] Rainey, or whoever’s back there. As well as being part of the game and blocking for Lulay, making sure we keep him up and stay clean that way. So there’s definitely a lot of pride being involved. We have such a great team and it’s such an honor to be able to wear these BC colours.”
But although high performance athletes may seem like they’re a whole world apart from the common person, they are still human, and they still have bad days. After a tough loss, after a hard day, after you feel like you’ve pushed yourself as far as you can, Lumbala believes that it’s important to allow yourself to reset. “I think it’s just important to let yourself recharge. Whatever hobby you may have in your life, do it. It’s important to have a hobby in life, so you can recharge a little bit. And then come back, start lifting again, and prepare for the game. It’s important to know that mental health is a huge part of your game. You do a lot of meditation, a lot of mental preparation, and make sure you put in the work. That’s the most important thing. When you put in the work, it adds that confidence that you’re able to perform at a high level.”
Though we often umbrella mental performance aspects under the term “mental health,” one thing that Rolly made sure to emphasize was the importance of recognizing mental strength. Though we can monitor mental health, and try to balance it, being mentally healthy is quite different from being mentally strong. “Mental strength is definitely a lifestyle. You can build that strength just like muscles. It’s being able to handle adversity the right way, recognizing adversity, going through a couple of things, the ups and downs. Again, not being too high, and not being too low, and always trying to look to improve and compete.”
However, it wasn’t always that way for Rolly. Like anybody, he had to learn what he knows now, and according to him, it wasn’t the easiest thing to do. “There was definitely a learning curve. From the college ranks to the pros. The season is a very long season. How to take care of your body, how to go through performing every day, how to get up every day, ready to practice or perform on game day. There was a learning curve absolutely. [But] I have a couple sayings I always tell myself—every day, throughout the game, at practice—and it became a habit. There’s a couple things I do every morning, meditation and prayers, and that helps me reset.”
It may be impossible to physically grasp the mental side of the game, but it definitely shows. Being mentally strong can be the difference maker in so many different situations. Whether that is being a leader, or just being able to carry it through by yourself, you have to have mental strength to see it through. You can be as tall and muscular as you want, but if you pack it up after going down, you’ll never be able to reach your peak.