Rex Ryan playing mind games with his own team

Rex Ryan and the Jets hold their first practice of training camp Friday. Credit: Getty Images
Rex Ryan is laying down the law with his team by making them do push-ups.
Credit: Getty Images

Jets head coach Rex Ryan has gone old school to get his team focused again after committing 20 penalties for 168 yards in their Week 3 win over the Bills.

In an effort to curb the penalties, Ryan is asking his entire team to drop down and pound out some pushups each time a player gets whistled in practice.

It isn’t the first time an NFL head coach has used shared suffering to drive home a point, but Ryan is clearly one of the most vocal about it.

Ryan teased that even owner Woody Johnson will be involved in this. But in a twist of psychology, the Jets head coach said the entire team minus the player who committed the infraction will be forced to do the pushups.

“I want the player to stand up [and watch his teammates]. He doesn’t do them. And I want him to notice who he’s affecting,” Ryan said on Monday. “He’s affecting all of us. I think that’s where it’s like, ‘Oh, OK.’ It’s not just when they see that, it’s not, ‘Oh, I’ve got to do these push-ups.’ No, no. After you’ve done a few of those you’re like, ‘Really, you got a penalty again?’ And they’ll get on each other. There’s a little bit of accountability, especially if you look and the owner’s knocking them out. ‘Oh, really?’ We don’t want to look like Jack LaLanne or somebody.

“In all seriousness, we’ve got to get better and that’s going to be a focus of ours. We’ve done some good things as a team but obviously we’re not near where we need to be even in our execution of things. But the penalties, man, we know we can fix it and it needs to start this week.”

But the psychological impact is key and is more than just a deterrent. First and foremost, Ryan is drawing attention to the issue of penalties in a way that goes beyond the classroom and beyond normal “coach speak.” He is underscoring that with his action.

It would be easy for his emphasis to be lost on the team amid practice, the weekly install and a multitude of distractions that lead up to nearly every NFL game. But by making his team do pushups, he makes his point very tangible.

In addition, Ryan is also placing a certain amount of shame on penalties, so says Dr. John Murray, a noted sports psychologist and the creator of the Mental Performance Index. By making the entire team suffer because of one player’s infraction, it makes each player on the field concentrate just a little bit more on avoiding the kind of mistakes that results in his teammates having to drop to the ground and start doing pushups.

“It is almost like a military approach, a basic training approach. Go back to ‘Full Metal Jacket’ where they did that when the guy had to stand there sucking his thumb while everyone else did a workout,” Murray said. “He’s playing hardball. He’s saying, ‘Look, you make a mistake, the entire team will have to pay for it.’ It is more painful to be ostracized while your team has to pay for its mistake while you stand there. It’s understandable what he is trying to do — 20 penalties, I’ve never heard of such a thing. … He’s using a military approach to making a quick correction. It’s a little bold, it’s a little bit daring, but understandable.”

There is also a flipside to this that can backfire on Ryan.

The NFL is now a player-friendly league in light of the most recent collective bargaining agreement and player-friendly coaches are en vogue. Last summer, Jets tight end Kellen Winslow lashed out at his former head coach Greg Schiano for his extensive discipline.

Forcing pushups for penalties can be a negative in locker rooms across the league, where players have clearly gained an upper hand over coaches and management.

According to Murray, that likely won’t be the case. Given word of mouth and locker room politics, Murray thinks that peer pressure will keep in check any players who strain against the tactic by Ryan.

“It’s too mild; it probably won’t. If anyone complained about it, they’d be ostracized from the team,” Murray said. “I doubt anyone is running to the player’s association on this. They’d be ostracized from the NFL. It is almost a reverse in a way back to playing youth football. It is a little bit refreshing, what with all these stars, it is refreshing. It shows who is in charge.”

Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.


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