Former Pro and University of Pittsburgh Kicker Sean Conley Opens Up about ADHD and Injuries in his new book "The Point After: How One Resilient Kicker Learned there was More to Life than the NFL"
Sean Conley made the University of Pittsburgh football team as a walk-on and would go on to spend time with the Detroit Lions, the Indianapolis Colts, the New York Jets and the Scottish Claymores in Europe.
Conley's journey was far from normal. He talks about his struggles with ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) and injuries in his new book The Point After: How One Resilient Kicker Learned there was More to Life than the NFL (Lyons Press).
Conley, who is now a successful yoga practitioner in the Pittsburgh area, joins SportsJam with Doug Doyle to talk about his struggles and triumphs as a kicker, his love affair with his wife Karen, and his new profession.
"One of the biggest parts of being a kicker is the mental. So a lot of kickers when they get to a certain place in their career, whether it's making from high school to college or college to the NFL, lack of a better term, get weeded out due to the mental part. It's so easy you know if you miss a couple of kicks in a row just down start to go down this road despair and possibly never get your career back on track. For me there was certainly some like innate talent that I had in terms of leg strength but if it wasn't for the guidance I received with the mental game, I don't think I was got as far as I did. I also don't think I would've been able to get as far as I did without my ADD. My ADHD was sometimes I think about going back in time was my biggest enemy because I'd get really hard on myself, yet at the same time my ADD, I would singularly focus on kicking. So times when I didn't have anything to do or just bored at home I would go to the field and kick for hours and hours and so I think that really helped me. But at the end, because it was such a battle, I overtrained and my body didn't last as long as it should have. There were plusses and minuses to the ADD."
The Point After is also a love story. Conley met his wife Karen early on in his career. Karen would end up being the person who would provide balance and eventually life-changing advice.
"Without the support of Karen so much of a my life would have gone in a different direction. When I first decided I was going to walk-on to the University of Pittsburgh, at the time I was playing for Gannon University, and those two years I played at Gannon I was one of the worst kickers in the country, I made four out of 18 or 19 kicks. I could never kick the ball straight. I could kick it far but not straight. To go from Division III to Division I, you've got to be able to do both. When I met her, she was one of the few people other than my parents that I shared this dream with to go to the University of Pittsburgh and walking on. I remember when I first told her. I was afraid to tell her because I thought she would be crazy, but she just completely, just had the same mindset of taking chances in life and not living with regrets. That was huge for me to know I could share this dream with someone else. We then separated. She went to school in New York University at Fordham University and I went down to Pitt. But then we got together again and then the same thing happened. From Pitt I bounced around the NFL. There were so many times when I would go from an ultimate high of being at the top of my game to where my career was at, to the bottom. Without her to help me through these bottoms I would have probably given up much sooner than I had."
Throughout his career, Karen would suggest Sean join her at yoga class. Little did he know that finally taking that advice would lead to a life-changing moment for him and his family.
"She was always right about this. She was a pioneer you could say in this whole yoga-meditation world. She got into yoga in the mid 90's well before it was trendy and mainstream like it is now. When I was playing football and just trying to hang on to my career when I was with the Colts and Jets in the mid 90's, she pushed me like you've got to try this yoga, it will help your body. Nowadays some teams have a dedicated yoga instructors, meditation instructors, but this was something is very recent. And so for me, it was just that wouldn't work. This isn't how you train. Something like yoga was the opposite of what I knew would help you get better in football. You always had to do heavy weights. I had to kick a hundred balls, not ten. There was no idea of moderation or any thought of restoration. I didn't listen to her. She was right. Once my career ended, my back was in such bad shape. It wasn't just my body was in bad shape, I suffered from regret and looking back on my career on how it could've been different. Then I started doing yoga. I discovered not only did it help my body repair, but it also just helped me be more in the present moment. I was to let go of what happened with my career."
Right at that time, Conley lost his father to colon cancer at the age of 55.
"He was my best friend and we spoke every day and other than Karen as my support, it was him. What made it really hard, and we had two kids at the time, was seeing my mom alone. This isn't in the book but she fell into a deep depression, she eventually developed Alzheimer's. She now has late-stage Alzheimer's. I was so devastated myself and he wouldn't see his grandchildren and I knew what it would do to my mother. They were super-loving parents. They came to all my football games and always came down to visit the grandkids. I knew that once that happened my mom would have a very hard time moving on and unfortunately she was never able to do that. We're still seeing the effects of his loss still today."
Conley stresses that now he and his wife own Amazing Yoga is various locations in the Pittsburgh area,
"I'm very grateful for the job I have now. I feel I can help people go through similar career changes, loss of a loved one because one of the great things about yoga, meditation helps gets people in the present moment and so this is what I really love to do now, actually more than kick a football."
Conley now has four children.
In The Point After, Conley has brief encounters with several NFL Hall of Famers, including Barry Sanders, Dan Marino and Jerome Bettis. The kicker bonded with the legendary Sanders while Conley was trying to make the Detroit Lions squad. Conley and Sanders would play catch every day in camp.
"It was the strangest thing. It was the first couple of days at training camp, he just walked up an approached me and said 'hey do you want to play catch?' to warm up. We started playing catch and that was like a ritual until I was cut about six weeks later. But every day before practice, I would play catch with Barry Sanders. He was such an unassuming player and he was such a player that had this maturity beyond the game. When we played the Dallas Cowboys, we played them over in London, and the first few nights the head coach let us stay out til about 3 and the curfew would go down to 2 and then one. I'd go out with the rookies and have a good 'ole time and doing what I thought an NFL rookie would do in London. One night I came back and Barry Sanders was sitting in the lobby and he's reading a little paperback book, a little novel and I sat down next to him and we started talking. He asked me about how camp was going. I told him I was worried about getting cut and what it meant for my career. He told me like hey there's more to life than football. At the time when he told me I wasn't ready to hear it. Of course, he was right. For me, that was just my entire identity was football and so I couldn't see that. So I didn't quite know what he was talking about. So it didn't surprise me when he retired early and it seemed like he was totally good with it, which is such a rarity in following professional sports that players of his caliber bow out as early as they did. That's actually where I got the idea for the subtitle of the book that there's more to life than the NFL and that was from my encounter with Barry Sanders who was so wise."
Conley gives credit to then-Pitt special teams coach Amos Jones, who played football under the legendary Alabama coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. In The Point After, Conley describes that wonderful relationship he developed with Jones when he was a walk-on and head coach Paul Hackett wasn't ready to with an uproven kicker in games. With Jones' confidence and belief, Conley would start and make the All East Team knocking through 16 of 19 field goals after a few rocky opening games. Amos Jones is now an assistance coach with the New York Giants.
You can see the entire SportsJam interview with Sean Conley at https://fb.watch/7TgZPX26uS/.