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Jalen Hurts’s Mental Toughness

One of the biggest stories of this college football season was the story of Alabama quarterback, Jalen Hurts, the star who went 26-2 as a starter and LOST his starting job in the National Championship game to a freshman who won the game and became the talk of the nation. He went from star of the nation’s best team to forgotten in a span of two quarters, and then had the opportunity to transfer after losing his starting job.

Jalen chose not to transfer, which is very uncommon. Most players transfer when they face this type of adversity, but he chose to stay, and to keep working hard and getting better. He sat on the bench all season but continued to work hard and stay ready for a moment that might never have come.

But, his moment did come, in the last five minutes of the SEC Title Game on December 1, 2018. Jalen Hurts stepped in for the starting quarterback who’d taken his job. With the BCS playoffs on the line, he executed with precision, as if he had been the starter all year.

Jalen Hurt’s story is impressive, and a great example of a young man with real mental toughness. It’s also a great lesson for parents on encouraging your kids to stick with it through the hard times. Jalen has discussed how his parents encouraged him to keep fighting after he lost his starting spot.

What Role Does Culture Play?

However, I think Jalen’s story is also a great lesson for us as coaches. As much as it says about Jalen’s character, it is also a positive indictment of the culture Alabama has created.

If Jalen hated his experience at Alabama and thought his only value came from being the starting quarterback, I am guessing he probably would have transferred this off-season, and I honestly wouldn’t have blamed him.

So many other teams at the professional, collegiate, and high school level use athletes. They treat it as a business and are just out to get wins. Character, culture, and people all come second. When athletes aren’t a part of the plan to achieve their agenda, they toss them aside.

When so many coaches and administrations use athletes at the high school, collegiate, and professional level for their personal gain, why do we feel surprised and upset when those athletes transfer for their personal gain?

We talk about the number of transfers in college athletics as if all transfers are bad, and a great deal of them are definitely due to a lack of mental toughness and an inability to delay gratification. Parents can definitely share some of the blame; more often than not, they are some of the biggest supporters of the decision for their kids to transfer.

But, there is a reality we sometimes ignore. Sometimes, these young men and women just don’t want to be part of a toxic culture that only values winning and not the selfless team experience they are creating, in which players are seen as people first, athletes second. I don’t blame the athletes who transfer out of these type of cultures. I think these are circumstances in which young people are saying, “I’ve had enough!”

I think players, parents, and coaches all share some responsibility for the epidemic of athletes transferring when things get tough.

Culture Helps

I may be wrong, but I believe Alabama has created a team in which players like Jalen enjoy their experience and feel valued as a person, regardless of whether they are on the field or not. I am not saying it was easy for Jalen. It has undoubtedly been one of the hardest things he has faced in his life so far. And I know there are negative things about Alabama’s culture. From my sofa, I have observed many behaviors by coaches and players I don’t believe are acceptable. 

What I am saying is this: Nobody does it alone. Parents, coaches, and teammates had to have a positive influence on Jalen. He leaned on some people during a really challenging year.

My question for us coaches is this: Are we creating a culture that offers support in their struggles? Do we value our reserves?


  1. For 7 more ways to value your reserves, read here: