Commentary

Hot coals a walk in the park for Tuck

Giants captain feels rejuvenated after seminar with famed motivational speaker

Updated: May 21, 2013, 5:01 PM ET
By Ohm Youngmisuk | ESPNNewYork.com

Approaching the most pivotal season of his New York Giants career, defensive captain Justin Tuck added 12 steps to his offseason regimen.

Twelve steps over scorching hot coals that hovered at about 2,000 degrees.

"This ain't no gimmick," Tuck said. "They were hot. You felt the heat. Even when you come off of them, they spray you down and your feet are smoking and you feel the heat."

[+] EnlargeJustin Tuck/Anthony Robbins
Anthony RobbinsJustin Tuck and Tony Robbins pose at a Robbins seminar in Los Angeles in March.
Tuck has beaten Tom Brady in two Super Bowls and practically floated down the Canyon of Heroes twice. But he may not have ever "owned a moment" quite like the fire walk he performed with thousands of others outside the Los Angeles Convention Center in March.

This offseason, Tuck went to see Tony Robbins -- the famous peak-performance strategist and life coach -- looking to bust out of a slump and gain any advantage possible on the field this coming season.

At the urging of a close friend, Tuck attended Robbins' "Unleash The Power Within" seminar. He went into the weekend incredibly skeptical, but left L.A. with a renewed focus and hunger.

Perhaps Robbins and the hot coals can reignite Tuck's inner fire.

"The game is always changing and always reinventing itself," said Tuck, who turned 30 this spring. "And you got to do the same. I realize I haven't played my best the last two years, whether it be injuries or the circumstances surrounding this team. Who knows? I knew it was time for me to try something different."

Skeptical Tuck

Robbins has a history of working with athletes and has helped guide the likes of Andre Agassi, Serena Williams, Wayne Gretzky, Mike Tyson, Chuck Liddell, Pat Riley and the 2011 NBA champion Dallas Mavericks, among others.

Tuck was skeptical despite having seen Robbins' commercials. But the two men share a friend in common, who pleaded with Tuck to go see Robbins.

[+] EnlargeJustin Tuck
AP Photo/Damian StrohmeyerJustin Tuck wasn't happy with his performance in 2012.
"[Tuck's friend] said he really needs to get out of where he is," Robbins said by telephone. "He is in such a pattern that nothing is working and he keeps talking to [his friend], but talking is not doing it."

On the first day, Robbins immediately spotted Tuck in the crowd of 5,000 people that included actor Dustin Hoffman. There was the 6-foot-5, 268-pound defensive end sitting in the fourth row with his chiseled arms folded, exuding plenty of negative body language.

Tuck, though, was there to try anything that could help him regain his old form. After having 11½ sacks in 2010, his production dropped to a total of nine sacks combined the past two seasons.

Tuck's 2011 was filled with pain on and off the field. He battled through neck, shoulder, groin, ankle and toe injuries, and also dealt with the loss of his grandfather and two uncles.

Tuck credited a sitdown with Giants coach Tom Coughlin late that season with helping him turn around both his and, ultimately, the Giants' season. Tuck collected 5½ sacks in the Giants' final six wins, including two sacks in the Super Bowl.

But in 2012, Tuck struggled again and finished with just four sacks, as the defending champs failed to make the playoffs. Robbins wanted to hear what Tuck believed was slowing him down.

"He says, 'I don't know, it's this, it's that,' he has his list of things," said Robbins, who grew up playing sports and sprouted from 5-foot-1 to 6-foot-7 in high school due to a pituitary tumor in his brain. "A lot of it is just when you get in that state of frustration and, especially in a great media capital like New York, you are in a place when you are performing, you are a two-time champion, you are a God.

"When you are not, you're nothing. What's wrong with you? Everything is coming down on you."

Tuck has admitted struggling with trying to be the perfect defensive captain, following in the footsteps of vocal captains such as Michael Strahan and Antonio Pierce. Tuck prefers to lead by example, and he admits to losing sleep over his play and the team's performance the last couple of seasons.

"My expertise is the human psyche, which is the very thing that [fans] were complaining about with him," Robbins said. "Being beat up by the very people that he wants to please was definitely a conflict for Justin. It is like, 'I can't win.' That [becomes the] mentality. This happens to many athletes, especially athletes that are beloved or have achieved a high level of success."

"But Justin is a big boy," Robbins later added. "And he just needed to get his ass kicked a little bit -- from his description. His nature is a friendly, quiet nature. He got himself in a slump, and that slump has a psychological component to it."

"Unlocked and unleashed"

For four days, a total of 50 hours, Tuck immersed himself in Robbins' seminar. With his wife Lauran, who was seven months pregnant at the time, Tuck attended sessions that lasted from 8 a.m. to as late as 2 a.m.

Robbins says he wants to shift people's emotions and psyche. In his words, he tries to "reignite the leadership" in attendees, enhance their energy, conquer fears, create emotional breakthroughs and strategies that can shift a relationship, body and/or performance.

With athletes, Robbins focuses on their strategy and what prevents them from using those strategies. He says he tries to create breakthrough moments "where everything shifts."

"People say it took me 10 years to change and I always say, '[B.S.], it took you a moment,'" Robbins said. "A lot of people have a strategy like these athletes. But they develop what I would call a lousy story. … The reason why people don't lose weight is they develop a reason -- 'I'm big-boned' or 'I've tried everything.'

[+] EnlargeJustin Tuck
Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsGiants fans hope they see plenty more of Tuck's signature sack celebration in 2013.
"But once you develop that belief, that story, that this is the way life is, it is something against you, it is something that is outside your control, then you feel overwhelmed, pissed off, stressed, depressed, alone and you lose the power that gives you the ability to use the strategy."

Robbins also focuses on a person's emotional state, such as what might've added to and enhanced Tuck's slump.

"[Tuck] feels like he is responsible to carry things, to some extent," Robbins said. "So he fails and he's down in that state of frustration and failure, and then not feeling appreciated for what he doesn't do. And all that gets in the way of just doing your job.

"So I just took him through a process where he identified some of the most limiting beliefs in his head, about why he wasn't performing, about why things weren't fair. And we went through a process where he just basically annihilated that, saw what complete [B.S.] it was, emotionally associated that those excuses are not a part of him anymore. And it is a very physical process, it is not just a mental process."

Despite waking up to work out at 5:30 a.m. before the seminars, on as little as three hours of sleep, Tuck said he couldn't believe how energized he felt. He still feels that energy more than two months later as he talks about his experience, this season, and his upcoming annual celebrity billiards tournament, held May 30 to benefit his R.U.S.H. for Literacy charity and Hurricane Sandy recovery.

It remains to be seen how walking over hot coals can help beat an imposing tackle and sack Robert Griffin III or Michael Vick. But Tuck was so mentally amped at the moment of doing the fire walk that, he says, he didn't feel any pain or suffer any injuries walking over the coals.

"I feel like if I can get my mind to a point where I'm saying I am not afraid of these hot coals and I am going to own this moment, then you can get your mind to own anything," Tuck said. "You might have a phobia of snakes, that is all mental."

"The thing that I got from it the most was a renewed confidence in self," Tuck added.

Robbins thinks there's "a different hunger" in Tuck now.

"There's a drive in this man to be the best that has been with him his whole life," Robbins said. "He doesn't need frickin' motivating. What he needs to be is unlocked and unleashed. He is unlocked and unleashed."

Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. Prior to that, he covered the Nets, Knicks and the NBA for nearly a decade. He joined ESPNNewYork.com after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.
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