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Keith Ballard
Photo by Norm Hall

Cal Dietz

James Newson









































Jermichael Finley’s Minneapolis Winning Team
By Tom Silverstein of the Journal Sentinel

Green Bay - When Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley scored his third and final touchdown of the game Sunday, there weren't nearly as many people thinking about how he got to the end zone as those who were just happy he was there.

But up in Minneapolis, where Finley's other "team" resides - the one that helped him get through the darkest of days the off-season - they were celebrating how far the young star had come since tearing up his knee against Washington in Week 5 last year.

Sunday against the Chicago Bears, just two weeks shy of the moment that changed his life, Finley was back.

"It's so fun to see him, he's so motivated," said Josh Sandell, the sports medicine specialist who directed Finley's rehabilitation. "He's on such a mission. For four months, he was completely focused on rehab and training. He was a consummate professional."

Finley may be best known for his touchdown catches and tweets - both of which are often eye-catching - but the back story to the 24-year-old phenom's return from cartilage repair in his right knee is about the steps Finley took toward getting his life in order.

With the help of his agent, Blake Baratz, who not only befriended Finley but frankly told him all the things others wouldn't, the immensely talented tight end embraced the concept of teamwork, trained like never before and overcame a debilitating injury.

"I would say it's the hardest thing I've ever been through," Finley said. "I've never had a death in the family or anything like that. I never had to push myself so hard. People don't know how hard I worked."

Since arriving as a third-round draft choice in 2008, Finley often has been portrayed as a loose cannon whose self-confidence and unedited comments sometimes make the organization cringe, especially given the conservative tone general manager Ted Thompson has set.

Finley criticized quarterback Aaron Rodgers for the throws he made to him in the end zone as a rookie. He talked candidly about blowing curfew before the Arizona playoff game in '09, got involved in the Super Bowl team photo flap, called Chad Ochocinco a "clown" and tweeted that he wished the Packers played Philadelphia this year because all this "dream team talk is killing me."

This year, the Packers frequently have a public relations employee hanging around Finley during the locker room sessions open to the media.

Baratz said he understands that Finley needs to censor himself more, but he also pointed out that nothing Finley has said has been malicious or incendiary.

"People focus on why did he say this or that," Baratz said. "A lot of those things are him growing up. Sometimes he doesn't realize how big of a star he is. He only played two years at Texas and they blanketed him from talking. He doesn't have a lot of experience with it.

"People are misunderstanding who he is. He wants everyone to like him."

Repairing the meniscus

After Finley went down with the injury early in the first quarter against Washington, team physician Pat McKenzie repaired the torn meniscus. He could have trimmed and removed part of it and gotten Finley back on the field in a matter of weeks, but he did what was in the best interest of Finley's long-term future.

The downside of it was Finley had to miss the entire season. He didn't know it at the time, but he was playing on a Super Bowl team and would miss all of the thrills that came with it.

Worse yet, he developed a staph infection in the knee, which required him to have a stent placed in his chest so high doses of antibiotics could be pumped into him. The infection slowed his rehab and left Finley helpless to feed his competitive hunger.

Players on injured reserve come in for treatment before the rest of the team and usually leave before the others come back. Finley came and went before the others came in and had limited contact with the team.

"Green Bay in winter is cold and he's coming off an injury, and he wasn't around the team all the time," Baratz said. "It was very difficult. It's very difficult to go out there in great shape and your season ends in Week 5."

Back home in Diboli, Texas, where Finley was raised by his grandmother, the atmosphere was not conducive to rehab. Baratz said in the recession-struck town Finley is a target for every person who once knew him and wants a handout.

Finley isn't estranged from his family, but he's careful with whom he associates and relies on his wife, Courtney, and his son, Kayden, for his family support. Baratz is one of the few others Finley trusted before embarking on a seven-month rehab frenzy.

Off to Arizona

Once the infection cleared, Baratz sent Finley to train in Arizona, where he could get around-the-clock attention so his rehab wouldn't be neglected.

The knee didn't respond the way Finley hoped and, with the lockout in full bloom, Baratz contacted Sandell, who employs a program that the U.S. Olympic training center uses. It includes several layers of treatment, including nutritional, physical and psychological.

When Sandell saw Finley, he was amazed at how little flexibility he had in the knee.

"He was very limited," Sandell said. "I bent the knee and the two bones would bump together. There are a lot of compressive forces working there. It was serious."

According to Sandell, the septic arthritis (the infection) led to arthrofibrosis, which is a condition where scar tissue forms and the ligaments and tendons tighten. If left untreated, the only remedy is more surgery.

Sandell said he was determined to get Finley healthy without surgery, so he formed a team that would treat Finley over a four-month period. It included respected personal trainer Bill Welle and performance coach Shaun Goodsell.

And then Minneapolis

All three operate out of Minneapolis, which meant Finley would have to spend a significant amount of time there. He surprised everyone when he moved his wife and son there so he could train daily.

"That was my question to Blake, 'How long is he going to be here?' " Welle said. "He said, 'Bill, he's moving here. I said, 'What do you mean?' And he was like, 'I said he's moving here to work with you and Josh.' "

As Welle went to work on Finley's body, Goodsell began counseling him on rehab, stress, trust and life in general. The two met regularly and talked about all the things going on in Finley's life and how to deal with difficulties when they arose.

"He's a young man that functions and strives and thrives under structure," Goodsell said. "His finely tuned nature of athleticism is a byproduct of structured life and a very determined personality. He put his all into what he does.

"That's even why the rehab process is so difficult, because when that's stripped away you have to internally reorganize yourself. He did a pretty darn good job of that."

The player who showed up late to meetings in '09 never missed a day of rehab, training or counseling, according to all three members of his team. He attacked the rehab with such vigor that he was running in June, two months before expected.

Building stamina

With Welle, Finley would come in four or five days a week, twice a day. He'd do speed work and resistance running, upper- and lower-body weightlifting, cone drills and intense conditioning. It was a process, though, because when Finley arrived he was as out of shape as the couch potatoes who watch him on Sundays.

"The very first time we did 12 warm-up drills and he just had to jog out and catch the ball," Welle said. "He was done. He was just fatigued."

By the time they were finished rebuilding his body, Finley was able to run the 10-route "receiver tree" four times with only a 2-minute rest between sets. He ran the first two sets with a 20-pound weight vest on.

"I think he knew he needed to get back on the field and prove something to everybody, including himself," Welle said. "He definitely put the time in and the work and he had a lot of blood, sweat and tears go into it.

"He's definitely reaping the benefits now."

The last part of the process was preparing Finley to play full-contact football again. The psychological part reigns above all because any finely tuned athlete needs to know all his parts are working the way they always have.

Goodsell helped prepare Finley for that day, which has since come and gone. Finley has advanced to catching touchdown passes, a trifecta on Sunday that will be hard to duplicate.

Finley hasn't forgotten how he got there.

"The cuts I was making, I felt so light out there," Finley said. "I thought to myself, 'I've never felt like this.' I thought back to all those two-a-day workouts and not taking a single one off. Every day was a serious grind.

"But now I'm in the best shape of my life."

My son Colin is a senior at Eastview High School and has been working with Justin Johnson and the Mental Edge for the last year. I couldn't be more pleased with the results! He has learned many "life" lessons including: Planning, Setting Goals, Making a Commitment to Succeed, Decision Making Skills, to name just a few. As an added benefit we’ve seen a significant level of overall maturity. And not to mention, he is a better goalie. This is a direct result of you teaching him to focus, be patient, game preparation skills, setting practice goals and believing in himself.

 - Steve Longren, Parent

Within the short time with The Mental Edge I learned things that I could apply to my game immediately. I would recommend The Mental Edge to any athlete.

 - Keith Ballard, Phoenix Coyotes NHL

We have been meaning to drop you a note about the impact that you have had on Ryan. It is hard to put your finger on it, but we have witnessed the development of definitive skills that he will have throughout this life. First, the ability to plan ahead for a specific goal. Ryan is competitive in academics as well as sports. We have watched him go to the top of his geometry class, plan ahead on his research paper, and even ask his science teacher if he could do his science project over the Christmas break - just in case his team did well in the playoffs. He is setting goals and figuring out what he needs to do to achieve them. Secondly, Ryan's confidence in himself in growing. He has always wanted to be on student council. Last year he finally became a class rep. This year, he delivered a great speech and was elected president of the student council. Not bad for someone who had to go to years of speech class. And of course there is his passion - hockey. He has developed a confidence in his game that enables him to be prepared, focused , and keep himself on an even keel. He doesn't complain, nor blame. He reflects on what he needs to do and works hard to improve. Ryan came out of a loss where his team was starting to pick on each other. He told us: " You know I think my team needs Justin Johnson.

So thank you Justin helping our son develop focus, resilience and tenacity.

 - Parents Mark and Ann

I have searched for many years for mental assessment tools and mental performance coaches, such as The Mental Edge provides to better understand the athletes I prepare for competition. This program impacts everyone from female youth athletes trying to build confidence to Olympic/World Champions that wants to excel to higher levels. The Mental Edge can help anyone at any stage become the best they can be. The ability of the Mental Edge to provide practical information to the individual is amazing. I would highly recommend using The Mental Edge to anyone.

 - Cal Dietz, Head Strength Coach University of Minnesota

Being a professional athlete in any sport is 99% mental. Sometimes I found myself having a difficult time focusing on the task at hand which prevented me from accomplishing everything I wanted to. The Mental Edge allowed me to become more focused by introducing me to techniques that allow me to focus on what I need to do to become successful both on and off the ice. I would recommend it to all athletes looking to gain a competitive edge and be the best they can be.

 - Matt Koalska, Bridgeport Sound Tigers AHL

“I watched my son the last two tourneys and he has really had great focus! It's like he was like his old self prior to going to the U when I used to watch him as a junior. It's like my real son is back! His progress has been fun to watch. I hope you realize I think you really helped and he does too! Thanks so much for your time and effort. You'll always have a place in our family’s heart.”

~ Parent

“What a difference a year can make. Last September, as our son entered his junior year, he was working hard but felt like he was spinning his wheels. His confidence was low and he was second guessing himself in social situations, academics and in hockey (on and off the ice). He was negative, confused and didn’t think he could do anything about it. He was waiting for things to happen and hoping for the best versus taking initiative and making things happen. He felt unneeded pressure and was a classic victim. As parents, we were frustrated, supportive but lacked the perspective and training to effectively handle this situation. We knew we needed help - someone that could uniquely connect with our son and his issues. We wanted someone that would positively tell him “truths” and could help him understand who he is, how he thinks and works and give him tools for living his life.

We have to admit, when we picked up the phone to call you we were apprehensive but figured it was worth a try. We had no idea how profound the experience would be for him. Today, our son is more confident and demonstrating a winning attitude. He is upbeat, an initiator and fun to be around (usually – he is still a teenager). He has been more positive and busy this summer – a night and day difference from last summer. He is able to see beyond the moment, set personal goals and be more proactive. He is often the initiator when planning to hang out with friends or thinking about his future. The biggest life tool however has been the ability to recognize and reverse his self talk when he is in a slump. For example, when he has a bad shift in hockey, he recognizes it and rather than spiraling out of control he pulls himself out of it and can get back on track. He can now make mistakes without becoming dysfunctional. Another big change is - he plays for himself, not for his coaches, us or others. He knows what he needs to do. He can listen and be open to information and decide on the action.

It was fun to watch the process and the relationship develop between you and our son. We don’t claim to understand it, nor do we need to understand it because we see the results. He developed a confidence and friendship that you clearly earned over the course of several months. This confidence enabled him to trust and try the techniques you were advocating. Your sessions were private. Sometimes he would share information, mostly he didn’t.

One thing we could feel - was your passion for what you do. As caring and involved (maybe too involved) parents, it was difficult for us to back off, trust your process and be patient. We are glad we did. We learned new parenting skills in the process (a bonus) – backing off and giving up control, patience and how to be better communicators with our teen. There is no silver bullet but your approach is working for our kid at this time in his life. We are grateful for your help and available to give you the highest recommendation. Please thank Dawn as well – for her outstanding communication and organizational skills. You make a great team!!”

~ Brad and Deb

“When we first met Justin Johnson at a State Bantam tournament a few years ago, he talked a little bit about The Mental Edge. I remember thinking to myself, “This is exactly what my son needs!” My son, Nolan, was one of our team’s two goaltenders. He had good skills, but was struggling with confidence issues and was having difficulty dealing with adversity. Having majored in Psychology myself, I was keenly aware of the importance of mental preparation. On the way home from the tournament, I talked with Nolan about The Mental Edge. Always interested in improving his game, he was very interested in trying it out.

All of Nolan’s goaltending training has been valuable, but The Mental Edge training has clearly been the most effective. I sat back and watched, with amazement, as his game consistently improved and his own satisfaction with his performance visibly increased over the next season. He was having fun again! Consequently, I became much more relaxed at his games. I began to enjoy break-a-ways, because I knew he was going to make the save!

At the end of the season, Nolan received a hand-written note from his coach congratulating him on his performance during the season. The coach went on to say, “Your consistency and confidence improved constantly, as did your skills.” His team members and other parents also noticed the difference.

Many of the mental strategies that he learned from Justin to improve his athletic skills are also excellent life skills that have helped him to become more assertive, responsible, and emotionally mature in his personal life. The training he received from The Mental Edge was not only the best investment I have ever made in my son’s athletic career, but also his emotional development. I would strongly recommend this program to any athlete, especially the youth. My son and I are both very grateful that we found The Mental Edge.”

~ Ellen Paulseth, Parent

“We wanted to send you a thank you for the wonderful work you have done with our son, Tyrone. Somewhere along the line, the pleasure and enjoyment Ty got out of sports began to feel more like pressure. He had a harder time focusing and felt frustrated with his performance. Through the profile assessment and the individual sessions with you, he learned tools to help him with positive thinking, managing disappointment and diversity, focusing, and increasing his confidence in all situations. He could apply these tools immediately and see the results in all areas of his life… his grades, his relationships with family, friends and teammates, and his sports performance. Most of all, he’s having FUN again. You made an instant connection with him and understood exactly what he was feeling. Your honest and direct approach quickly built a high level of trust and he valued you as a trainer and coach. We’ve spent a lot of money over the years for sports training but the Mental Edge program was definitely the best dollars for the results we ever invested in our son.

Thanks to Justin Johnson for his coaching and guidance (especially during the pre-tryout time) and to Dawn for keeping it all organized. You have a fabulous program and we would be happy to be a reference at any time.”

Colleen and Dan Simcoe

Thank you for being such caring and giving people! It is awesome for Jack to have such a positive mentoring relationship!


“I wanted to take a minute and reflect on the time that you spent with Allison. I can’t tell you how much a change we’ve seen in her since she started the program with you. She became acutely aware of what issues that she needed to address if she wanted to achieve the goals that she has for herself in hockey. She has worked so hard on improving her physical skills – which she has, but she really needed some focus on the mental part of the game; both on and off the ice. You helped her so much in that area! She feels that she is so much better prepared to handle the issues that affected her in hockey, and I have really seen the difference in her game since starting the program with you. As we both have told Allison, this is just a beginning in developing a stronger mental approach to the game, and that she has to consistently use the tools that you gave her to continue improving her game.

What’s even better is the “blueprint” that you left her with in which the both of you collaborated on, that will help her deal with future situations as they arise. She now has the tools that will help her better deal in the future with all the issues that affected her play in the past.

From a parent’s point of view, it was great to have someone outside the family with credibility to discuss these issues with her. She readily accepted your ideas, guidance and counseling and again, the results were outstanding. We know that we will be in touch again with you soon to develop a “maintenance” program for her as she continues down the path of achieving the high goals that she has for herself.

Thanks so much for your time with Allison; she really enjoyed the time she spent with you, and she feels, as my wife and I do, that she really got a lot out of the Mental Edge program. Thanks again!”

Don Micheletti

Our daughter’s sessions with Shaun have definitely helped her deal with the many things she internalizes. We have seen a 180 turn around in how she plays and maintains control, I have not seen her ‘out of control’ attitude since summer before she started seeing Shaun. Thank You a Million!




EXPERTS AGREE one’s mental approach can separate the ordinary achiever from the exceptional one. A positive mental approach is also strongly correlated with those individuals who derive a positive experience from their participation in athletic competition. However, the skills required to achieve individual goals are often overlooked because the primary focus for development is concentrated more on physical attributes than mental approach. At Mental Edge, our mission is to increase personal achievement and elevate the experience of individuals through mentoring and the teaching of competencies necessary to achieve a positive experience, on and
off the field of play. We believe personal satisfaction is fundamental to participation in sports ... and in life.

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