PR Ellis | Creating A Winning Culture

Motivation is all it takes for players to win every game they want. However, motivation must also come from the right people. Today, host Adam Markel chats with Ellis Wyms, the Founder of Athletes for Computer Science and a sixth-round draft pick at Mississippi State. Ellis shares his journey from a successful NFL career to becoming the leader and advocate he is today. Instilled with the principles of a winning culture, he learned how to be at the greater edge of things that drive life. He also talks about Athletes for Computer Science, what inspired him to develop it, and how it can help children achieve a better future. Learn more about leadership, motivation, and creating a winning culture in today’s episode.

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Creating A Winning Culture With Ellis Wyms

I feel incredibly lucky to be here right this moment. Blessed, in fact, that I’ve gotten another beautiful day. “Every day is a beautiful day when you’re above ground,” somebody once told me. As much as that sounds like a cliché, it’s true. It’s the fact because the alternative, it’s not a good one. We all have challenges. I’ve got challenges. It doesn’t matter how good things are going in one area, money, relationships, health. Those are all blessings but that doesn’t mean that I don’t wake up and have an ache, pain or a complaint or something going on in my headspace that I don’t understand. The more I read, the more people I meet, regular everyday people as well as people who’ve done some significant things that other people would envy impressive things, it doesn’t make them any different as people. Everybody’s got the same aches and pains, same complaints, same crap between their ears sometimes and I’m no different.

I feel grateful to be here and grateful that I’ve got a wonderful guest that we get to know. He’s somebody that I look forward to getting to know, Mr. Ellis Wyms. As a sixth-round draft pick at Mississippi State, Ellis Wyms quickly established himself as a mainstay, one of the most renowned defenses in NFL history. On his way to a successful eight-year NFL career, Wyms reached the pinnacle of the sports world in the second season, helping the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to take home their first and only championship in Super Bowl XXXVII. Following the conclusion of his playing career, Ellis launched Athletes for Computer Science. Despite his successful NFL career, a pathway to success and football was not always clear to Ellis. Born and raised in rural Mississippi, he envisioned a world where students from all communities have the same opportunities to develop skills in computer science. As industries continue to be shaped by technology, it was clear to Ellis that these tools are needed for students to be successful in a 21st-century job market.

Ellis, welcome to the show. I’m so happy to have you with us. 

I appreciate you having me. It’s Super Bowl week, I’m geeked. I’m amped up right now.

This is it. This is the culmination of endless hours of practice, playing, film, getting chewed out in the locker room, winning, losing and everything. Talk about aches and pains, I didn’t plan for that intro into this conversation to be so on-point with your former profession but it’s true. I read a lot of bios and make a lot of introductions in my work that I have for more than ten years. I’m not always moved by what somebody is doing, especially when they’ve transitioned out of one career and into another. Sometimes it doesn’t move me but this did and does. I appreciate what you’re doing in the world right now. What’s not written in that? What didn’t I say that you’d love for people to know about you? 

I would say that I’m a family man. I’m a father. I love chasing my kids around the baseball and basketball every weekend, yelling at referees. It was written in there that I’m from Indianola, Mississippi so I’m a country boy. I grew up in Indianola, the hometown of BB King, the King of Blues. A lot of blues, hole-in-the-wall clubs, catfish plates, good people. I want people to know I’m a father. I’m from a small town in the south and I’m in Texas because I like barbecue.

I was wondering about that hat.

I went to an event in New York after the Chiefs’ scandal came out. I wore this hat and the New Yorkers weren’t nice to me. They had some choice words for me about the Astros’ hat.

I’m a Yankees fan. I grew up in New York. I can appreciate it because the Yankees in the last few years have had two of the best seasons. I can’t say they’ve ever had because with 27 World Championships, when you don’t win a world championship, it’s not one of your best seasons. When you win more than 100 games in consecutive seasons and don’t win the World Series, as a Yankee fan, you go, “WTF.” A lot of New Yorkers, they can get on people and to think that some team had a little unfair advantage in connection with that. We hate the Sox. They’re under fire now too. 

When you love what you're doing and you find what you're passionate about, it's not work to do it. Click To Tweet

It’s the old saying that, “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying,” especially in sports. You’ve got to figure out how to cheat without getting caught, that’s the thing.

You’re being very bold right there to say that. I would have said, “If you’re not looking for an edge,” but you’re right. You used the right words.

It’s blatantly cheating. In football, if the referee’s not looking and I’m holding, I’m not holding.

It’s like what can you get away with? 

With the Astros, you can’t get away with it. They were trying a little too hard.

It’s a risk-reward thing. You take the risk and they did get the reward. Let’s come back a little bit. I’m trying to remember the name of their manager, but he lost his job. 

AJ Hinch, he got fired. He lost his job. He went home with a World Series Trophy, but it’s got a little smudge in the corner.

They’re not going to put an asterisk next to that stat or something. It’s so interesting. We went out to see some blues. When you were bringing up BB King, I’m thinking about when I saw him in Red Bank, sitting down with Lucille in his hand. That man was a gift and what he could do with a guitar, it’s incredible. 

He came back to Indianola every summer and they’re like a blues festival. That was in Indianola, Mississippi. It’s a small town but we get people from all over the planet in our little town eating catfish out there in a field with mosquitoes everywhere, listening to BB King play blues until 2:00 in the morning. I grew up on the blues. I grew up in that time. There are some things that you don’t have growing up in rural Mississippi with a lot of great things that you do with your people and your family and the connections that you have there. People are simple, life is simple. A lot of things you don’t get caught up in that you would if you were living in another place. I wouldn’t say it’s not always optimal, but it’s a blessing.

PR Ellis | Creating A Winning Culture

Creating A Winning Culture: A winning culture is one where everybody on the team or in the group is pushing together toward one goal.

 

That’s a beautiful way to put that. We saw John Mayall, 86 years old. He’s a British blues god icon, played with Eric Clapton in this thing called the Bluesbreakers back in the day. I was blown away. Resilience is a big topic for us. In fact, when it comes to the keynote speaking that I do and the consulting we do with organizations around the globe, it’s always about this topic of how do you gain a greater edge in the marketplace. We talk about not cheating, but it’s cheating of sort when you think about it. Any edge you can get, typically in competition, you don’t tell your opponent about it. You’re not going to tell the other team that you discovered something. Like a company or an organization, you’re not going to tell their competition that they discovered some edge. We’re not talking about steroid edge. It’s a performance edge on the side of how you become more resilient, how you increase your capacity, how you can lift your performance based on how you take care of yourself which would be relevant to the former profession you’ve got and also with why you started helping kids in the way that you’re helping them.

John, he’s 86 years old and this guy’s standing up behind the keyboard out in front. He’s got a ridiculously cool eclectic rad band with this young bassist guy who’s neat on the bass. He’s got a woman who has fiery red hair on the electric guitar playing lead guitar and she’s shredding. The older dude is behind the drums and he’s standing out in front for two hours. He didn’t take a break, even with their encores, he came right back out. He’s on the keyboard, he’s playing guitar, the harp. I’m thinking, “This guy is the picture of resilience.” Who, if any of us, would want to be 86 years old, still doing what we’re most passionate about when we’re 86, filling up an entire club and getting paid to do it?

Like you said, it’s taking care of yourself but more than anything, he found his lane. He got in it, he stayed in it and he’s fulfilled by what he’s doing. When you love what you’re doing like that and you find what you’re passionate about, it’s not work to do it. It would be work for him not to do it. It will be harder for him if they told him you couldn’t do that anymore. That’s a testament to finding your lane and finding something that can get you out of bed in the morning.

Let’s talk about your lane. You started playing football when you were a kid. I’m assuming you don’t make it to the NFL when you decide in high school. Very few people go, “I like to play some football.”

You’ve got a few moments out there like that. For the most part, you’ve got to be raised in it a little bit.

Those people are outside the bell curve for sure. Give us a little bit of the history that leads you to the NFL and that becomes your lane and then you pivot, you make a change and retiring, etc. Give us a little essence of that story if you could. 

Growing up in a small town, you don’t have all these football leagues or little leagues so you start playing with your friends in the neighborhood. When I was a kid, it was Jerry Rice, Walter Payton, Mike Singletary and Lawrence Taylor, all those guys. I got a chance to meet LT. LT is still off the chain. He’s a barrel of laughs and he lives his life. Those guys were the people we looked up to. They got us interested in the game. I started playing when I was in junior high. I broke my leg the first year I went out. It was a full leg cast but I still ended up going back. I went to high school and I was a starter on my high school team. My high school team, we weren’t that good. We played a lot of homecomings. You’re going to get scheduled for homecoming when the team’s like, “We need to get this win this week.” We were those people.

I didn’t come from a winning culture. That was always something about me. When you grew up in that environment, a lot of times, the culture isn’t a winning culture. We have an offseason program, 2 or 3 guys may show up. We might start the season with 80 guys and 20 may finish the season because the culture wasn’t built for guys to be resilient and guys to show up and when things are hard and be there at practice every day. I was always wired to do what people asked me to do, what I committed myself to my grandfather. I didn’t have my father growing up. My grandfather had a huge impact on my life. He was a military man. He was in World War II. He was a very hard worker. He was also a carpenter, so he built a lot of houses. Some of my work ethic is not showing up because it’s your job, but you’re committed to do it.

I happened to be a good enough athlete with showing up and doing the work that I stood out. I stood out in the culture that was wasn’t a winning culture. We lost a lot of games, didn’t play good football, but when we went to play games, I played well. I got an opportunity to be the first person from my high school to get a division one scholarship, which was cool. For me at that time, that was the pinnacle because I’d never seen anybody go to college. It’s like, “This is it.” I’m going to Mississippi State on a full football scholarship. I get to Mississippi State and I was the linebacker in high school. I showed up 40 pounds bigger than they recruited me. They made me move the defensive line and I hated it because I wanted to be a linebacker. I did good at it. Jackie Sherrill coached the Pitts, A&M, Tony Dorsett. He was the coach at Mississippi State that recruited me. He’s a great guy, mentor, father figure. He was the first person that told me, “If you keep doing what you’re supposed to know, you might get a chance to play in the NFL.” It wasn’t real to me but he spoke that into me and I was like, “Maybe I can.” I go through most of my career in college.

Create a culture within the company that motivates people to want to buy-in. Click To Tweet

I’m not a starter. I’m backing people up all the way into my senior year. During my senior year, I started 6 or 7 games, then I got hurt. I feel this thing of getting drafted wasn’t real to me until I saw my name on a list that ranked me with defensive ends. Now I’m getting drafted. That was pretty cool. I went to senior ball and played there. I went to combine. I go from not thinking I’m going to get drafted to happy that I’m going to get drafted. After the combine, I’m like, “I’m better than these dudes.” I’m looking at everybody who goes through the combine and I’m like, “I’m better than these dudes. I’ve got to get drafted at least on the first day.” The draft comes and I don’t. The first day, I don’t get drafted. The second day, we get to the sixth round and the Buffalo Bills called me. They had a conversation with me and they said, “We don’t think you’re going to get drafted here. If you don’t get drafted, we’d like to sign you as a free agent.” At that moment, I’m like, “I’m not even getting drafted.” These teams are calling me and telling me if I don’t get drafted, don’t come in there. Nobody wants to live in Buffalo.

All the people from Buffalo, don’t take offense to that. We know how beautiful Buffalo is.

It looks like the coldest place on the planet. The city is beautiful but I’m a country boy from Mississippi. Even for the NFL, I’m like, “Buffalo?” When they called me, I freaked out because I think I’m not going to get drafted. I’m sitting in my car crying. My mom lived in my grandmother’s house. My mom comes out and she had my cell phone and she’s like, “Tony Dungy is on the phone.” I’m in my car crying and I got a call from Tony Dungy. I took the call from Tony and he was like, “We’re going to take you with this sixth round. Are you ready to come in and work hard and earn a spot?” That was my journey from a tough environment where I had to stand out when nobody else has stood out. I’m going to college, not being a starter and work my way through there to get drafted in the sixth round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and getting a chance to live my dream. Looking back on it, it’s an amazing journey. I tell people all the time, there’s nowhere you can go to get the feeling of getting an opportunity to play in the NFL every Sunday. You can’t ever replace it.

You’re talking about winning culture whether it’s in a small organization, big organization or anywhere else, any other environment, even a family. You want to have a winning culture. That’s a great term. I want to understand your definition. How would you define what a winning culture is?

A winning culture is one where everybody involved, everybody on the team or in the group is pushing together toward one goal. That goal is the singularly most important thing for everyone. It’s a unique thing and it’s not something that everyone can do. You see the coaches in the NFL, they’re constantly changing over because they don’t have people in leadership positions that understand how to build a winning culture. At that time, when I got drafted to the Buccaneers, Coach Dungy was the poster child for being able to build a winning culture. He took that team from when they weren’t the Bucs, they were the yucks. They were 0-16. They were the bottom dwellers of the NFL. Coach Dungy came in and he was able to build a winning culture that built a way of doing things, a way we do things, the way we practice, the way we prepare.

We’re going to have a mantra throughout this team of how we behave in the community, how we behave on the practice field, the effort we give them on the practice field is the way we do things. Everybody in the organization had to be accountable to it. The leaders in the organization, the best players on our team, they were bought in. The first day you come in, you understand what the culture is from a Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, John Lynch or Ronde Barber. Those guys are players who would let you know what the standard was and make sure you understood that every day we hit the grass, every day we’re in the meeting room, we’re locked in, we’re focusing and we’re getting better. If you can’t do that then you can’t be here. You understand that early on.

What was that mantra? Did you explain it? What are the words that you define that mantra is?

You’ll hear Mike Tomlin would say right now, even as head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was our defensive backs coach on our Super Bowl. The thing that you will hear the most is, “No excuses, no explanations, get it done.” Nobody wants to hear a reason why you weren’t there, why you didn’t do it, “I fail, I slipped, I forgot.” It was no excuses, no explanations, max effort, know your job, know your assignment. If you’re on the grass, we’ve got to be able to trust all eleven guys, understand exactly what to do on every single plate and execute your job first. That’s a very unselfish way of playing a team sport. You get paid by stats a lot of times or their production. In order to be within the scheme of what we’re doing, you might have to do your job even though the player’s over there or you think the play may be happening over there and you can make that tap, you can get that set, or you can make that interception. The scheme of our defense says, “You stay here and you guard this area.” You have to be unselfish and put the scheme first. Down to a man, you put the scheme first, you play as hard as you can, but you do your job first and you’re committed to our goal as a defense, not your goals as a player.

It’s one goal for a team. Sports is such a great analogy for other areas of life and in business in particular because any sports team, they’ve got one goal. Everybody on that team’s got one goal. What’s that goal? 

PR Ellis | Creating A Winning Culture

Creating A Winning Culture: A leader inspires everybody to believe in the same goal and to set the same priorities.

 

It’s supposed to be winning the championship.

That’s it. There’s one goal and everybody’s bought into that one goal. That’s a different kind of accountability because in an organization, for example, you’ve got people who are thinking about themselves. Those are losing teams for the most part. When you get a team that can win, it’s because everybody’s pulling in the same direction. Everybody is on that same page and putting themselves second to the overriding goal of let’s win a game.

At the end of the day, no matter if you’re in a football team or organization, you’re going to need people to achieve whatever goals that the company has and everybody’s got to buy-in. You have to create a culture within that company that allows, that motivates people to want to buy-in. Sometimes, the leader isn’t the person that’s trying to tell everybody what to do. The leader is the person that can inspire everybody to believe in the same goal, to set the same priorities. The best leaders I’ve been around in NFL, they’re able to understand their individual players that they’re in-charge whether it’s the D-line coach, the coordinator or the head coach. They’re able to understand their guys and they’re able to get everybody on the same page based on how those guys think, how they process information. The best leaders I’ve been around, they’re tough, but they get to know not personally, but they want to know how you think, what motivates you, why are you here so that they can give you that motivation.

I’m going to get your feedback on this because to me, feedback and accountability is such a big deal in how it is that we get better and how we are able to help other people get better as leaders whether it’s a leader in a family or as a leader in a company. I’ve never played professional sports. I played in college and did been around it all my life. There’s a difference between feedback that’s rooted in judgment, which we all know what it feels like when you’re being judged. People don’t want to make mistakes. They get tense. They are defensive, no pun intended, but they can get super defensive when they feel somebody’s being critical of them and judging them. Even in the high-intensity arena of professional sports, my theory is that what you saw especially in the winning circle and the teams that won, were systems of accountability and feedback that were rooted in something other than judgment. That feedback, that accountability, it was rooted in love of the game, love of the mission, of that singular purpose that everybody was bought into. Is that far off from how you experienced it?

That’s right on the head with Rod Marinelli. He left us, the defensive coordinator for the Cowboys. Oakland hired him as their defensive line coach, but he was my defensive line coach for five years in Tampa. He was tough. He’d get on you, but it always be rooted in the expectations, the standard. If you’re one-on-one with the offensive lineman, you beat it. If you don’t beat him, he’s going to get on you by not beating that guy. He’s not going to tell you that you suck for not beating him. He’s like, “The standard is your one-on-one. You beat that guy. That’s the standard. Let’s go.” He might say it with some harsh words. He might get on you, but it’s never in a situation where he’s degrading you or tearing you down.

I do a presentation called the winning edge. If you’re trying to accomplish something especially something big or winning in the NFL, you’ve got to go out and go against the 6’7”, 350 pounds lineman, you can’t go out there not being confident. You can’t go out there not believing, “I’m going to beat this guy or I’m going to achieve this thing,” because if you don’t believe that you’re going to attack it like that, then it’s going to punch you in the face. If you run up on somebody timid, they’re going to punch you in the chest and knock you on the ground. You have to attack it like, “I believe I’m about to drag this guy. He sucks. I’m better than him. He can’t stop me.” The best coaches will make sure you go into a game with that mindset, not second-guessing yourself and not being sure about your ability.

They build you up. That love gets defined in a different way. I was a lifeguard at the beach and it was life and death all the time. We made hundreds of rescues every day and more than a hundred thousand patrons on the beach on Saturdays and Sundays. We were a crew of twenty lifeguards and we got that job done every single day. I was there seven summers and it was because that culture, how I would define the winning culture at our field was that we had each other’s backs. We had an “I got your back” culture. Our mantra was, “Nobody goes down in our water. Nobody goes down on our watch.” This is intense even for football. We’re talking about intense stuff. We would say you either make the save or you die trying. That was our mantra. We live with that, but we were all bought in and we knew that people had our backs all the time.

Even in baseball, people are talking about the Astros and the Yankees. You think about classic example on a pitcher’s mound. Pitchers throwing up some balls, balls are flying or things are going on, manager or pitch coach comes out, the third basement comes in, first basement catcher comes out. What are they doing on the mound? What are they saying to that guy, “You suck. I don’t see anybody suck as bad as you. Go back to AA ball, forget AAA?” There’s no conversation like that out there. It’s, “How are you feeling? What’s going on? How’s your arm? What do you think about the next batter?” It’s only because they want to win a game. It’s not that people might have lost confidence or want to say something pretty harsh like get personal, but they want to win a game.

They want to win. It’s that one goal. They go out there on the mound and like, “How are you feeling?” “I’m okay.” “You’ve got two more pitches.” “I’ve got two more.” “These next ten, let’s go and strikeout these batters right now. Let’s go.” Sometimes you need to be pepped up and everything comes from your mind, your mental, how you feel about it. The body will do what the mind tells it to do, but you have to sometimes push it.

The best coaches will make sure you go into a game with a winning mindset, not second-guessing yourself. Click To Tweet

Sometimes they’re going to get out there and go, “Give me the ball.” It’s not, “Give me the ball. You suck. Take a shower.” It’s like, “We’re going to bring in somebody else to help now.” This is where it’s not a personal thing, but it’s about that singular vision, whatever that is. I want to talk about your leaving the NFL after an eight-year amazing career. When did you guys win the Super Bowl? What year was that?

That was 2003.

I’m trying to think what year it was that the Patriots were undefeated and the only defeat they had that year was to the New York Giants that beat them in the Super Bowl. On the way to that Super Bowl season, the winning season, Giants may have been finished the season 8-8 or something. They didn’t have a great season, but they marched through the playoffs and they had to play Tampa Bay. Were you playing at that time? Do you remember that?

That was a year before I got there. We played against the Oakland Raiders when we traded for Jon Gruden. He was the Oakland coach in ’02 and then we traded for him and we got the guy to coach us in ‘03. His last two teams end up playing each other in the Super Bowl, which was crazy.

You play eight seasons and it’s time to retire. What was that about? This has become a big thing right now with guys like Andrew Luck and I forget this other guy. 

Luke Kuechly, he’s a great player, a great linebacker who plays for the Carolina Panthers. Everybody doesn’t get to choose. I know during that time, I didn’t get to choose. For most guys, the NFL says, “We’re not going to hire you anymore. Nobody wants to sign you to a contract. You’re done.” That’s a tough transition. Football has been in your life. You’ve seen yourself do that prism from junior high to high school to college to pros. That’s who you are. When it’s not there anymore, you’re a little lost like, “What’s next? Who am I when I don’t have on a helmet?” That’s always a tough question for guys to ask when they’re done with the game.

When you said that you were in your lane and that’s powerful when people are in their lane. They want you to weigh in on your experiences. I don’t feel like you changed your lane even with what you’re doing. You widened your lane. That’s how I’d frame it because what you’re doing now, you have a tremendous passion for and helping kids. I’d love for you to tell us about Athletes for Computer Science. What inspired you to do that? What in that transition was most difficult for you? My guess is most people reading this, they’ve never heard that about the NFL that there’s a time. We know when people get injured and you’ve got to retire or when you choose to retire like some of the people that we mentioned. That moment where you get the sentence, somebody says to you, “You’re done.”

It is not your choice. It was hard for me because I wanted to play. I was working out and trying to get in great shape. I have so many injuries. Both of my shoulders were bone on bone. My lower back was bone on bone. My L4 and L5 was bone on bone. My ankles were arthritic. Even though I was 29 years old, my body was beaten up pretty bad. Bringing me in as a player, we’re bringing in damaged goods a lot of times. When you’re at that point, they have to wait for a younger player that costs less, older player that costs more and he’s hurt. It’s hard for you to take that your career is over. In that transition, I got pulled in a bunch of different directions by a bunch of different people because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Somebody came along and said, “Try this. What about this?” It’s like, “I don’t know.” You’re going in to win because football is gone, it’s not coming back and you don’t know what’s in front of you. That was a tough transition for me.

I’ve always done stuff in the community even from when I was in my early twenties. I used to do football camps and go to schools and speak. After I tried working in the trucking industry and being in that industry, because somebody asked me, they’re like, “I don’t want to do that.” Real estate was boring. I don’t like money management. All that stuff does nothing to get my juices flowing. I’m looking forward to going to look at these balance sheets. It wasn’t my thing and it couldn’t be somebody else that goes, “Numbers could be somebody else’s thing.” I’ve always done stuff in the community. I’ve always been very tech-savvy. My major in college was Technology Teacher Ed. I wanted to teach tech classes and coach football when I graduated. I started working with Microsoft on trying to find innovative ways for kids to stay fit. We would go in and do programs, raise money, donate Xboxes with body tracking cameras, all these different technologies to help kids track their fitness, track their movements and physical fitness.

PR Ellis | Creating A Winning Culture

Creating A Winning Culture: Resilience is understanding that you’re not going to win all the time. You just need to be prepared to keep moving forward.

 

I started to see the places that I was in. I’m like, “These places are hurting economically.” It’s not like the problem is they need to exercise more. A lot of the issues around the country is people don’t have a way to participate in the economy and they don’t have the confidence that they can. I started to see some of the computer science education things that Microsoft was doing in the store, they’ll do my partnership. I thought, “Why can’t other people have access to this stuff, people who don’t live near a Microsoft store?” If you live in their Microsoft store, you can take classes whenever you want for free. If you don’t, you don’t have access. Most of our educational system is struggling to find access to training that’s relevant to the economy.

I created Athletes for Computer Science. We teach two classes remotely in rural areas and inner cities. Anywhere in the country, we can teach classes. I get athletes to come on as education ambassadors on our video conferences. They come on and visit classes, they get a chance to talk to the students and engage with the students, students get to ask them questions. They encourage and inspire students. We hire college students to teach our classes, computer science students. We’re teaching Computer Science Fundamentals K-8. We get our college students who have some background in computer science, education students who have a desire to be teachers and they get a chance to learn how to teach remotely, teach something and inspire kids in a way to do something that could be relevant in a career or starting a business. I wanted to be a part of helping support our educational system in that way.

My mother-in-law was a teacher for 30 years, my wife for eighteen years, my dad for 30-plus years. I did it for two years in middle school, so I know that age group pretty well. They beat me up good. I had five classes, 30 each, 13 or 14-year-olds. I’m still exhausted from that. 

You’ve got to have the patience of a monk.

Nothing is more important than that. I can’t say thank you enough for being inspired to do that. It must feel great. That’s where you’re expressing your passion these days. When did you start that? How long ago was it?

I started that in 2018. We’ve had over 1,000 kids go through our program. We teach these kids like they have our class throughout the entire school year, so it’s not a visit one class. They are in our class throughout the entire school year. It’s awesome. It’s great to see because you see the federal government, state government, private sector talking about the need for education and the need for workers with computer science skills, technology skills. A lot of these best jobs in America get outsourced because other countries make that a focus of their educational system. They have the labor force with that expertise. There have companies like Apple, Google and Amazon. That’s the expertise that they need, Exxon, Chevron. I’m here in Houston in the oil and gas sector. I was meeting with one of their directors of their IT at Exxon. He talked about, “We have to compete with Google. We have to compete with Microsoft for talent.” Our issue is we’re not as cool as Google and Microsoft. Those are some of the most powerful companies in the country and they’re struggling and looking for the right talent. I want to be a part of that cultivating that talent. If there’s a need, there’s an opportunity, why not?

There’s a huge opportunity forward in the near and long-term future that these are jobs that are going to be around. I want to get into your definition of resilience and then we’re going to talk about rituals. You mentioned resilience and it’s a lot of interest to us. How would you define resilience?

Understanding that you’re going to lose, you’re not going to win every time and being prepared to keep moving forward. Being a defensive lineman, I’ve got to block a lot. I got two sacks in the game or I won’t play on the game. I might’ve played 40, 50 snaps or 30, 40 pass plays where I got blocked. If I went to two of them, I’m a player at a game. You have to be resilient. You have to be able to say, “You blocked me at that time. I lost that time. You got me at that time. You told me no that time. You told me no. Ten people told me no, but I’ve got to keep moving. I’ve got to keep going.” Eventually, you’ll land where you want to land. Resilience to me is understanding you’re going to lose, people are going to tell you no. You’ve got to keep trying.

People were raised in so many ways to see failures as an unacceptable result. Failure almost amounts to a little mini death. We die a little every time we fail because we’ve been trained that there are such consequences attached to failure, your grades in school, whether you get punished or whatever. There were consequences attached to making a mistake. Even in our culture, societally, we see this culture. Bill Mark calls it the cancel culture. It makes a mistake and they get taken off the air. If you see an entertainer or somebody that’s in the movies or on tv and they make a mistake. I am not defending certain kinds of mistakes that people make. If you violate the law, you violate somebody’s rights, there ought to be consequences. At the same time, the pendulum has swung to such a degree that we’re also losing sight of the fact, I feel that we’re human beings. By nature, it’s what you’re saying. A part of being a human being is to learn resilience, which is to learn from experience and the greatest teacher of experience are the mistakes we make. 

The body will do what the mind tells it to do, but you have to sometimes push it. Click To Tweet

People don’t have space to make mistakes anymore and that’s a tough society to live in.

We’re closing the loop on this one when it comes to your professional experience both as a football player and as a business person. If you remove the failure piece, the making mistakes piece from the equation, what would you be left with on a football team or on business?

It wouldn’t be fun because part of the front of getting a chance to compete is knowing that you can lose, you’ve got to compete, and you have to make the right move and trying to figure out what move you need to make in business. Growing this organization, what I’m doing is a great cause. At the end of the day, it’s building the organization and the business. I have to make the right moves, get the right partnerships, talk to the right people. I want to talk to people who are going to tell me no and yes. I’m constantly growing, learning and evolving every single day as far as running this organization but I’m never going to quit. I know everything will be exactly what I wanted to be. It’s not on my time. It’s on God’s time and I’ve just got to keep working.

The last thing I want to ask you is give us one personal ritual you’ve got that helps you to stay resilient.

Meditation. Taking ten minutes to myself and trying not to think about anything because running this organization, having a family, having a wife, four children, mom, on this board and this organization, I’ve got to call this person, make sure my children are practicing, make sure they’re doing their homework, make sure my wife is happy, all of these different things. Ten minutes to be like, “I don’t want to think. I don’t want to exist right now. I want to shut my brain down and not think of anything.” I would say the best ritual that I have is ten minutes of meditation every day.

When you talk about tens, I’m finishing up this book, 10% Happier, which is a book about mindfulness and meditation by Dan Harris. It’s a killer book. Ellis, thank you so much for being on the show. I’ve ridiculously enjoyed this conversation and I know the same thing with everybody else. My reminder to our audience, in addition to letting us know your comments, what you thought about the conversation, and questions you’ve got, remember what a blessing it is to be here now, in this, whatever this is. In this moment, when we’re taking our breath, this breath right now, when you wake up tomorrow and you take another breath and you’re awake, you can realize there are people in that same exact moment who are taking their last breath. That makes that moment special and sacred even. Something you can be grateful for in the midst of any other thing that’s going on in your life. You can be grateful in that moment. If you want to dare to stretch the bounds of your comfort zone, say these four words when you wake up tomorrow, “I love my life. I love my life.” Ellis, do you love your life?

I love my life. I’m blessed.

Peace out. Ciao. We’ll see you soon. Take care.

I appreciate it.

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About Ellis Wyms

PR Ellis | Creating A Winning CultureAs a sixth-round draft pick out of Mississippi State, Ellis Wyms quickly established himself as a mainstay on one of the most renowned defenses in NFL history. On his way to a successful eight-year NFL career, Wyms reached the pinnacle of the sports world in just his second season, helping the Tampa Bay Buccaneers take home their first and only championship in Super Bowl XXXVII.

​Following the conclusion of his playing career, Ellis launched Athletes for Computer Science. Despite a successful NFL career, a pathway to that success in football was not always clear to Ellis. Born and raised in rural Mississippi, he envisions a world where students from all communities have the same opportunities to develop skills in computer science. As industries continue to be shaped by technology, it was clear to Ellis that these tools are needed for students to be successful in a 21st-century job market. ​

Through AFCS, Ellis hopes to inspire students to think outside of their current environment and dream big. As the reach of AFCS has grown, he has been inspired by the enthusiasm students bring to each lesson. Ellis is committed to matching that enthusiasm with every student AFCS impacts.