This week’s conversation is with Jim Nantz, an American sportscaster who has worked on telecasts of the NFL, NCAA Division I men’s basketball, the Olympics, the NBA and the PGA Tour for CBS Sports since the 1980s.
Jim is an absolute legend in the field.
If you’re a sports fan, you know his voice.
He has anchored CBS’s coverage of the Masters Tournament since 1989 and been the play-by-play announcer on CBS’s top NFL game since 2004.
In this conversation, we discuss how he made his way up through the ranks… how he struggled with anxiety the first two years of his career and how he used deliberate practice, a committed practice of imagery and perspective shifting, to work his way through it.
In This Episode:
Was he just born with that voice?
I had no training. Never had anyone training, except I could say this… fifth, sixth, and seventh grade I went to a speech therapist in grammar school because I couldn’t roll my Ls. So they clearly were not working with my voice for one day down the road being able to use it professionally. It was just I couldn’t say anything with an L, came out as a wa. So, “I wove you,” and that was a problem. And I had to stay after school a couple days a week and that’s it. My voice is my dad’s voice. My dad’s been gone since 2008. I sound exactly like my dad. He never used his voice at all for any professional purposes, but I just counted as a blessing because people make a fuss about my voice. I don’t get it. I don’t think it’s anything special, but I’m grateful that people do feel that way. And I credit my dad and the man upstairs.
His father’s integrity and belief
My dad, I think a lot of people would feel this way, but I just looked up to him so much as a man of high integrity, the highest integrity. And he had nothing but friends. I know people say that after you lose someone, “Oh, he never said a bad word about anyone.” That truly was my dad. He was just a happy go, lucky, probably isn’t the right way to frame it, but he just believed in people. So he had a natural gear where, I’m going to ride with you. I’m going to take everything you say and I’m going to believe in you.
What Jim learned from Coach John Wooden
I was looking for some psychological background on how coach Wooden dealt with his players and how he dealt with an interface with people. He was a quiet, reserved, high integrity, classy guide, never wanted the attention to be about him… He said something that I thought, that’s my dad. Coach Wooden said, “I would rather believe in someone and be disappointed some of the time than to never believe in someone and be disappointed all the time.” It’s an interesting thing. It sounds so simple. But if you want to believe in someone, yes, we’re all going to occasionally run into someone that took advantage of us or someone that just had other ulterior motives. And that’s going to happen, but that’s not going to happen all the time. So I’m going to be above that – I’m going to believe in people, I’m going to have great relationships.
His first run-in with anxiety
That second year I dealt with anxiety, big time. I mean, I really lost some confidence in myself, which was foreign to me. It was then, it is now, because I’ve never lacked belief, I’m not overconfident, but enough belief that I can stand up and talk in front of people. So that was a trying time for me. That was probably the hardest time of my career. I was, for some reason, obsessing over what could go wrong instead of what was going right.
What difficult times have taught him
Repetition and success through difficult times, through choppy waters, strengthens you. And after, you say, “Well, I got through that. I can get through anything.” I got through the final four live sitting on a set by myself, taking us on and off the air. Well, that’s a layer of confidence, not that it hardens you, it just gives you a foundation where you know you’ve already defeated that, you’ve already grown past that.
A story about anxiety, The Masters, and Fred Couples
And the second anxiety point for me was in ’92 at the Masters, when Fred Couples won the Masters. We were at the University of Houston together. We shared a four person suite from day one. So we were roommates. And he always wanted to win the Masters, always wanted to broadcast the Masters. And now April the 12th, 1992 rolls around and he’s on his way to winning it and I’m hosting it. It’s my seventh Masters and he’s going to win the green jacket. And now we have to go conduct the Green Jacket Ceremony for the world to watch. Why is that significant? Because we used to practice that in our dorm room. We used to sit around and actually play act like grownups. He’s the Master’s champion, I’m hosting it for CBS. And I even would tape it into a little audio cassette player. We practiced the green jacket. So I’m not talking about 30 times. We did it a couple of times. Play acted like we were big shots. We had fulfilled our dreams. So now you fast forward, so a few years later, we’re still young. We’re still at that point 32-years-old and it happens, except now, this isn’t in your dorm room and it’s not make believe. This is happening all across the United States and 206 countries around the world to take the Butler Cabin feed of the coronation of the Masters Tournament. And I have to tell you, I felt anxiety there. I did.
How he uses mental imagery
Almost every single time, before I leave a hotel room to go to a game site or a tournament site, I will spend an extra 30 minutes just going through, in my room, through all the imagery of what could potentially happen that day. I don’t script anything. In fact, I’m the last guy in the world that likes to sit down and have a written script. I say this all the time, I would rather be conversational and choppy and lost for the right word, pausing maybe sometimes a little longer than I should, like I am right now, to get my message across or get the words out, to feel the moment, than to be written out and to be clean and letter perfect. I don’t want that. I don’t want to sound so clean and perfect in the delivery that it’s, what’s scripted… I’ll think about stories that are in the back of my mind, that I’ve compartmentalized about each individual on each roster. And I just go through it. It’s a good 30 minute exercise.
CBS was always the goal
I think I sacrificed in some respects, some normalcy to particularly my college years. I don’t really remember ever doing anything like attending a party. I never went to a single party in college. Well, somebody might be listen to say, “Well, who would invite you to a party anyway? Nantz, you’re not …” And maybe they’re right. But my story was in college. I wanted to do anything that could possibly lead to one day being discovered by CBS. That was a network I wanted to work for, CBS Broadcast, the Masters. And I love the way they presented the NFL. I obsessed about that.
Why he journals every day
Just most of the time, I like to know how I can better myself. If I’m doing something too much, I will write down how many days. So I know at the end of the year, how many days I worked out, how many days I was at home. That’s really key for me. I want to know how much traveling I’m doing. And I think it helps shape me a little bit better. I mean, I keep a little side log about how much I do a little bit of this, a little bit of that. How many times I drink in a week. I can tell you the last five years exactly how many times I had a cocktail or a glass of wine.
Gratitude and love
I have never stopped appreciating what I have. I mean, I walk into the booth every single time with a grateful heart. Never taken this gift, this opportunity to work for CBS, I’ve never taken it lightly. The process of getting ready for broadcast, I still love to this day, reading and talking to people and learning, so that I can in turn help document whatever the show might be.
A future-oriented goal of his
If I could write the script, God willing, I would like to work until 2036. It’s going to sound a little bizarre maybe to you, but in 2036, the Masters will be played for the 100th time. For whatever reason, that’s important to me. I would like to be there for the 100 playing of the Masters Tournament. That would be my 51st Master. So, that would be, at that point, I would’ve done more than half the Masters Tournaments ever played, and it would be the 100th tournament. And to me, that feels like about the right goal to have. I don’t want anything. I’ve been given everything I could ever want professionally.
It’s not about fun, it’s about joy
Joy is something that’s real. It’s in your soul. It’s in your core. It’s who you are. It’s that enthusiasm, that wonder, that awe that you are here calling those Super Bowl, the Masters, the final four. That childhood joy of being able to even attend the game like that, if we’re ever lucky enough, which I wasn’t, but be able to see one of these events. You’d walk into the arena and you’d be overcome with just pure joy. You’d be holding your father’s hand like I did when the Saints played their first ever game in 1967. We had standing room only seats and we actually sat in the aisles. That was the most joyful moment in sports in my life. That’s what I want when I come on the air. I want joy, because this game at home is joy to people. They’ve given up whatever it is they could be doing on a weekend or at night. They’re sitting down getting experience on a game. They’re watching it for joy. And I need to relate that joy. I need to feel that same joy that I’m actually living up my dream. That’s joy. Not just fun.
What The Masters means to him
When I broadcast a Masters Tournament, I broadcast from right here, right from the heart. That to me is the ultimate sporting event. That’s the ultimate storytelling event because it’s longer form in a game it’s moving so quickly. You can’t delve into a 45 second story. You don’t have the chance to do that. It’s onto the next play. It’s onto the possession. But that tournament on that canvas, there was something lyrical or poetic about it. And I love broadcasting that event. And I broadcast it every single time we come on the air from right here, from the heart. I let my heart speak. I’m so over the top, thrilled to be there. Is so much joy in my heart that I’m there. I let it speak. I think I let it speak more there than anything else that I do.
Similarity between Jim and Dr. Mike
What really, if you boil down what the job is that CBS asked me to do, is I’m a paid observer. They pay me to observe a sporting event and tell people at home what it is that I see. I’m not there to spew numbers and statistics. They can put those on the screen. I’m there to tell people about the subjects that are competing in that game and what’s in their heart and what’s in their head. So observing others is really, in a weird way, it’s like your job, Mike. You’re observing others. You have an incredible ability to figure out how the mind works and how each individual mind works. And for me, much, much lower scale I’m there to observe people’s actions and tell people what they’re doing or what they’re not doing.
It’s not just about the moment, it’s about the humans in the moment
Someone’s walking up the 18th Fairway Sunday at the Masters Tournament. Do you know how many times imagery wise they have thought of that moment? Hundreds, if not thousands of times. Every one of them have bathed in that moment, the spotlight is on them. They’re on their way to winning the biggest event in their sport. Every little three foot putt they ever had on a putting green, they were telling themselves in their head, this is to win the Masters. This is to win the Open Championship. This is to win the PGA. Whatever it might be, they played those mind games their whole life. What are they saying about me on TV? In this moment, as I’m about to embrace the dream, how are people describing what it means to me? I worked my whole life for this. Is that guy up in the booth representing me well? Is he doing justice to my story? I feel the responsibility to do justice to their effort and their dream, to be able to be the voice behind it.
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- Finding Mastery 162: Kevin Harlan on Managing Fear of Others’ Opinions
- Finding Mastery 157: Steve Kerr on Coaching with Joy
- Finding Mastery 065: Cal Fussman on The Art of Storytelling
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