Only a very select group of individuals can talk about the similarities between football and brain surgery from a participant’s point of view—Dr. Myron Rolle is one of those experts. As a former Florida State defensive back and now a noted neurosurgeon, Rolle has excelled in both, and through his work continues becoming a better surgeon each day.
Even though gameday stakes have been raised to a literal matter of life and death, Rolle’s pre-op preparation remains relatively unchanged from his pregame ritual during his Seminoles days when the goal was containing opposing quarterbacks such as Russell Wilson and Tim Tebow.
No matter which field he set foot on—today’s operating room or Doak Campbell Stadium—prayer followed by a bit of reggae would help place Rolle in a performance mindset. When it came to going over his gameplan, Rolle would run down his checklist—from knowing the location of the patient and each operating tool, to even the small details such as which hand he’ll be making the incision with. It was the same precise visualization technique he would employ weekly, from reading formations, receivers, even checking for the tight end—strong side or weak side.
“I think about surgery just like I thought about making interceptions or disguising my blitz packages so I can go and sack the quarterback,” Rolle explains. “So some of the same preparatory steps I did in football, I’m using now to motivate myself to get better in the operating room.”
Football Helped Dr. Myron Rolle Become a Greater Surgeon
The 36-year-old credits his continual improvement in all athletic and academic avenues to a “2%” winning strategy placed on him and his Seminole teammates each practice session by his defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews. With each practice, the coaching staff expected incremental improvements—and most of the time Rolle succeeded, or would hold himself accountable on those rare days he missed the mark.
Rolle still applies the same 2% approach to his life as a professional, husband, father, and philanthropist. He passes down the philosophy passed to him by Andrews in his new book, “The 2% Way, How a Philosophy of Small Improvements Took Me to Oxford, the NFL, and Neurosurgery.” The book’s message is simplistically straightforward: Like sports, success in every walk of life can be achieved not by flash, but through slow and steady drives forward.
“The book really is for everyone,” says Rolle, whose story was recently featured on the Amazon series Life After, co-produced by former NFL star Thomas Q Jones. “I know that’s kind of cliche to say, but the message is for young and old, teachers and students, athlete and non-athletes. It’s for those looking to find a space where they don’t have to feel overrun and worn down by the burdens of life. With this approach, they can break down things in small pieces, and move one step at a time—forward, onward, and upward to a better version of themselves.”
From the Football Field to Operating Room
While at Florida State from 2006 to 2008, Rolle had developed into one of the nation’s best defensive backs, earning accolades including being named first-team freshman All-America in 2006 as well as a third-team AP All-America selection in 2008.
Off the field, however, is where Rolle really excelled. Having received his bachelor’s degree in exercise science in just 2½ years, Rolle, who had aspirations in medicine since childhood, was named second-team Academic All-America in 2008.
With great success in both the classroom and athletic field, it was inevitable that both sports and education were on a collision course. He was awarded the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship—meeting with advisors in Birmingham, AL, then having to fly to College Park, MD, immediately afterward to make it to the Seminoles matchup against the University of Maryland.
Rolle eventually had to choose one—a potential NFL career or a medical career he had envisioned since childhood. In January 2009, he announced he would forgo his senior season in order to study abroad at Oxford. And eventually, Rolle achieved both: Rolle was selected in the sixth round by the Tennessee Titans in the 2010 draft, and had a modest two-year NFL career.
From there, he went to medical school, graduating in 2017 from Florida State University College of Medicine. He then took a neurosurgery residency at Massachusetts General Hospital and is now a neurosurgery fellow at Harvard Medical School.
A ‘Rolle’ Model for His Family and Many Others
Now, as a husband and father to two sets of twins, Rolle realizes he was blessed with a support team—from family to coaches—that helped him navigate successfully throughout his journey. He was fortunate enough to be able to seize his opportunities and excel.
Not everyone has that fortune, which is one of the main reason why he created The Myron L Rolle Foundation—as a way of mentoring and supplying the resources to those not blessed with the resources to capitalize on their dreams.
“Those are the people who need us,” Rolle says. “And it’s not just about money. They need our energy, our time, the system to help work for them to give them a chance at success. Give them an opportunity to realize their abilities. There are a lot of people in those situations that if they just had someone pull them into the room, they can do wonderful things. We just don’t know it, because those opportunities don’t always exist for everyone.”
As a medical expert, especially as Men’s Health Month is acknowledged throughout June, part of Rolle’s Winning Strategy focuses maintain optimum health among the masses. One of Rolle’s key strategies is never sacrificing your wellbeing for success.
For the former football star, maintaining proper sleep throughout his hectic schedule, staying hydrated and getting those workouts in are key. As a physician, his prescription for others, he says, is utilizing the 2% way: Find what you like, stick to it, and keep getting better.
“Be creative and strategic with it,” he says. “Have an accountability buddy, stick to it, track your progress every month, six months, every year. Get after it. Trust me, you’ll see that the 2% process will make small incremental gains. You’ll start feeling better—taking these small steps is really important for our mental health, physical health, and everything that we do in our lives.”
Dr. Myron Rolle’s Winning Strategy
1. Improve Yourself 2% at a Time
I adopted the 2% way from Mickey Andrews, who was my defensive coordinator at Florida State. He’d challenge me and my teammates every day to get 2% better on the field.
He’d go into the locker room after practice and write on the whiteboard: “Hey, did Myron Rolle get 2% better?” Then the guys on the team would have to vote on it. It was a way to keep us accountable.
There were times my teammates would say, “Rolle loafed on that play or he wasn’t too sharp on his reads.” That would challenge the competitor in me. When I’d hear that I wasn’t as good as I needed to be that day, it would encourage me to study more film, eat healthier foods, make sure that I was hydrated for the next day.
I would say, “I cannot wait to start this day. God give me breath so I can have this day so I can go back and dominate and get even better tomorrow because I’m ready for it.” You don’t think I can do it? Let me show you how.
That type of motivation gives me the same pump now when I’m in operating situations. If an outcome doesn’t happen like I want it to, I cannot wait to do that case again to another patient so I can have another opportunity to have a better outcome to change some things around and make sure that we’re doing the best for that patient and their family.
I took that methodology [Coach Andrews] implemented, extrapolated it to life, and it’s been my ethos ever since college. I try to grab 2% from that moment and add it to my own personal journey by taking small incremental steps every single day toward getting better. I’ve used it in different walks of my life—from my personal life as a husband as a father, to my professional life as a neurosurgeon to my community life as a mentor and a community advocate. It’s been a winning strategy for sure.
2. Always Prep Like It’s Gameday
Football and surgery are both high performance and high stakes. In one, you may win a football game, the other one you may win a life. There is an obvious difference, but I think football has helped train me to become a better neurosurgeon today.
The discipline it takes to play football is the same discipline that it takes to wake up at 4:30 every morning to make your rounds with your patients, attend meetings with your bosses, and go to the operating room for eight to 10 hours, then making your rounds at the end of the day. And you’re doing that same thing every day, six days each week.
As a safety, I was talking to everyone—”strong left, strong right,” “the tight end’s lining up over here.” “They’re bringing in this kind of personnel so they’re likely going to run this kind of play.” Now I’m communicating with our staff, our nurses, our device representatives, our anesthesiologists. Like, hey, this is the case: “We can have some blood loss if we get into the sinus. Let’s make sure we don’t. Let’s have some preparation, a plan in place if that happens. Have the blood bank ready. Let’s get everything sorted.” I’m talking and communicating moving things around, like on my safety on a football field.
I think what helped me most in football was the ability to be flexible and adaptable. I remember we were playing the Florida Gators during my junior year at FSU, and we were struggling against Tim Tebow. They were just driving the ball down the field on us. We practiced man to man coverage all week, but at halftime we had to adjust to a zone coverage. We didn’t practice it, we had to adjust on the fly.
In neurosurgery I’m ready to take out brain tumors, but when COVID hit, neurosurgery stopped. We had to actually had to be ED doctors. We had to take in patients and learn how to intubate them and flip them prone and do all the things that emergency medical doctors would do. And so that ability to be adaptable, I learned that in football and it’s been very, very helpful in my career as a neurosurgeon.
3. Improve by Avoid the Distractions, Says Dr. Myron Rolle
I think what people get wrong sometimes in taking that small incremental growth of daily improvement is they get distracted.
If you’re looking around and seeing what other people are doing on Instagram or Twitter, you may start thinking that you’re not getting it fast enough or getting enough of what you want. You may not be looking the way you want to look or having the money you want [like you see others achieving]. But you can’t be sure what’s in that person’s story. You’re not sure what God has for them. You’re not sure what’s going on in their lane. You can’t even be sure if what you’re seeing and reading is even real.
The 2% way takes down the background noise and allows you to focus on your journey. It shows you how you can get a little bit better every day, walking and running on your pace, to your beat and not anyone else’s. You’re doing it the way you ought to do it and taking those small winnable steps every day.
Start by having an achievable goal and writing it down—putting pen to paper and saying, “Look, this is who I want to be in a week. This is what I want to achieve in two weeks, six months.” Putting down that goal matters because it becomes real: You conceptualize it, internalize it, and now you have a metric, something to target.
That is the first step, but the beautiful thing about it is even if you don’t achieve that goal, the process of getting better every day is positive. The process is forward leaning, and in that moment of getting a little bit better every day, you may see other things in the process that may arise or see other opportunities that may jump at you. It’s such a good way, in my opinion, to conceptualize things, bring it down to a manageable and palatable level, and make it real for you.
4. For Dr. Myron Rolle, It’s Rely on Your circle, but Trust your gut
There’s something about having an introspective look at who you are. If you know your core, if you know who you are at the center of it all, then the voices that you solicit will touch on those things. If they’re not, thank them for the advice, but move on in the other direction. You have to go to the fundamentals of who you are when all of it is boiled down.
If you listen to that, then the voices that you employ will speak to that. For me, it was, “Hey, man, you’ve always been a student athlete. You’ve always put student before athlete. You’ve always talked about your intellectual prowess as being something that’s important to you. You talked about Ben Carson inspiring you to be a neurosurgeon—what’s going to help you be a neurosurgeon? Is it playing football and getting your head beaten up? Or is it going to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar right now? And how will that propel you to your future?
Having those sorts of people around you to talk life into it matters. It’s good to know exactly what your constitution stands for. When you wake up in the morning, you know exactly who you ought to be and who you are. If you have people who speak life into that and can speak to that, it’s really important and very, very helpful. I’ve had that my entire life. I’m blessed to have those sorts of people are around matters.
My father used to tell me, “Shoot for the sun, because if you miss yourself among the stars.” Go as high as you can. If you have that opportunity, and that door opens, you got to shoot for it. And if you don’t make it, it’s OK. You’re not a failure. You didn’t let anyone down. You’re still moving in the right direction because you’re still really high and you can still be very successful. You can still influence and impact a lot of people, so it starts by setting the goals high.
5. Don’t Swap Success for Your Health
I think physical health and mental health are two important aspects of who we are. It allows us to enjoy the things we love in life.
Life is so precious, and I see it every day in neurosurgery where one decision or you know, one bleed or one stroke could just completely disrupt the life that one person had. They may not be here tomorrow.
I appreciate the fact that health needs to be a priority so that we can avoid those situations or if we get into those situations. If you happen to have some sort of devastating neurological disease, the people who have better prognosis are the ones who go into it healthier. So, a healthier mind, a healthier body is helping set you up to win.
For me, proper sleep is tough to come by, especially when you’re operating for a long time or you’re on call 24 hours. So I make sure I’m putting the right things in my body, staying well hydrated and making sure I’m getting good sleep. I have to make sure the diet I have is well balanced, and that I have the energy. I also have to get some workouts in to allow my muscles to stay strong, not only to be able to stand upright for the eight-hour surgeries, but also to maintain my my mental acumen and my mental sharpness.
We see it in surgery that bad complications occur toward the 11th hour of the surgery, those last 30 minutes when you’re almost done. You feel the finish line approaching and you’re tired. Your mind sort of goes a little bit. It’s sort of like football. You make the most mistakes in the fourth quarter when you’re tired and you’re not thinking correctly. You allow your fundamentals to get a little loose, to get less technical, but this is the time to really lock in. So I really trained my mind and body to become laser focused toward the end of our surgeries, and it’s been very helpful for me.
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