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There Are Valuable Lessons to be Learned from 'The Middle School Rules of Thomas Morstead'

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

New Orleans Saints punter Thomas Morstead will likely go down as one of the better punters in NFL history.  A 12-year veteran, Morstead has earned numerous honors through his professional career including a Pro Bowl selection in 2012, Second-Team All-Pro that same year, and being named Pro Football Focus Special Teams player of the year in 2018.

But for all the gridiron glory Morstead has experienced, he will never forget all the bullying he endured as a child growing up in Texas.  Struggling to overcome the verbal and physical hectoring due to his lazy eye, he was able to successfully overcome such taunts due to the support and guidance of his family as well as his unwavering faith. 

Now, he wants to share some of the valuable lessons he learned as a youth with other kids who might be experiencing similar struggles.  The new book, The Middle School Rules of Thomas Morstead (with Sean Jensen), encourages young readers to have confidence, be kind, and to make school a priority.

I recently spoke with Morstead about why he chose to make himself the subject of a book, how he overcame bullying as a child, and why it is important to not let circumstances dictate your joy.

How have you and your family been making it through the coronavirus pandemic?  Are you ready for things to get back to normal or whatever the new normal looks like?

Yeah, I would say we're definitely ready for this not to be a thing. We've definitely enjoyed having the time with our kids. We're typically pretty busy, like a lot of other families, and I think it's been really nice to have so much uninterrupted time with our kids. That's been really nice, but I’m definitely ready for what normal will look like.

Well, let’s talk about the book.  What was your inspiration or the catalyst for writing The Middle School Rules?

Back in 2018, I was playing against the Minnesota Vikings in the playoffs and a series of events happened in the game. Number one, I got hurt. I had torn cartilage in my ribs, and I really struggled to breathe for the first half of the game. It was very evident and got reported. Every time I was on the field it was talked about. Number two, the Vikings won in the last second of the game. We had to have this pointless extra point and I was the first one out there for it. We had to have eleven guys out there to play.

That got talked about, and some Viking fans started a Reddit post for people to give to my foundation (What You Give Will Grow). Well, it went viral raised $340,000 in a week. I went back up to Minnesota and wrote a check for $221,000 to the children's hospital there because it was mainly Minnesota Vikings fans that donated. We did that the week of the Super Bowl as it happened to be in Minnesota that year. (During Super Bowl wek), I had 25 different interviews that week. My last interview was with a guy named Sean Jensen. Sean also writes the series, The Middle School Rules of whoever. And so, we hit it off on the phone. I could tell that our faith background was the same. You just have energy with somebody sometimes over the phone. We stayed in touch and he sent me a few books and asked me what I thought about them. He ended up asking me if I wanted to be the next person in the series. And so that's how we got to here.

Diving into the book, as a child, you struggled with bullying due mainly to the fact you had a lazy eye and the clothing you wore.  I’m sure that was a very low period in your life.  What types of things did you do to get through those troubling situations?

I wouldn't say it was a low. That's kind of what the book's about. I was very fortunate to have a very high level of parental support, encouragement, and a very strong church family. Though I didn't enjoy it (bullying), it's not something you want to go through. I think a lot of the points of the book is that if you support children, everybody's going to fall in different ways, get hurt, or have pain and suffering. But with a good support system and a strong faith base, it's something that was manageable. It developed me into the person I am today. I'm very grateful to have gone through all those things. I think I've just been fortunate to have a good perspective on it at an early age, which I don't know if that's just kind of my nature or, or if it was parenting, or both.

As you mentioned, your parents were always so positive as you worked through these issues related to bullying.  Why is it so important for parents to be re-affirming and reinforce important life principals in a child?

It's obviously important to teach your children, but I think more importantly, it's to model it. My parents were more models than anything -- how they treated each other, the type of friendships they had that I saw. Essentially, they had a life that I said I'd like to have. It was the way that my dad treated my mom, and the way that they talked to us and made us feel loved. Those things were very important, and I think they just helped me so much with my self-confidence and self-esteem. They allowed me to handle the bullets that came my way.

It doesn't mean you're outwardly confident. I was not but internally I just was okay with who I was. I didn't really struggle with having a high level of confidence in who I was, and as a person. It allowed me to kind of handle a lot of that stress in the right way.

What role did football and/or athletics play in helping you overcome the bullying you experienced as a child?

I think football helped me to become more outwardly confident. I think it gave me confidence that I could be good at something. I was already a pretty good student but that was the decision to just work hard and study. It's not that I was the smartest kid in the room. I think that it just gave me something to work at, something to try to improve at, and something where I could set goals. And as you start to achieve even the smallest little goals, it gives you confidence to set another loftier goal. That gives you confidence to continue to do it. It’s no different than anything. It becomes a practiced skill of goal setting and achieving those goals. I think the younger you are, once you start doing that you just remain confident. It doesn't matter what other people say, or how people treat you.

Changing gears, your grandfather taught you some valuable lessons about life that have stayed with you through the years.  What were some of them and how did they set you in a proper direction in life?

I was very fortunate. My grandfather and grandmother are in England and that's where my mom's from. I never felt down by living in the small town that we lived in. Some people feel like they're never going to get out. I didn't understand what the big deal was. You could go wherever you want. Not everybody is fortunate to be exposed to different things as a young person. Just going over there, just seeing somebody that didn't have a high school education, that owned his own farm, and was very successful, that was quite an encouragement. Just to see somebody being successful in your family doing it, somebody that had a wonderful wife and a wonderful family (was encouraging). He really invested time in me when we would go over there. And I guess I was looking to be invested in. My ears were open and I was always listening. I think one of the things that he really imparted in me was how important your younger years are, and how it kind of sets up the direction of your life. I really took that to heart.

Something that a lot of kids battle with is that things don’t always go your way in life.  That is a theme or thread through the entirety of your book.  Why is it important to not let circumstances in your life dictate your joy?

Because you can't control them. You can't control it. I don't want to be dictated to, I don't want my attitude to be dictated by somebody else or something else. That's easier said than done. All those things that we talked about, self-confidence, self-worth, self-esteem, and feeling loved and encouraged (are so important). I think that all kind of synergizes into that. If you let your joy be dictated by others, other things, or other circumstances, this is a chance you'll never ever experience joy again. And I just think that sounds like an awful direction to go.

If you don’t mind could you share about the concept of “What You Give Will Grow” and its importance? I understand this is a valuable lesson your college coach Frank Gansz taught you.  Your foundation is even named after this.

That was one of the sayings that my coach used to use. It just resonated in so many areas. I felt like you could use that as an analogy for so many areas of your life. The basic premise was you can't keep things with you. Your life has a finite amount of time and you don't get to keep anything. So, it's important to always invest in others, give to others, and those things will grow and continue on. It's also more of an attitude of a lot of people that are selfish or that are not willing to invest in other people are insecure. The best leaders in the world, they don't worry about people passing them up. They try to build everyone up around them.  It’s just more of the ideal of always investing in other people, always giving of yourself, and that will grow into more than you'll ever imagine.

This book is obviously geared toward middle schoolers.  Can adults and parents get anything out of this book?

I think they can. If you read the book, the big takeaway is the level of support, encouragement and how meaningful that was to me, how impactful, and how it's molded, who I am. That's the feedback I've had from a few parents of friends. Friends that are parents that are giving the book to their kids. That’s the big feedback. Hopefully, that's something that's an encouragement to them. The details of their lives matter. The level of engagement matters, the time that they spend with their children matters, how they speak to their children, and how they speak to their significant other. Kids are watching everything you do. And so, hopefully it's an encouragement in that area.

After people have read The Middle School Rules what would you like your readers to get out of that experience?  What is your greatest hope for the book?

I just hope we can get to as many kids as possible and encourage as many kids as possible. I think some of the situations that people go through, they don't understand that other people have been through them too, and they feel lonely. Middle school, junior high age is a very challenging time for kids. Hopefully, there'll be some kids that are going through similar things, or see what I went through, and see how I tried to handle it. Hopefully, kids will be encouraged to know that it will pass. They just need to continue doing the right things in their life and that it will pass. They will be better people for it.

To purchase The Middle School Rules of Thomas Morstead:

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