How George Kittle's Improved Mental Strength Led to Success With 49ers

How Kittle improving mental strength enabled NFL success originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

Sometimes we all need a reset button, especially in 2020. 

George Kittle was ahead of the curve, as usual, as the 49ers tight end used his own button of sorts during his days at Iowa.

“It was a huge issue for me in college,” Kittle said Thursday. “It’s a reason that I worked with a sport psychologist going into my senior year. In pass plays I’d always get in my head [thinking], 'I have to run the perfect route, I have to catch the ball in a perfect thing, I got to run, I got to do all this stuff.'

“When you think 10 thoughts before the snap, you’re going to suck usually. My big thing was in college I’d draw a big red button on my wrist tape and it was basically a reset button.”

It took Kittle a lot of work to become physically and mentally stronger on his journey from fifth-round pick to All-Pro, but it paid off.

Kittle caught 48 passes for 737 yards and 10 touchdowns in four seasons as a Hawkeye. His 257 receptions, 3,511 yards and 14 touchdowns in four seasons with the 49ers stand in stark contrast to his college stats, even when you consider that he missed eight games in 2020 alone. The 27-year-old was First Team All-Pro last season, and he made the Pro Bowl in 2018 and 2019.

As a pro, Kittle replaced his button with two tattoos, one on each forearm and neither of which is a secret. One is of Heath Ledger as the Joker from "The Dark Knight," and the other is of Master Chief from the "Halo" video game series.

“There were times if I had a good play in the run game, I would just kind of let it roll and keep going," Kittle explained. "But if I was ever to get too excited or too down on myself, I’d hit the reset button and that’s all it was for me.

“It’s kind of the reason I have the Joker tat and have my Master Chief tat on my arms because it’s kind of a reset button for me, but it’s also kind of a channeling of energy type of thing.”

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Kittle has transformed his body since the 49ers drafted him in 2017, but he believes staying on top of the mental aspect of the game has been even more important. It has enabled him to successfully transition from a role in run blocking and pass protection to the top target in the 49ers' offense. 

“A lot of it is mental," Kittle said. "Football is -- like I've always said, it's 90 percent in your head and it's 10 percent of your physical attributes. If you can’t handle the mental side of it, the physical side doesn’t even matter because you can’t go out and play football.”

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