By: John Klessinger, Head Wrestling Coach - South River HS (MD)
Dear High School Athlete,
I am going to discuss the valuable lessons we learn from playing high school sports and how you should approach each practice, competition, and training. Too often, sports are taken way too seriously, and lessons are not learned, resulting in poor sportsmanship, ill will towards coaches and other players, and general apathy due to a negative experience. My intention is not to downgrade or demean anyone. My sole aim is to provide insight and information to help you to be a better athlete, student, and citizen. I know we can learn a lot from playing sports and I believe it is valuable for our development as an individual. Sports have had a tremendous impact on my life. So much so that, I feel an obligation to help others.
Failure, Adversity, and Mental Toughness
First and foremost, here is the big picture. High school sports should be fun, challenging, and a way to learn a work ethic, commitment, and discipline. It should be a time where you test your abilities against others and focus on your improvement as a player as well as learn about teamwork and working cooperatively with others. Most importantly, though, it is a time to learn about failure, adversity, and developing grit and mental toughness. Quite honestly, the last three far outweigh the previously mentioned learning skills. You WILL fail in life. A lot. Get used to it and learn how to fail and get right back up and try again. If you aren't failing now, your goals are too small. Set goals that are high. It will drive you more, and in the long run, you will accomplish greater things compared to someone playing it safe and staying comfortable.
In the Forbes article, "Why Grit is More Important Than IQ When Trying to Become Successful," Angela Duckworth (author of the best-selling book - "Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance") states that grit is more important than talent and intelligence when it comes to success. A person who is willing to grind, struggle, and persevere has become a more sought-after employment skill. Duckworth says, "our potential is one thing, what we do with it is quite another."
When I drop my two kids off for practice or games, I say the same things each time to them, "work hard, and give your best effort." I tell them this for many reasons. First, being a hard worker is just an excellent personal quality that people respect. Second, when you work hard in school or sports, you improve faster and learn skills more rapidly. Then, you will perform better, potentially earn more playing time, and accomplish greater things in other areas of your life. When you give your best and work hard, you have a feeling of accomplishment and self-satisfaction. From that, you develop higher self-esteem, improve self-confidence, and become self-reliant.
I want to be clear about hard work. There is a common misconception about hard work. People believe hard work is going to practice, doing what they are supposed to do and thus should be rewarded for meeting the required standard. That is not hard work, that is being part of any team. As a member of a team, you show up each day, follow directions, and give your best effort. It is the price of admission.
Hard work is coming early or staying after practice to do extra reps. It is working out relentlessly in the off-season to get bigger, faster, and stronger, and it is doing things that suck without being told to do so. Working hard is giving your best even when it is hot, early in the morning, late at night, when you are tired, not feeling your best, and everything in between on a consistent day to day basis. It is not going to practice from 3:00 - 5:00PM during the months from August to October. Those are the expectations for any team. It is not working hard.
Fairness, Equality, Excuses, and Blaming Others
Sometimes, it will not seem fair that "Joe" has so much success with half the effort of yours. You need to get over the fact that Joe is kind of lazy and you work your tail off and still struggle. It sucks, but that's the way it goes. My advice to you is to work hard anyway. Regardless of others, you keep working hard, and from that, you will learn much more than Joe ever will. In the long run, your effort will pay big dividends and offer more significant opportunities. In the article. "7 Qualities of a Good Employee and Candidate (According to Research)" on the website www.jibe.com, it lists a strong work ethic as the number one employee trait that employers look for when hiring new people.
We are not all equal when it comes to athletic talent and gifts. Some kids are just better at lacrosse, football, or wrestling. Likewise, some kids are better at math or science. It hurts emotionally and is a blow to your ego, but that is just the way it is. Stop comparing yourself to others and focus on your improvement, talents, and strengths. You have unique skills and abilities. It may not be in tennis or basketball although you love playing it.
Newsflash! It is not a coach's or parent's fault if you are not succeeding. It may not be even your fault. Sometimes, you will work your ass off and fail. We cannot all be Steph Curry, Paul Rabil, or Rinaldo. They are who they are because they have the athletic talent the majority of us will never have. I am sure all three work extremely hard, but they have been blessed with extraordinary abilities.
If you do not maximize your potential, it is your fault. If you choose not to do the work, blame others, and make excuses, it is your fault. Here's the deal, you are in control of two things.
Your effort and your attitude. No coach has control over those things. Only you. Stop blaming, complaining, and making excuses. You will not always like your coach, boss, or teammates.
However, it is not their fault why or why not you are successful. It is you and you alone who controls that. Decide now to take full responsibility for yourself. If you aren't where you want to be, fix it! Get off of the "Blame" train and take ownership of yourself. When you do that, things will change, and they will change for the better!