Suck it up. Simple as that.
One of the best lessons I ever got on this subject came from the 1993 film The Program. Watch the clip below to see what I mean (and please do so with my apologies for the sound quality).
Now, before anyone cries foul or breaks bad on me, I would like to direct you to my posts from March 20 (“The Safety Dilemma”) and March 25 (“Missions Accomplished”) regarding contact sports and player safety. That said, I coach football in a program that preaches the same philosophy laid out by James Caan in the above video. We will not let an athlete endanger his long term health and safety by “playing through the pain” of a serious injury. However, we will also not let an athlete get away with taking the easy way out in the face of any “pain” that can and should be worked through (the determination of which we leave in the hands of our training staff).
In other words, yes, we expect our athletes to play “hurt”.
Unfortunately, it’s been my experience that a steadily rising number of high school student-athletes are unwilling to push themselves through even mild discomfort, let alone any degree of real pain. Back in June we had multiple players turn in their pads and leave the team after the first day of varsity camp. To give you some context, our first day of camp is entirely non-contact and does not include any “conditioning”. We spend our first June practice getting organized, teaching concepts, and installing fundamental drills. Quite frankly, it’s the most non-intensive practice we’ll have all year. But it was too much for some of our young men, and they quit before they even got a chance to put pads on and have any real fun.
More recently, we put our team through a circuit workout consisting of a series of drills designed to stretch the limits of their strength, speed, agility, and stamina. Half-way through the first rep of the first drill, one of our offensive linemen tried to walk off the field. Having to complete a twenty-yard progression of traveling dumbbell swings was enough to make him want to quit the team. And this after surviving five months of off-season training and two weeks of camp.
By way of comparison, consider this: I broke my foot the second weekend of June. I was out running on a grassy trail and accidentally stepped into a hole during a sprint interval. Now, consider the list of things I still managed to do after my injury…
…I coached four days of football camp (without sitting down or riding in a golf cart)
…I removed the furniture from two of our bedrooms
…I tore up all the carpet in said rooms and carried it to the curb (admittedly, I left the installation of the new carpet to a professional)
…I painted one of the rooms
…I moved the furniture back in
…I cut my grass (and, no, I do not own a riding mower)
…I carried $500 worth of pressure-treated lumber from my driveway to the back of my house (where we were replacing a second-story balcony, the actual construction of which I left in far more capable hands)
And this was all before I was even able to get to the doctor’s office and get my pneumatic boot! Hell, after I hurt myself I ran over three-and-a-half miles home. My wife will be quick to point out that I wasn’t actually that far away from our house at the time….but I needed to finish my run. I even finished my intervals.
What I really struggle with here is the fact that I managed to do all of that in spite of an injury (plus a lot more during the weeks with the boot), and I had nothing more to motivate me than an arbitrary timeline for my household projects and a general sense of vanity about my fitness and my appearance. Yet so many of the athletes that I coach – young men that have a hell of a lot more to work for, to strive for, and to prove than I do – would have been content to call for a ride home and take the rest of the month off.
Of course, the football field is not the only place I’ve seen this happen.
It’s damn hard being a teacher these days. Imagine trying to stimulate the collective imagination and intellect of a classroom full of teenagers when they almost universally refuse to engage in any kind of class activity because participation might lead to criticism.
How am I supposed to challenge my students academically if questioning anything they say or do causes them to sulk and shut down? How am I supposed to help them learn when every correction inevitably causes them to stop trying? How can I teach them to be better writers if anything less than a gold star and a Great Job! on their papers means they’re going to quit?
You might tell me that it’s my job as a teacher to motivate my students to be persistent and to encourage them to keep trying. And you’d be right. But I would tell you that motivation is a fuse that has to be lit at both ends. There’s very little anyone can do to motivate someone who refuses to motivate himself first.
I would also point out that this apparent lack of resolve is not exclusive to “work” activities (and, believe me, playing high school football these days is work). Since mid-May, there’s been a lot of hubbub on the internet about the perceived difficulty of retro video games and how surprisingly unpopular some of them are with younger gamers. A lot of this began as a reaction to the release of Super Metroid on the WiiU eShop. Almost immediately, gamers began expressing their consternation, frustration, and general dissatisfaction with what is universally regarded as one of the finest games of the 16-bit era, perhaps of all time.
Why, you ask?
Because it’s frakking hard, that’s why. And because it makes no apologies for its difficulty. There’s no tutorial level and there are no on-screen prompts instructing you how to play. You either need to search for the directions (scans of which are available online) or learn through trial-and-error. There are no in-game/in-app purchases of extra health, lives, or weapons. They must all simply be found and earned. And there’s no “Super Guide” to lead you through difficult levels if you get frustrated. You simply have to keep on trying until you figure it out.
Under the circumstances, I’m willing to bet that a lot of gamers who didn’t cut their teeth during the 16-bit era were quick to turn to online FAQ’s and WalkThrus. I’m also willing to guarantee that many more of them simply quit playing. And it’s a damn shame that they did. Because, as Tim Poon put it in a recent review on platformnation.com, “It’s a little bit less that you’re proving it to the game or anyone else in particular and more proving it to yourself. Super Metroid is fantastic at cultivating a sense of pride in your accomplishments”. And isn’t that what sucking it up and persevering is all about, regardless of the challenge?
In closing, I’d like to share one final story. I recently took my two-year-old daughter on a walk to the local playground. Even a few months shy of age three, she’s already a climber. It doesn’t matter what park we go to or what playground we play on, she’s going to run immediately to the tallest slide and she’s going to get to it by way of the most complicated and perilous ladder/apparatus possible. After a half-dozen incident-free trips up an eight-foot tall set of spokes, my daughter inevitably slipped stepping from the ladder to the platform. I was only able to grab enough of her to soften her landing, and she audibly banged the back of her head before she hit the ground. Tears quickly followed, then an ear-piercing wail that was widely mistaken for the county tornado siren. She ran to me. I picked her up. She screamed again.
Then, in a choked shriek that slashed through the tears, “Daddy, I want to do that again!”
My daughter was more upset by the thought that falling down might mean the end of play time than she was by the fact that she’d fallen and/or hurt herself.
So, of course, I let her climb again.
And she kept on climbing.
When another family showed up later that evening, my daughter boldly proclaimed, “I fell down. And I cwied. But I got back up again. And I was fine.”
To my little girl, I can only say this: I don’t know what you’ve got that my students and my players don’t, but don’t you dare lose it. If there’s any justice in the world, you’re going to come out miles ahead of them.
Suck it up. It’s the best advice I’ve got to give.