When you think of the word tough, what comes to mind? Do you think of an object that is tough to break down, meat that is overcooked, or an individual who has overcome great obstacles to find victory? This week we’ll explore what true toughness is and how sports are the perfect vehicle to teach it.
The definition of toughness says it is the ability to withstand great strain without tearing or breaking; being strong and resilient. Too often toughness is only associated with individuals who possess great physical strength. For men, too many of us think we have to be overly macho, show no emotion, and be really, really ridiculously strong in order to be tough. That simply is not true. You don’t have to be all muscle and brawn in order to be tough. When I think of men who have a distorted view of what tough is, I think of those who always feel the need to pick fights. I think of the guys in the gym who load the bar up with weights, stare at themselves in the mirror, have a five-minute routine for each lift, and actually spend more time socializing than working out. Society has a distorted view of what tough is, and we need to change. Athletics offer the perfect setting in order to do this.
One of the problems with today’s youth is that they cannot handle hearing the word “No.” It’s almost as if this word has become taboo in their culture, and parents are primarily to blame for it. Parents mean well and no doubt want their kids to succeed, but the overwhelming desire for kids to experience success and happiness becomes a problem. It is ok for kids to fail. It is ok if they do not get what they want all the time. Too often the protective nature parents have limits their ability for their children to experience real growth. The only way real growth can occur is through the experience of failure and the learning that comes from it.
Being tough means having a backbone and heart. This requires the ability to say no and tell the truth. Sports provide the perfect opportunity to teach this to our youth. Coaches must not only focus on scoreboard results but also on what life lessons can be taught through their sport. In sports you do have to be physically fit and possess strength and stamina. One does have to be physically tough to excel in the athletic world. I argue, however, that the mental is more important than the physical dimension. It is said that success in sports is over 70% mental. Basketball great Bill Russell said, “Concentration and mental toughness are the margins of victory.” In life I would argue that the success is over 95% mental. The best do what the rest don’t; they prepare their minds for success by knowing that they will fail, but it’s okay because they know it will make them better and more successful in the long run.
Sports are a perfect illustration of toughness because things change from year to year and often day to day. Just this week the Boston Celtics lost their best player and point guard for the season with a torn ACL. In order to succeed the Celtics must have players step up to fill his role and be mentally tough to go through the challenges ahead. In my basketball coaching career I have had a relatively good amount of success. This year our team has struggled somewhat and right now we have a record below .500. Many factors have contributed to our record, but one thing we have continually talked about is how the tough times will make us better. We have played an extremely tough schedule so far, but it will make us better as we approach district playoffs. I know the tough times we’ve had so far are making our team better, on and off the court. As a coach one can become beaten down if they let wins and losses solely dictate their perspective on a season. Success should not always be measured on the scoreboard. It should be measured in the progress made and the life lessons taught. Going through tough times on the court makes you appreciate the good times. It makes you want to work that much harder to experience the joy of victory more often. I am more concerned about how my players are going to respond in life when a crisis presents itself and they are going through tough times. This is why sports are great; we get to prepare kids for what life may throw at them and how to respond. Always remember, “Tough times don’t last, tough people do.”
In life it is not a question of whether or not you will get knocked down. The question is what are you going to do when you do get knocked down. I have confidence that our team can and will finish the season around .500, but that is not my ultimate goal. I want my girls to continue to be tough, to be able to respond to adversity, and to get better every day. Sports simulate the up and downs that we all experience in the work world, in relationships, and in parenthood. When used properly, sports can teach us how to block out critics, how to dust yourself off, get back up, and go again. This is what coaching should be about. Anyone can be a winner, that’s easy. Not everyone can go through adversity and come out better as a result of it.
As a coach and parent I have a challenge. In fact, all of us have a challenge with our younger generations. Our challenge is to give them a backbone. We need to have the courage to tell our kids the truth, to say “No,” and to help them experience and overcome adversity, not shelter them from it. This is why I do what I do. It is great to win. As Herm Edwards famously said: “You play to win the game.” But if we only play to win and not teach what real toughness is, then we fail our athletes.
Thanks for reading, have a great week, and be an RGP today!