Giving back

homestead girls xc 2015Remember that big trophy case in your high school? You know the one; it houses all the awards from sports and band and club competitions. It’s filled with statuettes and plaques and medals and team photos, and you always stop to look at it when you go back for a visit. Heck, my daughter’s school is big enough that it has a trophy case for each sport.

Except hers.

No matter how hard you look, you won’t find any awards on display for the girls’ cross country team, even though the team has historically been successful. Heck, this year alone they placed ninth at the state finals, piling up wins and places along the way. So where are the trophies? Where are the ribbons? Does the school hold girls’ xc in complete disdain?

Nope.

When I attended Awards Night, I saw all the hardware displayed in its shiny glory. One statuette must have been at least two feet high; it stood on the table like a beacon, luring the girls to come back for another season, another success. And that was only one of the awards. The spread on the table would have wowed anyone.

By the end of the night, it was gone.

That’s because the coaches felt that since the girls had earned them, they should keep them. They’ve made it a tradition to present each senior runner with one of the awards from the season, choosing according to some anecdote that matches each girl with a particular race.

These aren’t just the varsity runners; they’re ALL the senior runners. That includes seniors on JV who may never have earned an individual award in their high school careers. By the end of Awards Night, everyone had something to commemorate her contribution to the team.

That’s pretty selfless of the coaches, if you ask me.

After all, they’d have one impressive trophy case if they accumulated all that hardware in a single location. They could revel in their success every time they walked past. Look what we’ve accomplished! Don’t we produce great teams?! 

Instead, they tuck their successes away in their hearts and memories and give the credit to the girls who showed up every day and worked their tails off. To the girls who ran two and three and four hundred miles over the summer to stay in shape. To the girls who collapsed after crossing the finish line because they had nothing left.

Don’t get me wrong. The coaches worked their tails off, too. They poured hundreds of hours into the season–after teaching all day. They ran and biked alongside the girls. They gave up time with their families. They were the first ones there and the last ones to leave every practice and meet. They praised and prodded and encouraged, even when they were mentally exhausted. They earned those trophies, too.

That’s why giving those trophies to the girls means so much. The coaches taught the girls how to stretch, how to eat, how to race, how to persevere, but the most important thing they taught them was how to give back.

We gain so much more from giving credit than from taking it.

Thanks, Coach W and Coach B.

Roadblocks

FEMA_-_40322_-_Road_Closed_signHigh school wrestling season is almost over in Indiana. We’re in the regional week of the state tournament, and that means that anyone who didn’t advance past sectionals is done. Boys not moving on don’t have a lot of motivation to continue practicing with the team.

An injury, rehab, and some extenuating circumstances have kept my son on the bench for the latter half of the season, so he is not one of the boys still wrestling. Of course, he’s disappointed (read: heartbroken), and initially I found myself concerned about his commitment to the sport.

Silly momma shouldn’t have worried.

When I asked Wrestler Boy whether he planned to continue to go to practice (a lot of guys beg off when their season is done–not cool, but it happens), his answer stopped me in my tracks.

I have to, Mom. The guys need me.

Not completely getting it, I probed further. What do you mean they need you? To cheer them on, you mean?

Mom, they need me on the mat. If no one shows up to practice, they won’t have anyone to wrestle so they can keep getting better for state.

What a selfless response.

All season, that kid wanted nothing less than to advance to the state tournament. When he found out he couldn’t, he was crushed. I even thought he might want to quit.

I forgot that he wrestles because he loves the sport. I forgot that he wants to keep getting better. I forgot how important it is to him to see his friends succeed. I forgot that he’s resilient.

Not only did he prove me wrong, but he also taught me a lesson: the world is bigger than me. When my own path to success meets a roadblock, I can still help others find their way.

And the next time I hit the road, I’ll be that much better for it.

Varsity blues

Varsity_LetterBefore I start with the “real” content of this post, I want to say that I am unbelievably proud of my son, who earned his varsity letter for wrestling this year–as a freshman. He worked really, really hard and took at least his fair share of bumps and bruises–to his body and his ego.

Now, onward.

Talking to my son’s wrestling coach the other day, I asked him his thoughts about the program. As much as he appreciated how hard those boys worked, he lamented the team’s lack of depth. Although there are 14 varsity weight classes, they could only fill 12 of them this season, and several of those spots only had one guy. That is, the guy who got the varsity spot took it by default; he didn’t have to wrestle off or prove he was better than anyone else.

Where I come from, said the coach, freshmen and sophomores wouldn’t even be sniffing at the varsity line-up. When I pushed for clarification, he went on to say that underclassmen would be working hard and paying their dues, getting better and stronger in the hope that they would be good enough to earn a varsity spot as a junior or senior.

Of course, as the mom of a freshman who had wrestled varsity almost all season, my initial (internal) reaction was to go all mama-bear and protect my son’s accomplishments. The more I thought about it, though, the more I respected the coach’s position.

After all, if no one is challenging those boys for their spots–if they don’t have to worry about others rising through the ranks and threatening their hold on them–what’s their incentive to get better? They’re already “good enough,” right?

I thought back to some of the opposing teams our kids had faced this year, and the toughest ones always had huge programs. In fact, one team we wrestled even had an A-team and a B-team–both considered varsity–with an even larger number of JV guys hungering for their spots. No wonder they were so good–they just naturally pushed each other upward and onward.

I’m not saying our kids didn’t work hard. Oh, they did–they really did–and I’m proud of them all. But I also know that things look different when you can see the forest beyond the trees, and for our guys, that forest was a long way off. No wonder the coach thinks that the secret to the success of the program is to get more kids interested and participating.

Some people have an incredible internal drive and push themselves to improve no matter what. Even those people, however, need to see where the bar sits. That’s why when I was running in a lot of races, I not only looked at my time and strove to improve it, but I also looked at the winners’ times to see where I needed to go.

Competition can be healthy for all of us. It helps us get better individually and as a team. It doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game with one winner and one loser, either. After all, I might never make varsity but end up vastly better than where I started. Or I might lose my varsity spot to someone who has surpassed my ability–and I have to step it up to get it back.

Sure, there’s unhealthy competition, too. But when I look at this kind of situation, how does it make me a loser if I end up better than where I started? I shouldn’t be afraid of more people on “my” turf; I should use them to spur me on. The more the merrier.

Balancing act

Balancing actSome time ago, a colleague introduced me to a quote that goes something like this:

Balance, dare I say it, is vastly overrated. In the end, you might want to consider the benefits of imbalance, and the achievements that come with pursuing a passion with a single-minded devotion. –Colin Cowherd

I chewed on it at the time, “getting” it but still somewhat skeptical. After all, single-minded devotion to, well, anything means the rest of the stuff in your life will suffer, right?  It seems to me that there’s a trade-off between being okay–or even pretty good–at a lot of things and being really, really great at just one. I’ve got a family, after all. Single-minded devotion seems like a luxury when there are so many demands on my time.

Then I went to a football game. As usual, my team’s performance was wildly inconsistent. We had a great first drive, then we fell apart for a big chunk of the game. The reason? We’re really good at passing (the focus of the first drive) and struggle a lot at running (subsequent play series). It was pretty frustrating to watch.

My uncle and seatmate is blessed with the ability to always look for the silver lining. When the outcome looked hopeless, he turned to me and said, I’m glad to see we are trying the run. We need a balanced offense.

Without thinking, I shot back, Who cares about balance?! I want to win!

Light bulb moment. I finally got it, skepticism discarded.

Figure out what you do well. Practice it. Hone it. Perfect it. Do it better than anyone else and own it.

There’s another part of that quote that sums it all up: And if that means they sacrifice balance along the way, they don’t care. They’ve found something more important: results.

Thankfully, my team figured that out. We eventually went back to the passing plays that we do best–and staged an amazing comeback to win the game. Results.

More camp notes

jakeididitA couple of weeks ago, I made a return trip to Minnesota to pick up my son from wrestling camp. He made it through 28 days of hard, hard work in a boot camp style atmosphere that improved not only his wrestling skills, but also his dedication, discipline, and sense of responsibility. He came home physically exhausted but knowing he has the will to see any goal through to the end.

How did that happen?! After all, the kid is only fourteen.

The founder of the camp, J Robinson, took a few minutes to talk to the parents after the last practice. Much like when I deposited my teenaged wrestler into his charge four weeks earlier, the words he spoke have stuck with me since.

As J explained the kids’ daily activities, he emphasized that not one had been included thoughtlessly. Each activity, and its placement along the camp timeline, had been chosen intentionally in order to accomplish a specific outcome. All the campers, for example, had to do stadiums (running up and down the stadium steps) at 6:30am for the first three days of camp. They had to do them over and over and over, until there was not a single kid who wasn’t sore the next day. The goal, said J, was that when the alarm went off the next morning, each kid had to make a decision. He had to decide whether to get up and do the next drill, even though it didn’t feel good.

To reach a goal, you can’t be bound by how you feel, J said. You should only be bound by what you want.

Whoa. I’ve been thinking ever since about how many times I haven’t done something that would push me toward the achievement of a goal–simply because of how I felt. How many times I skipped my daily run because I didn’t want to go out in the heat or the cold, because I was tired, or because it was inconvenient. How many times I decided at the last minute not to attend an event that would have strengthened a friendship or furthered an interest because I was too comfortable where I was. How many times I didn’t speak up because I thought I might get embarrassed. I postponed the achievement of my goals–whether they revolved around fitness level, a relationship, my career, or personal fulfillment–because I was bound by how I felt.

I watched my son do something harder than I’ve ever done, and he did it successfully. He got past himself. He set a goal, and he did it.

Don’t be bound by how you feel. Be bound only by what you want. Powerful stuff.

Follow your shot

trashWalk into any women’s restroom, and you may be surprised what you find. That’s right, guys, these same creatures who so lovingly (ahem) encourage you to pick up your socks from the floor are just as slovenly behind closed doors. I can’t count the number of times I’ve stuffed used paper towels into a nearly empty trash can because someone missed an alley-oop on the way out the door. I picked up another assist yesterday.

Of course, that got me thinking.

I’d like to believe that these otherwise professional women are just bad shots. After all, who would intentionally leave trash on the floor beside the can? That means they’re making the toss and hustling out the door without looking to see whether it dropped in. Ah, now I get it. I can hear my dad’s voice in my head now:

Doggone it! Follow your shot!

That means that once you loft the ball (or a wad of damp paper towels), anticipate the trajectory and prepare for the bounce. Rebound, baby.

Okay, okay. There’s more to life than errant paper towels in women’s restrooms. But the follow your shot adage sticks with me. I think about all the times we do something and then walk away assuming we know the final outcome, rather than hanging around for another second or two to confirm it–and fix it if things don’t go as expected. I think about my race last Saturday, and the temptation to walk away without going in for the rebound and stuffing the next one. I think about a professor friend whose students blow through the online tests she gives without checking their answers–and then blowing their grades. I think about email responses people send without reading the entire trail and causing more confusion. I think about solutions to problems at work that people can’t implement because the proponent has moved on to other things and can’t be reached when an issue arises.

Turns out, it’s not about women’s restrooms at all, or even about basketball.

It’s all about following your shot.

Not my day

mini bibsNo one wants to talk (or write) about a bad race, least of all me. In fact, I’ve been trying hard to put my dismal performance at Saturday’s Indy Mini out of my mind ever since I crossed the finish line. Alas, something in my psyche just won’t let me bury it until I ‘fess up. It plagued me in my dreams, and I woke up this morning turning over opening lines for this post in my head.

So here’s the deal. For the second year in a row, I fell apart. It wasn’t my body that let me down this year. The weather was nearly perfect, I stayed reasonably fueled up along the course, and I was more faithful to this year’s training regimen. No, it wasn’t my body; it was my head.

Somewhere along the course, doubt began to seep through the folds of my gray matter. You still have a long way to go. You don’t really want to be doing this, do you? Why did you come out here? You’re going to need to stop soon. I tried to ignore the voices. I turned up my iPod. I even silently screamed back at them. Shut up! I’ve done this before! I’ve got this! I don’t have that much more to go!

I couldn’t fight the voices. 8.5 miles into the course, I took a break. I geared down to a walk, but I told myself I’d just regroup and then finish strong. I refueled with water and Gatorade, and a half mile later, I took off. Two miles after that, the voices had me walking again. I followed that start-stop routine to the finish, though thankfully I was able to gut out Victory Mile at my usual pace. The thought of walking past the throngs of people waving the runners to the finish line was apparently enough to drown out the jeering in my head.

I finished, but I didn’t accomplish a single one of my goals for the year. I’m embarrassed by my performance. Yeah, I know that a lot of people would have been happy to finish at 2:03, but I know I’m capable of more: I finished my first Mini at 1:44.  This year’s performance clearly wasn’t my best effort, and that’s how we should be grading ourselves, right? It doesn’t matter what someone else does; I have to compare me to me.

This year’s top female finisher ran the course in 1:12. I know I’ll never accomplish that, and I don’t feel bad about it. The last place finisher crossed the finish line in 4:29. In my current physical condition, that won’t be me, either. If, then, first and last don’t matter, then neither does any position in between. That means that the only real measuring stick of my success is whether I performed to the best of my ability.

Now I have to begin the process of figuring out why I didn’t. I have to find the right switch in my brain and flip it from What are you thinking?! to Heck, yes, you can do this! And I will. It may take awhile, but I will.

So here are the lessons I learned THIS year:

  1. Like most things, a huge part of running is mental. My psychological game plan is just as important as my physical one.
  2. I am my own measuring stick.
  3. I shouldn’t have to relearn lessons I learned last year. Even so, I only just now–well after the race–revisited them. (You can, too: Click Redefining success and Victory.)

Nope, Saturday wasn’t my day. But today is still up for grabs, and I’m going to make it mine.

P.S. My son also ran on Saturday, and he had a great race. My momma-pride helps take away some of the sting. Way to go, Jake Davis!