In the town where I grew up, they had a competitive girls soccer league. It was divided by age (Under 10,12,14, etc.) and skill level (A team, B team, C team). When I found out about the league at 11, tryouts were over and I was placed on the C team by default. I played with that team for the fall and spring seasons, but I knew that I was capable of more. The summer before the next tryout, I found out what was necessary to make the B team. I practiced those skills all summer long, and made the B team. I set a goal, and met the standard for it. I earned a spot on the B team. But what if I found out what was necessary to make the A team, and set my goal higher? If I still didn’t make the A team, I couldn’t say I earned the spot on the A team, because if I had, I would have made the A team and not the B team. After the season I played on the B team, I began to practice with friends I had on the A team. I worked hard and after the next summer’s tryouts, I finally earned my spot on the A team. When I look back on this time in my life, I appreciate it more because I apply it to my current training.
I stumbled across a Fox and Friends post from Pittsburg Steeler’s James Harrison that read “I’m sorry I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best.” This quote is about the NFL player stripping his kids of non-winning participation trophies because he wants them to earn a real trophy. Naturally, many people are up in arms over this. However, the real issue isn’t whether kids should be rewarded for simply participating, but the attitude in society that Mr. Harrison is trying to protect his children from. The same attitude is pervasive in the fitness world. A few phrases stuck out to me.
First, “everything in life should be earned”. Nothing is just handed to us. We fail to realize that most tools are readily available and we’re too consumed with taking the easy way that we fail to utilize them. Some choose to just sit back and be critical of those who work hard instead of putting in the work necessary to get to where they want to be. You’re not just going to be able to max out squat/dead lift/bench (whatever lift) at an insane weight the day you step foot into a gym. You don’t just teleport to the end of a marathon and cross the finish line. You have to work to earn it.
Second, “by making them believe they are entitled to something just because they tried their best.” After logging hundreds of miles and hours preparing for a marathon and not crossing the finish line at the actual race, despite giving it your all, you still didn’t run a marathon. Nobody is going to give you the metal and say, “Congrats for making it to mile 22, here is a metal for running 26.2 minus 4.2!” Nobody is going to say, “Oh we’ll just pretend we actually saw you make it back up on that squat.” That’s not how it works. You should ALWAYS try your hardest. But, the only way to be victorious is to actually complete the the thing you set out to do.
Lastly, “raise two boys to be men”. Boys don’t become men overnight – it’s a process that takes time, effort, defeat, and encouragement. The same is true in fitness. You can’t just go out and run a marathon without training (and to those who can, I sincerely applaud you). You can’t just go into the gym, fill up the bar with plates and expect to successfully execute a lift. You have to start somewhere and work your way towards your goal. The time, effort, defeat, and encouragement are all part of the process. You get knocked down, you get back up, and you earn it, but only if you’re willing endure the process.
As a kid, I never assumed I was going to make a team, especially if I wasn’t good enough. I spent hours training to earn my place there. I didn’t resent the girls on the A team; I used them as a resource to help me get better. I went from being on the C team, to the A team in two years. That spot meant something to me because it came from my own will and determination. If it had been given, it would have meant nothing.