IN THIS ISSUE:
On September 28, 2003 conservative radio talk show big-wig and newcomer to ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown Rush Limbaugh opened his rather large mouth and proceeded to put both his feet and those of his co-hosts in it. He tried to make the case that the Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback, Donovan McKnabb was overrated and was only getting media attention because of the color of his skin. “The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well,” the bigoted, know-it-all concluded. “There is little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn’t deserve. The defense carried this team.” With those words, not only did Limbaugh reveal a hint of the inherent racism and stupidity that runs thick through his blood and psyche, but he continued a long standing tradition of “let’s criticize and tear down those who can, because I certainly can NOT!” Let me explain: There are thousands and thousands of “experts” in this country, heroic legends in their own minds, who, when given half a chance will gladly “educate” you about how much they “know” about everyone else. Usually what they “know” involves searing criticism and put-downs. It’s all about what’s wrong with this one and why that one will never make it and all the evidence that “proves” that another one is a loser. The irony, of course, is that with all their “knowledge” of others, they are totally ignorant about themselves. These “ex-spurts” never take the time to really look at themselves in the mirror. It is also very interesting that the individuals these experts tend to criticize aren’t just your basic old Joe Schmoe on the street. No way! The person or people that our experts choose to knock down are most often doing things that they could only dream of, things that they have zero aptitude for! Nowhere is this more visible than in the wonderful world of sports. From beat writers for insignificant dailies to those who write for the most visible sports publications in the world, from local radio talk show hosts to the “heavy hitters” on TV’s major sports programs, THOSE WHO CAN’T, CRITICIZE! What’s up here? Sure, the highly visible professional athlete is fair game. After all, he does get those big bucks and therefore he should have to prove his worth every waking moment. However, this game goes on at all levels in sports. THOSE WHO CAN’T, CRITICIZE THOSE WHO CAN! Do the criticizers feel that badly about themselves that they have to rip apart those who threaten them? Are they living empty lives, devoid of meaning and filled with personal frustration and failure? Are they simply small-minded, jealous people? In this issue of the Mental Toughness Newsletter I’d like to explore the minds of those who so readily put down those around them and the impact that this criticism may have on all of us.
ATHLETE’S LOCKER – “Who are you to tell me what I can’t do?!!!!”
PARENTS’ CORNER – “Racism & Bigotry 101 – Teaching children limitations.”
COACH’S OFFICE – “Who’s the adult here?”
DR G’S TEACHING TALES – “Maintaining your integrity.”
“Who are you to tell me what I can’t do?!”
From the very first day of varsity practice, the head coach took it upon himself to emotionally torture the freshman goalkeeper. Yup! That’s what it was: TORTURE, because there’s no way you could confuse what he was doing with coaching. While the kid was easily good enough to make the varsity team, the coach treated him like he was the most incompetent, uncoordinated creature to walk the face of the earth. I know that may be hard for you to believe, but the very person whose job it is to build the athlete up and make him feel good about himself seemed to look for every opportunity he could find to knock this athlete down. He would embarrass him in front of the rest of the team. He’d make nasty little remarks like, “what do you expect from a freshman?” or “Great save!” dripping with sarcasm after the poor kid let a ball through his legs into the goal in practice. The coach would yell and scream at him whenever he screwed up to the point that this poor kid was nearly paralyzed with a fear of failure whenever he had to go into a game. When the upper classmen picked up on the coach’s demeaning comments and began to berate the kid, the coach let them do as they pleased, smiling all the while. Now you certainly might expect the opposing fans to get on an athlete’s case. Maybe even the opposing players. We know that we can also count on the media to do a job on a kid’s self-esteem and self-image. But the coach (and his own teammates)? Is it wrong for us to expect that the one person in charge of an individual’s personal, mental and athletic development would understand the tremendous importance of his responsibilities and build up rather than tear down his charges? You would think an educator handling something as fragile as an early adolescent self-image would be a bit more sensitive and caring? Afraid NOT!
Hang on. I’m not naive here. I know the sad state of middle and high school sports in our country. I know that the majority of these coaches are exactly like this player’s coach. At best, they are incompetent, insensitive and totally unaware of the negative influence that they have on their players. They think that getting in an athlete’s face and being a “hard ass” is the best way to build character and mental toughness. At worst, these individuals are mean spirited and sadistic, acting out their own frustrations, personal failures and damaged self-esteem on the athlete and his/her teammates.
So the young goalkeeper was fed a steady diet of negativity and put-downs. No matter what he did, no matter how hard he worked, he couldn’t get the coach to change his negative opinion of him. How was this kid supposed to know that he wasn’t the real problem here? How was he supposed to believe that he had tremendous talent, ability and potential? How was he supposed to know that it was the coach himself who was the total screw-up? Why didn’t someone tell him that no one, and I mean NO ONE can tell you what you CAN and can not do! NO ONE. Who knows what’s in your heart? Who knows your level of determination? Who can measure your refusal to quit? Who can really assess your “reboundability?” YOU better than anyone!
Unfortunately, and not unexpectedly the kid took in the poison that his coach was feeding him. He gradually lost his confidence and aggressiveness. Slowly but surely he became more and more preoccupied with how people were viewing him when he was on the field, rather than where the ball was and what he was supposed to be doing. He stopped having fun when he was in goal. He became plagued by self-doubts. He couldn’t stop worrying that he was going to mess up if he was put in a game and that the coach was then going to yell at and embarrass him again. His game focus was totally off. Freshman year ended the way it began, painfully and disappointing. He was absolutely miserable and started to entertain thoughts of quitting.
But a funny thing kept going on in the back of this athlete’s head throughout all the abuse. Somehow, someway, somewhere in the far corners of his mind he just refused to give up on his dream to play Division I ball. Despite the fact that he felt like a total failure and wanted to quit, he refused to give up on that dream. And as a result, he responded to the humiliation and jeering from his teammates and coach by getting more determined and working harder. He stayed after practice and did more training on his own. On off days he worked even harder. When his teammates saw how hard he trained they laughed and poked fun at him. Of course, “Mr. Sensitivity” fed into this, the miserable creep. What the hell did he really know anyway? In reality he was just some unhappy, totally inadequate man who had to try to make himself feel better by picking on those smaller and weaker than himself. He wasn’t a coach! He didn’t deserve the title, He was nothing more than a bully. But as bent and demoralized as the kid was, he simply refused to break. He refused to quit. He just kept on keeping on.
Truth be told, he was a warrior. He was a real fighter. Sure he was intimidated. Sure he was beaten down. No doubt he was flooded with doubts and negativity. However, given all this, he refused to give in. He fought even more. He pushed himself towards his fears. He would get physically punished in practice and beaten up by the older, bigger kids. He’d go home after practice with huge, painful bruises all over his body. Yet the next day he was back out there for more. In many ways he didn’t even know that he had a warrior’s heart. He had been too beaten down to realize it at the time. However, not being aware of your warrior spirit doesn’t change the fact that you’re a warrior.
At the beginning of sophomore year, the coach picked up exactly where he had left off, demeaning, belittling, and continually criticizing him. He rarely got playing time and when he did, the coach always found a way to make him feel terrible about how he had done. He began to believe that no matter what he did, he could never make the coach happy. Of course this was truer than the athlete could ever imagine. Only miserable, unhappy, totally inadequate people pick on others. This coach was a bully and bullies are frightened, inadequate little boys inside. (I don’t mean to be sexist here, but I’ve never run into many female coaches who are this abusive to their athletes. They certainly exist, but in far less numbers). How could this athlete possibly hope to make the coach happy when the only thing that might have worked had to do with the coach having a personality readjustment? Midway through sophomore year the kid broke his right hand and had to sit out the rest of the season.
Out of sight, out of mind. Now that the kid couldn’t play the coach virtually ignored him. Another sign of a “great” coach: he makes his injured athletes feel important and an integral part of the team. Of course, even though he wasn’t playing the keeper still found himself at the brunt of the coach’s demeaning, belittling comments. The kid was hurting but spent the entire off-season lifting weights and training on his own. Two weeks before the start of his junior season he broke his other hand in a game for his club team. When the season started his coach make some stupid comment about the kid being afraid to play. Otherwise how else could you explain why he always seemed to have something wrong with him? The keeper added this nasty comment that was not burdened down by the weight of intelligent thought to his long list of hurts and did everything he could to get himself back in playing condition. He managed to get in goal a few games that season and even played well for some of the stretches he was in. The coach refused to allow the kid to build his confidence off of these good games and kept him at back-up most of the time. Apparently it didn’t matter to the coach that the keeper that he was starting in front of this kid wasn’t as talented.
At the start of senior year the kid was approached by a Division I coach who had seen some snippets of his good games last season as well as a few good ones during the club season. The coach was impressed by the kid’s work ethic, attitude and warrior spirit. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see this. All you needed was the ability to open your eyes! While it wasn’t a top D-I program, it was Division I! So the kid who would never amount to anything according to his lame high school coach signed a letter of intent to play college ball. The warrior had won out! Interesting enough, the kid’s senior year was an outstanding one in goal. Why? He stopped trying to please the coach. He realized that it no longer mattered what the coach thought since he was now all set to play at the next level. The less he worried about the coach, the better he played. The better he played, the less the coach could say. Of course, when the kid went off to college the coach couldn’t even wish him well. What do you expect from a miserable, frightened little boy masquerading as an adult?
Just remember, NO ONE can tell you what you CAN or can not do! NO ONE!