Character & Mental Toughness- Why we didn’t win

“Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterward.”
Vernon Law, Pitcher for the Pirates

Most people learn the hard way.  They fail the test, then they try to find out why they failed.  That is when they get smarter. But it cost them a loss, sometimes a big time loss.

Is that how you want to go through life?  Learning all your important lessons by failing first, and then trying to figure out why you failed?  (I will give you the benefit of the doubt, and not think you are one of those people who blames others for your failure).

So do you want to fail first, and then learn your lessons?

There is a much easier way, but most people miss it because it doesn’t look easy.  That’s because it takes some time and effort now, but makes life much easier later.  Most people are too blind to look for anything more than what is easy in the now.  So they have not learned delayed gratification, self-discipline or focus.   So they fail.  Then learn their lesson.  But this makes progress painful and slow.

People sometimes think I am stern or tough or even mean.  But to me it seems much meaner to let a kid learn by failing first, so I try to teach them.  To me it seems much meaner to pretend that a kid’s effort is great when it’s not and he will only learn later how much better he could have done when he fails to meet a challenge.

Letting people slide into mediocrity without trying to teach them how to fulfill their potential, isn’t doing them any favor.

In life there are many tests.  The challenges to get good grades in school, to stay out of trouble in school or with the law, to become good at an extra-curricular activity like band or a sport.  These are tests.  Will you succeed in school or will you fail?

Relationships are tests as well; relationships with your friends, your girlfriend or boyfriend, your parents, your teachers and coaches, your boss.  Succeeding in these relationships is important.  Think about all the drama that results when your relationships fail.

These are just a few of the many tests in life.

However, what if someone taught you these lessons first, before you had to fail these tests?  What if you went into the test knowing the answers ahead of time?  What if the answers were made available to you and you only had to spend a few minutes each day to learn them.  Then once you faced these tests, you had a better chance than anyone to succeed.

That is what is I make available to you here, an opportunity to learn some important lessons in how to be successful, before you fail; before you fail a class, or get suspended, or get cut from the team; before someone else starts over you or takes your place on the all-star team; before someone else gets accepted to a college and you get rejected; before you lose out on a job you wanted that didn’t seem to be a grind and paid pretty well; before you find yourself caught up hanging out with people who do not make you a better person; before you find out that your teacher or coach will not recommend you for a job or admission to a college.

If you want to win these situations, you had better learn these lessons beforehand.  You had better learn the finer points of a winning attitude, and caring, and teamwork, and discipline, and effort, and commitment.  You had better learn some tricks to being mentally tough enough to keep it together when things are not going your way.

If you invest a little time now, you can learn about the importance of character and mental toughness a little each day.  If you ignore these lessons then you will fail as soon as you face a true challenge.

If you ever want to succeed at a challenge, you have two choices.  The easy thing is to put in a little time now and learn these lessons.  The difficult thing is to lose, and have to learn them the hard way.

Our football and lacrosse teams compete in tough leagues.  Players on those teams will be challenged.  Heck, playing football in and of itself is a great challenge, it’s not for everybody.  You have to have some serious competitiveness and courage to play.

When our students  apply to colleges they will face a challenge as they compete against students from all over the state, the country, or all over the world.  You want to learn you needed to study more now, or after you get the rejection letter?

When you apply for a job, you will face a great challenge in beating out the competition for work that you find meaningful, or even a steady pay check.

If you prepare for these challenges now, you have a better chance for success.  If you ignore these lessons you will fail if you ever decide to face a true challenge.

Is that how you want to go through life?  Failing, learning lessons from the failure and then taking the next step.  Failing, learning the lessons from the failure then taking the next step  over, and over again.  That doesn’t seem like much fun.  That doesn’t sound like a very efficient way to go through life.  It sounds like a lot of pain and wasted time.

Wouldn’t it be better to learn the lessons first?  Wouldn’t that take up less of your time and be less painful?

You are lucky.  You have an opportunity here to learn the lessons first.

But are you paying attention?

I know our football players want to win.  That’s why I focus so hard on trying to teach them how to win before the games start, before the seasons start.

They think they can just show up and win, but that’s not how it works.  That may have worked when you were a little kid; you showed up and you were handed everything you needed, but that’s not how life works.

You have a better chance to win on Friday nights if you show up strong, and fast and tough and that takes months, years really, of lifting and running and toughening up.

People think they can just show up and win in life, but that’s not how it works.

You have a better chance to land the job, or the spot in college, if you know that the interviewer was judging your character in a lot of different ways.  If you don’t learn these lessons, this is something that you may not be aware of until it’s too late.

Likewise, you have a better chance of having a successful relationship if you get involved with people with good character.  I’m afraid too many of you might learn this one the hard way.

In high school you begin to find out that things are no longer given, they must be earned.   The kids who blow off learning each day soon finds themselves behind a grade level with graduation looming.  The kid who blows off conditioning gets smoked late in the game.  The kid who doesn’t lift gets run over by the kid who does.  The kid who is laying around the house all the time gets cut when tryouts come.

The lessons are simple, but still most people choose to learn them the hard way.

So maybe you should figure out why you might fail now, so you can learn your lessons, and not have to fail.

Sometime this fall our football players are going to wonder, after a loss, why we didn’t win the game.

Why didn’t we win?  We will talk about that 4th and 1 play.  I will tell our players how they blew off lifting in the summer (many of our guys blew it off today and some guys have only lifted once or twice all summer).  I will tell them how the guys that beat them did not blow off lifting.  I will show the film where our opponent ran over us and hit us harder then we could even imagine hitting them.  In that moment, will it matter that our guys missed lifting because they were at a party last night, or their clock wasn’t set, or they couldn’t get a ride, or they had to rest up for what amounts to a pick up level baseball game…no.  The other guy lifted, and you didn’t.  That’s really all that matters.  Learn that lesson now, or learn it later.  You either get your work done, or suffer the consequences. Nobody really cares why you didn’t do your work.

Why didn’t we win? We will talk about that 3rd and long play.  I will remind our players that the other team played six, nine, or twelve games of 7 on 7, while we went weeks and weeks where we couldn’t get even 7 guys from our team to play.  Our older guys were too busy, and our younger guys were frankly too scared to play when asked.  We missed a chance to get the experience we needed to make that play.  We missed the chance to make that play in summer 7 on 7 so we would have the confidence to make that play in the game on Friday night when it counted.

Why didn’t we win? We will talk how we played slow while the other team played fast.  (We call this speed of execution.  It is developed through hundreds of repetitions, which allows players to react rather than think) I will talk about camps. We will talk about how the best teams in the area spent a few days at their wing-t camp.  I will remind our players how most of them didn’t even check the calendar I gave them, or the webpage I begged them to check twice a week to see when our activities like option camps were. In short, the winning teams went to their camps, we didn’t even show enough character to check when our camps were.

Why didn’t we win? I will talk about how we had the lead at one point.   I will talk about how our players didn’t finish their workout, when the opponent clearly finished his. Doing this day after day made you who you are; a guy who doesn’t finish. You slowly became a team where it’s ok to leave before you finish.  A team filled with guys who settle for almost or close enough, and against a challenging opponent that is never good enough.

Why didn’t we win?  When the other guy got to bed at a decent hour, you were partying or on level 28 of the new game.  He showed up ready for the test.  You showed up late or didn’t show at all.  He started playing this football game during the winter and summer, and you didn’t even know who we playing this week.

Why didn’t we win?  I will talk about the game plan, and all of the missed assignments.  I will show the film and point out how players were taught and drilled to do certain things but then did not do what they were coached to do during the game.  I will point out how that cost us the game.  I will remind them how over the spring and summer I asked them to read this webpage, and they didn’t.  I will remind them how I asked them to do the pre-lifting stretching routine that I posted in the weight room, and they didn’t.  I will remind them that I asked them to bring their lifting sheets and fill them out, but they didn’t.  I will remind them about the running and push-ups I asked them to do on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s, and they didn’t do them.  I will remind them how they always took short-cuts, or paid half attention, when full attention to detail is what is needed to win.

Why we didn’t win?  I will talk about the fact that we couldn’t put two good series together, or two good quarters.  I will mention how some days we showed up during the summer, while other days we didn’t even attempt to lift or run.  I will talk about how some days we pushed ourselves, grunting and groaning, sweating and fighting through pain, while other days we barely broke a sweat and coasted through the workouts.  I will mention to them how I told them over and over again that they couldn’t become consistent in games until they learned how to be consistent in their attendance, attitude, and effort in practice and in the weight room.

Why didn’t we win?  I will talk about players trying to do too much with guys trying to do both their jobs and the job of the guy next to him.  I will talk about defenders rushing the wrong gap, afraid the teammate responsible for that gap would be nowhere to be found.  I will talk about defenders dropping to the wrong zone to cover for the fact they thought their teammate would blow his coverage.  I will talk about quarterbacks running out of the pocket because they didn’t believe the line would protect them. I will talk about QB’s making the wrong read on the option, because they didn’t believe their teammate worked hard enough to break a tackle or outrun a defender  or hold on to the ball enough for the first down.  I will show film of receivers jogging their routes because they thought the QB would not throw their way.  Then I will talk about how we couldn’t count on each other.  We couldn’t count on each other to lift, or go to camp, or work hard, or fight through some pain.  We couldn’t count on each other to have one another’s back, because for an entire summer, we failed to get up for our teammate, we failed to run hard for our teammate, we failed to finish our workout for our teammate.  Again, they don’t care why you weren’t there with them, they just knew you weren’t there for them.

Why didn’t we win?  I will talk about how a guy had to play a certain position he wanted or he wouldn’t play hard or even play football.  I show film of the guy who stopped blocking because he was mad he didn’t get the ball enough, or figured the guy he was assigned to block was too far away to make the play.  Then I will mention how during tire flips or wall tosses we finished our rep and then stood their silently and watched the next guy go, never saying a word to encourage him.  I will talk about how all we cared about was taking a break until our next rep, never considering how our teammate was fighting through his rep.   I will mention how hard it is to break selfishness.  I will mention how hard it is to become aware of the needs of others.  I will mention how hard it is to win with selfish people.

When we didn’t win, I will know why.  I already know why.

All of these things could be taken care of before the season even starts.  They are simply reflections of the enemies of character.  We are ignorant, because we never even learned what we needed to do to be successful (read the page/take the lessons to heart).  We are apathetic, because we don’t really care about whether or not we succeed or not.  We practice justification, offering endless reasons, many of them quite plausible for not getting the job done, and then losing site of the fact that all that really matters is that the job isn’t getting done.

But only you can change it.

If you want to win, you better become well versed in the language of winners.  You are smart enough to know you can’t just show up in China and speak Chinese, and act as the Chinese do.  But you still foolishly believe you can show up on Friday nights this fall and be a winner when you don’t know the language of winners nor act like winners do.

Don’t tell me your future success is important to you.

Show me.

Show me you learned how to have good character. Show me you learned the mental toughness to keep your character when things are not going your way.

You are going to show me now how far you can get later, whether you realize it or not.

I just want you to know what is possible.

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About coachbillmoore

Educator/Author/Speaker/HS & NCAA Coach Character Coach Read Coach Moore’s book “On Character and Mental Toughness” Paperback available at Barnes & Noble or Amazon. "The measure of your character and mental toughness is the space between what you are doing and what you could be doing." -Coach Bill Moore
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