I originally had a different post scheduled for today. It was about finding results through culture and core values, but I'm putting it on hold for this one. It's long winded, but I appreciate all of you who take the time to read it and I hope it helps anyone struggling with challenge. This is a story of how the toughest time in my life molded me. Difficult one for me to write. Here goes:
Lately, I've seen social media buzzing with coaches pleading to parents and administrators to let kids face adversity, to face challenge. I've even seen a book tweeted out - "The Coddling of the American Mind" by Greg Lukianoff and Johnathan Haidt. It looks super interesting and though I haven't read it yet, I'm going to judge a book by its cover and say I agree with most of what's in there.
I really can't put into words how short sighted shielding our youth from adversity is but I'm going to try. Although it may feel good in the here and now, we're setting them up for failure in the future. And let me be clear - I don't mean failure as in not achieving something. That's inevitable. We, all of us, the youth included, will mess up on something. We will get it wrong, have terrible mistakes that could have catastrophic consequences, get knocked down, or whatever you want to call it. We all will face adversity. But coming up short is not failure. Failure is when we give up. When we don't get back on our feet, don't dust ourselves off and try again, don't go back to the drawing board. Failure is when we crumble, when we break in the face of adversity and stop trying. The only way to build the skills necessary to battle life's obstacles is to be challenged and react to it...and yes, sports are a huge part of that, because sports mirror life and present those growth opportunities.
I'm usually a private guy so this is tough for me to write. But, growing up I was super spoiled - the youngest of 3 boys growing up in an Italian-American household that included my mother and my grandmother...it's hard not to be spoiled. But, not spoiled like I got everything I asked for. I mean, I did eat like a king as you can imagine. My parents and grandmother were so good to me. We didn't have everything, but they did their best to give me everything I could ever want, like life skills and work ethic. At the time, I didn't realize how lucky I was and didn't really absorb it all. I was a sensitive kid. I took every mistake to heart... but they pushed me in the classroom and fueled my confidence on the basketball court and the baseball diamond, even when I struggled. My middle brother toughened me up, a lot, and my oldest brother toughened him up. As a family, nothing could prepare us for the adversity we faced on March 6, 2001 - the day my mother passed away. I was 16.
After a two year battle with Non-Hodgkins lymphoma, she passed in the early hours of that day. It crushed me. She was my best friend and the one who taught me how to fight. She was a larger than life personality. She commanded every room she walked into. She was a passionate, charismatic leader. And tough as nails. She fought through chemo, radiation, bone marrow transplants and congestive heart failure - twice over those two years. I spent nights in the hospital with her watching the disease wreak havoc on her body but she never backed down. Her nurses consistently told me that my mother was the toughest person they'd ever known.
March 6, 2001 was the day I saw the world through a new lens. And though we knew it was coming, it's like the sunglasses I viewed the world through that showed me sunshine and fluffy clouds came off and I saw a much harsher, crueler world. Living without my mother has become a lifelong battle against adversity. But, it's a challenge I didn't have a choice in facing. She couldn't pick me up and tell me it was going to be okay. My dad, grandmother and brothers couldn't shield me from the pain or I from theirs. I've learned life lessons from losing my mother at a young age that I couldn't have learned any other way. Dealing with the loss of my mother helped me deal with the coach who was demanding of me during tough times. It helped me cope when I got chewed out and screamed at, helped me become accountable for my bad behavior...and it also turned me into a winner and a champion. But more importantly, being chewed out and pushed by my coaches helped me deal with the loss of my mother. It sucked at the time, but looking back I'm thankful they didn't take it easy on me because it prepared me for more of life's challenges. It went both ways, and I think that's what we're missing today.
In my adult years, I was hellbent on becoming a college head coach and after a decade of pursuing it, I found myself out of coaching, fresh off gallbladder surgery at age 35. My closest friends and family were wildly successful, watching their life's work come together. I fell flat on my face in my mid-30's with nothing to show after 10 years of work...Talk about adversity.... After 8 months of being out of the game, I started Gold Standard with 2 clients, one was my niece. A year and a half later we have helped over 200 athletes improve their skills, have 5 employees and had an intern last summer...and we're just getting started. We've navigated our way through adversity, more than once.
So, how do we pick up the pieces and put them back together? How do we get up and dust ourselves off? If we shield our youth from challenge, from the hurt and the pain of adversity, we can't expect them to respond when things out of their control go wrong - a loss, an injury, etc...We have to let them figure it out. Let the coach push them out of their comfort zone, let them build a thick skin, let them get up, grit their teeth and get back to work. If we continue on this path of shielding our kids, they will crumble in the face of adversity because they believe mom and dad will make everything okay.
The bottom line is not everyone gets a trophy, not everyone makes the team, not everyone gets the playing time and just participating isn't winning...but it's not failure either. It's the chance to grow. The youth should know what it means to lose, what it means to take their lumps, what it means when things go wrong so they can figure out how to come back and win. Let them face adversity and see how they handle it. Coming up short isn't failure - it's opportunity. One day, life will present a challenge that can make or break you. And we as coaches and parents have the ability to cultivate toughness, resilience and perseverance in our youth. So why aren't we making the most of it? Our kids aren't being targeted, they're being coached. Let them get yelled at, let them build accountability and toughness. It's not personal. If we ever want our youth to find success in the future, being challenged is not just okay...it's necessary.