While attending my daughter’s cross country meet this past weekend, I got to thinking about how this sport correlates to life in general. Sport reflects a microcosm of our human experience. Whether one’s sport of choice is running, soccer, baseball, or Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, we can identify the same truths within the confines of the sport and extend it into our world view.
At the high-school level, a full cross-section of humanity can be seen participating in cross country; from kids knocking off a hilly 5k with sub five minute miles, to others who have to walk part of their flat, two mile course. There are long, lean gazelles, and short, squat, bull-dogs; kids who are incredibly conditioned, and others who, let’s just say, are working on it. There are highly organized, well-trained teams, and there are other loosely knit teams, seemingly ad hoc in their approach.
While there are particular physical traits that lend themselves to the sport, there’s no denying the psychology of running. When you’re running your fastest, it doesn’t matter how fit you are, you’re going to reach a point where your body wants to quit, and you have to will yourself to continue. It’s fascinating to witness this in a race, as some of the runners fight to win, while others fade, seemingly accepting their fate.
In the end, the top of the field is made up of well-trained, fierce competitors who generally have the genetic gifts of a runner. However there are always a few up in the front who don’t fit the stereotypical mold, and plenty of naturally “gifted” folks in the back of the pack, people who look like they should be able to fly across the course, yet end up running with the masses. So while natural attributes are helpful, these alone are not enough. Proper preparation (training) and the will to succeed are the constants one always finds in the winners’ circle.
Here are my take-aways from cross country/BJJ/life….
- You can’t change the past. We all start where/when we start; rich or poor, good genes or bad, great upbringing or not. None of us has the ability to travel back and get a do-over. Blaming your ancestors for the genes they passed down, or your parents for the way you were raised are both pointless. Don’t waste your time and energy worrying about what you can’t change.
- Surround yourself with a good team and/or mentor. There are plenty of people out there with similar interests and goals. These are the people you should be spending your time with. When your friends are saying, “take a day off, let’s go play,” your teammates are saying, “let’s go train, and play later.” They can give you the guidance, support, and motivation needed to stay the course and achieve your goals.
- Recognize your strengths, and build from there. Each of us is a unique combination of strengths, weaknesses, skills, and knowledge. Find your niche, and expand it. Look for opportunities to use your specific set of skills/traits to your advantage. (If you’re one of those fortunate enough to have great genes, be thankful, but don’t “rest on your laurels.”)
- Put in the work. There’s no escaping this one. No amount of natural talent can make up for a truck-load of well-planned, hard work. All of that work conditions the body and mind like nothing else can.
- Break down large goals into smaller, more recognizable ones. If you find yourself in the middle of the pack way behind the lead runner, focus instead, on the runner in front of you. Pass them. Move on to the next. Keep mowing them down as you fight toward the front. Which brings us to the final point…
- Find the warrior within. For those who are competitive by nature, congratulations. For the rest, discover what makes you burn inside, what gives you passion, what inspires you to strive at “no matter the cost” levels. Because here’s the thing; at some point everybody gets tired. At some point legs turn to rubber, hearts want to explode, and lungs burn for more oxygen. At this point, the field fades, but the warriors forge on ahead.
See you all on the mats!