Committed or Not

My grad school advisor liked to say, “The difference between just being involved with something and being really committed to something is like a ham and eggs breakfast – the hen is involved; the pig is committed.” I was coaching high school soccer at the time, and that saying always struck a cord with me. It always seemed once the season really got going – I had more hens than pigs on my team.

What coach wouldn’t want a team full of committed players? It’s easy to think that our committed players are just born that way – that commitment to something, a dream, a team, a cause – is an all-or-nothing-proposition. Either you got it from the start or you don’t.

I’m not so convinced.

Truly committing to a sport (or any activity) requires self-awareness, tenacity, and choice. It’s a process that’s learned over time. And while it’s not as easy as installing a “Commitment” app into our athletes’ brains – coaches can take steps to create an environment of commitment within their team. This starts with encouraging athletes to remember that commitment is about:

Knowing exactly what you’re getting yourself into. If I go into a store to buy a big ticket item I’d be smart to check the price tag first. What will this cost me? Is this going to be worth it? How much time and effort will it take to maintain? These questions are just as relevant when thinking about commitment to one’s sport. Committed athletes not only anticipate and prepare for the challenges, rewards, and setbacks that go into pursuing athletic dreams – they understand the demands, the cost, the sacrifice needed in such a pursuit. Throughout the season, coaches need to clearly explain to each athlete not only their role on the team, but also the demands and challenges of such a role. This gives each athlete a clear picture of what they’ve signed up for this season.

Keeping it simple “stupid”. Many athletes live with the mentality that they can have it all – that reaching great heights doesn’t have to involve letting some things or interests go temporarily. Simplicity of lifestyle and sacrifice go hand in hand when striving to commit to one’s goals or dreams. While I’m not advocating that coaches encourage athletes to pursue a Spartan existence in and out of their sport – it’s fair to say that athletes can perform at their best when outside distractions are kept at a minimum. Encourage your athletes to anticipate and prepare for possible distractions throughout the season. As a former coach once reminded me, it’s smart to “have a plan, before it hits the fan.”

Remembering rest & recovery. When working hard in training throughout the season, it’s easy to forget the role that quality rest and recovery plays in an athlete’s success. The temptation to always train longer and harder can lead to overtraining, fatigue, and finally injury. At the end a long season, it’s not the best team that wins; it’s often the healthiest team left standing at the end. It seems like obvious advice: the key is to weave rest and recovery time into the fabric of a competitive season. Rejuvenated athletes are more likely to maintain commitment throughout a long season.

Being willing to reexamine & recommit. The act of committing to a pursuit is not like flipping on a light switch – where one act or behavior is all that’s needed by an athlete to be committed. The truth is commitment often waxes and wanes over time. It requires attention and perseverance from time to time. Without the self-awareness to recognize that our commitment is beginning to lag, it’s easy to lose the energy to pursue our goals. Without the will to persevere – it’s easy to give up at the first sign of adversity. On a day-to-day level – encourage athletes to start practice with the question: “what am I committed to today – real effort or mediocrity?” Throughout the course of a season, have athletes check in from time to time – are we still committed to our team goals? If not, what changes need to be made? The answers to these questions keep commitment fresh throughout the season.

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