Considering Obligation

obligation, n. 1. Something by which a person is bound to do certain things and which arises out of a sense of duty or results from custom, law, etc.

Sense of duty and whatnot are noble ideas. I’m not quite sure they have a great place in athletic practices and performances. College athletes are headed back to school right about now. Many have worked hard in the gym all summer. Many have played in summer leagues. Some have even deliberately worked on their mental game. While many have followed summer conditioning to the letter of the training plan… it is the spirit which they brought to the gyms and fields that are on my mind.

Obligation can be both a noble and a legal construct. I truly question it as the foundation for practice and commitment in sport. If one looks close at any dictionary definition of obligation words and phrases will be read that seem quite confining and no fun: “agreement enforceable by law,” “a bond containing a penalty,” “legal indebtedness.” Upon close look, obligations are confining and not very playful.

Practice without “play” is not a novel idea. Anders Ericsson in explaining deliberate practice has quite often suggested that the day to day grind is no fun. Sure swim practice is not inherently enjoyable… swimming thousands upon thousands of yards, with precise time constraints, all while depriving one’s self of oxygen throughout. This being said, I question the athlete that practices out of “obligation.”

While many have followed summer conditioning to the letter of the training plan… it is the spirit which they brought to the gyms and fields that are on my mind.

Striving towards greatness on the playing field is hard work. It is also too long a journey for one to sustain without genuine passion for the sport, enjoyment of play, and goals that resonate deep within the athlete. When practice and play begin to be “obligations” rather than desires, the road to excellence becomes filled with potholes and dead ends.

A “rah rah” approach to practice each and every day may be unrealistic. Yet the athlete that shows up  simply because he “has to” or she “needs to” because it’s what an athlete does is likely to make few strides forward. Practice ought be a labor of love. Traversing the difficult path to high performance should be a welcomed challenge rather than a necessary evil.

When language about practice and play starts to be that of obligation, step back to re-harness the spirit of the sport and the true resonance of the many hours committed on the journey.

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