Tooth and Nail

By: Kevin Irwin

I initially planned on writing this last month, when Lord Stanley’s Cup was still being contested.  But various distractions got in the way and before I knew it, it was the 4th of July.  But with the Olympic Games right around the corner, it still feels topical.  Better late than never?

You want this?

What I love about hockey is that grit and heart matter just as much as talent.  Nowhere do I find that more evident then when watching the Stanley Cup finals. The desire of the players to win the most storied trophy in sports is tangible, written on the ice shift by shift.  When the winner finally gets to raise the Cup, you know both teams have fought tooth and nail for that privilege.  The difference between winning and losing at the last level often turns on the little things: a player hustling to make the play at the end of a shift, a backchecker not giving up, a penalty killer dropping to block a shot. These are, to a great degree, feats of will, not skill.

Then you’ve got to pay the price. The bruises are from blocking slapshots.

At the top levels everyone is talented. Sure, perhaps not equally talented, but the gap between these elite athletes is much, much smaller than the gap between us and them. And when the margins are that small, every little thing matters – that’s where the wildcard element of the mind comes in. Who can be mentally tougher on that day? (In a true example of serendipity, this week I happened to stumble across articles by a couple of triathletes discussing the mental aspects of competition: local pro Patrick Evoe and all-universe Chrissie Wellington.)Now maybe you aren’t the hockey fan that I am, so you missed out on all this.  But in about a week, the Olympics will begin – another great venue to witness athletes laying it all on the line. (For that matter, the Olympic Trials also provided great examples of this too.) As always, there will be some great surprise triumphs, athletes digging deep down to perform like they’ve never done before.  That’s why I watch.

Even if you’re not chasing Olympic glory, the lesson here is just as applicable. Workouts and mileage will get you far, no doubt. But places and times aren’t assigned based on your training, they’re earned in the race.

The good news is that all those workouts you do are dual purpose – you are training both body and mind. Or rather – and this is the bad news – they are an opportunity for both. Unfortunately, while the physical part requires no conscious involvement, the mental part does. When you’re struggling through the last parts of the workout but hitting your times, you’re training your mind. And it’s not just during the workout that you can work on the mental aspect. Once you’ve completed some of those workouts where you thought your coach was trying to kill you – and I’ve had plenty of those over the years, you can look back and realize that the impossible just may not be exactly that. That’s something to remember during those darker moments in the race.

So, when your next race rolls around, think about this choice:  do you want to participate or do you want to achieve? There’s nothing wrong with the former; getting out there is better than sitting on the couch. But if you want the latter, you’re going to have to fight for it. Fight tooth and nail.

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