We’ve all heard, at least those of us involved with sport, “do you want this?” or “how bad do you want this?” I use to think questions like those shouted at athletes on the mat or the field of play were silly. Of course they want it, and they all want it equally as bad as the other guy right? Well after years as an athlete and a coach I have come to realize that is not necessarily the case.
Let me start by saying that losing a match or game does not mean you did not want it as much or more than your opponent. I can say this because no one on the planet has ever wanted it any more than I did and I certainly did not win every match. I lost plenty of matches in my day but it was never from a serious lack of effort and desire to win.
I have to add that I started this article a few days ago and just wrote the first 2 paragraphs and then waited a few days before coming back to writing. Yesterday was Father’s Day and I saw a Happy Father’s Day post from my former Paralympic coach’s wife to him so I went to his Facebook page and wrote “Happy Father’s Day to the best and craziest coach I ever had!” I thought that his response was prefect given the topic of this article. Larry responded, “Thanks Scott and happy Father’s Day to you as well!! Nobody ever wanted it more than you did!
When I talk about “wanting it” I don’t just mean really really wanting to win during the match or game. I think everyone steps on the mat or onto the field of play hoping to win. Just hoping or wanting to win isn’t always enough. What are you willing to do (within the rules) to win? How hard are you willing to push yourself. How much are you willing to hurt to win? I always say I never lost a match because I was out of shape, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t have some knock down drag out matches where I felt like I was dead when it was over. Being in shape meant I was able to get through those match and no matter how tough the match was, I was able to recover and be ready to do it again in the next match. I always refer to the ability to hurt and push beyond what you thought possible as having heart or mental toughness!
How do you get yourself to the point where you can feel like you cannot possibly go any more or dig any deeper, but you do it anyway? Training! I don’t believe it’s possible to push through pain, exhaustion, and even fear in a match unless you have done it over and over in practice or training. If you never push yourself to the breaking point and beyond it your training, how can you expect to do so in a match? When I first started going to Paralympic team camps I thought I knew what hard work was but I quickly found out I had no idea. When you are doing drills and then sparring and you know you could not possibly do another round, but you get up and another round, and another one, and you are hurting but you keep pushing, then you finish with a drill that you would never believe you would be able to finish but you finish strong, that is how you find out what you are capable of and how hard you can push.
I use to leave practice feeling like I was going to faint, but always glad I made it through and survived the practice. I remember in 1996 before my first Paralympic Games in Atlanta, I went to the Olympic Training Center for 4 weeks then we had a week camp before going to the Games. Right before the camp I went home to Baton Rouge for a few days for my brother’s wedding and when I got back it was the second day of camp I we worked so hard it took me 15 minutes to go up 2 flights of stairs from the dojo to the locker room. I got to the steps and felt like I could not go on. I put my face on the rail because it felt so cool and walked up the stairs one step at a time. When I got to the locker room to check my weight, everyone else had weighted in, showered and dressed. They all though I had just left in my gi without changing.
My point is that I was dead after practice because I had been off for a few days and we pushed really hard, but I didn’t miss one round or drill. I was hurting, probably as much as I have ever hurt but I pushed through it because I wanted to win! While I do think some people are more mentally tough or have more heart than others, just like technique or fighting skill, mental toughness or the ability to push through pain is an ability you have to develop, just like anything else. I’ve always been scrappy and liked working out hard, but what I was able to push though when I started was not even close to how far I was able to push myself by the time I won the World Championships or the Paralympic Games. You first have find out what you breaking point is, then you have to build up to pushing past that point, then push past your new breaking point.
My point is you cannot wait until the big game or tournament to find out how far you can go. If you have never pushed yourself in practice you will not be able to push nearly as hard when you need it in a match or game.
Mental toughness is a huge part of winning, but another factor to really “wanting it” is sacrifice. How important it is to you? To me, winning the World Championships and Paralympic Games was everything. It was all I thought about at that time. That doesn’t mean I always won, I medaled in all three Games and three of the six Worlds I fought in, but that does not mean I wanted it any less or sacrificed any less when I didn’t win.
Judo is hard! This is one of the areas I have always struggled with, not just with the athletes I have coached but in general. I always lived by the idea that if it is not helping, then why do it? Now that does not mean that I never went to movies or to dinner with my friends, or even out to a bar with friends. I believe relaxing and getting away from all the training is also very important. But, when I went out to dinner, I still watched what I ate because I had to monitor my weight. If I went to a bar, I either drank water or diet coke. Most bars would give me free diet soda because they thought I was the designated driver. If you don’t know me, I’m legally blind and cannot legally drive a car and we usually walked to the bars from campus when I was in college.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I never drank or ate bad food, but I would not do either when I got close to a tournament, six months out for the big ones. My though was if I give everything I have and fall short, at least I will be able to hold my head high knowing I did everything I could to win. I never wanted to live with the regret that I could have done or given more or pushed harder or sacrificed more. Bars are not going anywhere. With the exception of a brief period of time in the 1920’s (in the US) have pretty much always been around and always will be around. What’s a few months to sacrifice beer or buffalo wings, or cheeseburgers if winning is really important to you? I’m not even saying you should not ever have a single drink or wing or whatever for as long as I did. That was just what I felt I needed to do to be successful and to me it was totally worth it and it paid off in the end. I have no regrets, at least not as far as my competitive career are concerned. I did not reach every goal I set for myself but I can hold my head high because I know I did everything I possibly could have done.
I remember when I was in college and training for my first World Championships in 1995, the girl I was dating at the time asked if I wanted to go to a movie with two of our friends, one of which was in my judo club and the guy who got me into judo. I said I would love to (I love movies) and that practice ended at 5 so I would come straight home and we could go. She said that they were going to an earlier movie and that my friend was skipping practice and I could miss one practice. I told her don’t skip practice. It caused a fight and I don’t remember if we ended up going to a later move or if she went without me. Granted missing one practice would not have killed me and I am in no way trying to say anything negative about my ex-girlfriend but she didn’t understand why I wasn’t willing to miss one practice to see a movie. My thought was that I didn’t want to make missing practice a habit. I was committed to do everything I could to be successful, and that meant not missing training. My friends knew that they were important to me, but they knew that I had a goal and that my training came before hanging out or going to a movie or dinner or whatever.
I actually had a reputation for never missing practice, whether injured or sick. Once, when I didn’t show up for practice, my roommate who was in judo too told my teammates, “He must have been hit by a car, that dude never misses practice!” He wasn’t all that surprised when I called him from the payphone at the emergency room where I went after I was hit by a car on my way to practice. I did not make it to that practice but I was there, sling and all, the next day.
My point here is that if you really, truly, with all your heart want something, isn’t it worth going without something you can have or do for the rest of your life, for a few weeks, or months? If your goal is to be a state, national, World, or Paralympic/Olympic champion, only you can decide how important something is to you and how hard you are willing to work and how much you are willing to sacrifice to get it. If it’s not worth all that to you, that’s ok, but I hear coaches, team mates, and spectators yell, “how bad do you want this” during judo matches, I even say it now. My wife even grabbed one of our Paralympic hopefuls by the lapels and shouted “do you want this?” at him when he lost a match at the Paralympic trials. He got fired up and won the next two matches and a place on the 2016 Paralympic team. He had it inside himself to come back and pull it out, but you can’t pull that from nowhere. You have to have worked hard and sacrificed so that you have a reserve to pull from. If you haven’t wanted it enough leading to that point, it may not be possible for you to want it enough to pull it out when it counts.
No matter the level of the competition or whatever it is you are going after, you have to decide how important it is to you and how hard you are willing to work to get it. It doesn’t matter if it is a local tournament, the World Championships, or getting an A in a class, you have to do the work necessary to achieve your goals, and if you give it your all and fall short, you can hold you head up and know you did everything you could have done. You can also reevaluate your preparation to see if there is any way you can give more or push harder for the next one!
As always, thanks for reading.
I’ll talk to you soon!