Struggle and Sport

Over the last few weeks I have attempted to outline the many ways that we have been programmed to accept the concept and practice of struggle. I’ve highlighted how we get initiated to it from watching our parents and grandparents struggle to survive. From there, how the awkwardness of puberty and adolescence can leech the joy of moving our bodies out of us. This week I want to focus on how our relationship to sports and athletics has taught us to bring the practice of struggling into our workouts and everyday life.

When I was a student at the University of Colorado, I did an internship as a student strength and conditioning coach. During this time, I was in the weight room on a daily basis with some of CU’s all-time great players, guys like Kordell Stewart, Rashaan Salaam, and Ted Johnson, great college players who went on to play in the NFL.
When they were in the gym they would work out at an amazing level, fighting for every last repetition of every set. They would give their all everyday with the hopes of playing better on Saturday and eventually getting to play on Sundays.

I remember coming into the weight room late one afternoon after a physics exam. Ted Johnson was in for an extra training session. He was on a lifting platform doing a set of power cleans. He was hitting rep after rep with perfect form, and blood was running down his shins (when power cleaning you need to keep the bar close to your body in order to generate the most power). He finished his set and I chuckled and threw him a towel. He looked down, grinned and said “I have a couple of more sets to finish,” then threw the towel back at me. He played 10 years with the New England Patriots and won 3 Super Bowls. That’s the level of commitment a 3-time Super Bowl champion puts in as a junior in college.

Looking back, I would say that these players I mentioned gave their all, sacrificed health and well-being to chase a dream. They all achieved some form of greatness. Ted Johnson won 3 Super Bowls. Kordell Stewart re-defined the quarterback position and paved the way for guys like Cam Newton. Rashaan Salaam won the Heisman trophy and went on to play for my beloved Chicago Bears.

They fought, struggled and bled chasing a dream. There wasn’t any consideration of the future consequences of pushing their bodies to the limits. Right or wrong, they did what they were taught to do in order to get to play at the next level. You might be saying, “What does that have to do with me”? Well, the workout protocols that are the most popular among non-athletes today are based on the same training principles of those NFL hopefuls.

Every day I see people training like they are Heisman hopefuls. They are fighting for every rep, grunting and groaning like their livelihood is at risk if they don’t finish the set. They fight, struggle and bleed on a daily basis, and for what? My guess is because struggle is all they know.

So, why are you going to the gym today? NFL aspirations? To win the US Open? Or maybe to feel better and release some of the stress of everyday life? Now, take a deep breath and ask yourself this; does my workout mirror my goals?

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