I read a great article a few years back about Kenyon College swimming coach Jim Steen.
The quote that stood out to me was this one:
“Find a place within yourself where success and failure don’t matter, a place where you can engage in battle without compromise.”
How many different things affect the level we compete at? Attitidue, approach, fatigue, injury, talent, success, failure… The list of things that actually affect the level we compete at is just about endless. You can use any excuse you want as a reason not to compete.
Our goal as a program is to get our compete level so high that nothing affects it. The way we compete becomes second nature, and circumstances have no bearing on it. It’s certainly uncommon, for sure, because it’s natural to have an explanation for why we didn’t. Did I give absolutely everything I had today? Well, no, but practice was early, we haven’t had a day off in a while, I’m a little banged up, we’ve had a rough travel stretch. There is always an available excuse for not competing at a high level. It’s overcoming those natural excuses that allow you to be great.
I’ve started with the way we compete as the foundation of our teams since I became a head coach. In my years as an assistant coach at 4 different schools, I learned a lot about the things that we couldn’t control. I felt like many head coaches spent too much time on the things that they couldn’t control, so I wanted to focus on the things we could control. Competing at a high level? That was something we could control. That certainly doesn’t mean it is easy, but it is something within our control.
Rhode Island College turned out to be a great first stop for me as a head coach, because the players we could attract tended to be the overlooked, chip-on-their-shoulder kids with something to prove. They showed up with a natural competitive edge, and we were able to make that the foundation of our program. But as proud as we were of the culture we built, the challenge to get our guys to compete at a high level was always there. Competing at a high level became common for us, but that still doesn’t mean we brought it the right way every day. All of the same distractions that can affect how you compete were in play, but our guys were willing to attack them and fight them every day.
Compete without compromise. It starts with trust, with developing a connection with your guys so that they are willing to allow you to push them. It has to come with a clear, concise message, so there is no confusion, and I think it’s important to de-emphasize results, as hard as that sounds. If the only goal is the result, you won’t develop the ability to compete consistently at a high level, because the scoreboard won’t always be in your favor.
But when you get there, when you get to that place where results don’t matter, where you can engage in battle without compromise, it’s almost as if a transformation takes place. A trust and toughness surrounds your program that allows you to perform at an uncommon level, and to do it consistently.