Let me ask you this.
What have you have learned, or your kids have learned, from dealing with adversity in sports.
And along those lines, when your youngster runs into a setback, how do you – as an adult – let them handle this important life lesson?
In my mind, when it comes to kids in sports – and learning life lessons – there are very moments in one’s life that can potentially have as much impact as having to confront – and deal with — and then hopefully, overcome adversity.
And yes, I feel that strongly about the positive long-range effects of adversity.
You talk to any top professional athlete – even the most gifted and most accomplished — about the power of adversity in their lives, and each and every one of them will tell you about an unexpected setback that they have to overcome. It’s a universal common denominator.
You all know about Michael Jordan being cut from his HS varsity team as a sophomore. Looking back, and with all that Michael Jordan has accomplished in his basketball career, that seems impossible. But it did happen. He wasn’t good enough to make the team as a soph.
But the key takeaway was the way in which he handled the disappointment. Rather than fume and complain, Jordan lived with the pain and then went to the head coach and simply asked him what Jordan needed to work on in order to make the team the following year. To this credit, the coach explained how Michael needed to improve his game. And that blue print sparked Jordan to work his tail off on the weaker parts of his game so that, next year, he would make the team. By the time he was a senior, he was considered one of the premier players in North Carolina.
Then there’s NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young. After having a stellar career in HS in Greenwich, CT, he was recruited to play quarterback at BYU. But Young was stunned and dismayed when, as he got to his first practice, he saw his name was listed as 8th string on the depth chart. He was so low on the depth chart that not only did he not travel for away games, he didn’t dress in uniform for home games either.
Discouraged and upset, Steve called his Dad back home, and said he wanted to quit and come home. Steve’s Dad listened quietly, and finally said, “Steve, you can certainly quit the team, if you want…..but you can’t come home. I just won’t allow that.”
That sent a wake-up call to Steve. Adversity was calling. Rather than go home, he decided to devote the rest of the football season and the entire winter to throwing 10,000 spirals in the BYU football facility in order to improve his game. He worked and worked so much that the coaching staff finally began to take notice. It suddenly dawned on them that perhaps they had misjudged Steve’s talents. Sure enough, by the time he was a senior, he finished runner-up in the Heisman Trophy race.
Again. Steve’s ascent to stardom was kickstarted because of adversity staring him in the face.
THE ONGOING ADVERSITY FACED BY DANNY WOODHEAD
Last week, in The Player’s Tribune, which is Derek Jeter’s online platform for top athletes. Danny Woodhead of the San Diego Chargers – you might recall Danny also played for the Jets and the Patriots – did a first-person letter to himself — writing to himself when he was 18 about all the adversity he was going to face in his football life.
It was an interesting perspective. Danny is now around 30, and his reflections are quite moving and powerful.
Mind you, Danny has now played in the NFL for close to a decade, so on the surface, he’s a success story. But when he was 18 and growing up in Nebraska where they grow football players real big– Dan was only 5-7 and 175 pounds. But he did have great speed and fierce determination.
And sure enough, he became a great HS football player. He even broke the state rushing record in Nebraska. Pretty impressive for a guy who was relatively small.
When he got to be a senior in HS, the University of Nebraska – Danny’s beloved University of Nebraska – basically told him he was too small to play at the D-1 level. No scholarship offer. But they offered him a chance to walk-on as a kick returner. But that’s about it. No guarantees.
That was the first slap in Danny’s face in terms of football adversity.
Not having any other D-I offers, Woodhead went to Chadron State – a Div-II school of 3,000 students – where he starred as a running back and along the way, he broke the NCAA rushing record. But despite that remarkable college career, he was bypassed by the NFL scouts…no one invited him to the scouting combine.
Not surprisingly, Danny was undrafted. But the NY Jets did call him and asked if he would like to sign as an undrafted free agent. Thrilled he does so. But when he gets to Jets’ camp, he tears his ACL. Out for the season.
Then the second year, having recovered from his knee injury, he makes the Jets in training camp. But as the season starts, he’s let go.
You get the idea….no scholarship. Too small. Not drafted. Get hurts. Come back and then gets cut. In short, adversity topped with more adversity.
And yet….there’s a happy ending in all of this. Danny leans heavily on his wife, his family, and of course his belief in God and in himself.
When he and his wife get back to Omaha after being cut by the Jets, he gets a call from the New England Patriots. Overjoyed, Danny signs. And ends up being a major contributor on their Super Bowl team. Adversity turns into amazing.
Now, we know…there are hundreds, even thousands of stories of athletes from all over in different sports who have had to confront adversity. And of course, not all of them have the same kind of happy ending that Danny Woodhead had.
But the real takeaway here is learning how to come to grips with adversity….to deal with the harsh reality of sports…and most importantly, if being a top competitor is important to your son or daughter, how do they react to that setback?
As a parent, what do you say to your youngster if they tried out for the travel team and didn’t make it…
Or if they suffered an injury that means they can’t play that season?
Or if the coach decided on starting another kid over your youngster?
What do you say? And more importantly, how did your athlete react?
When your youngster comes home upset, disappointed, and in tears, what do you say to them?
Look, every kid is different, and every situation is different. But here are some thoughts I’d like to pass along whenever your kid runs into adversity:
O First, give them some space to let the hurt hurt….let it fester in them for a day or two. Besides, there’s not much you can do at this point except to give them a hug.
O But after a day or two….that’s when you want to reach out to them, in a quiet moment, and let them talk…let them open up to you. Yes, there may be tears involved….but you need to let youngster know that there are important life lessons to be learned from this setback.
O Make it clear to them that if this activity is truly meaningful to them, then it’s going to be up to them to figure out what went wrong, and most importantly, how they are going to commit to make their goals come true.
No, not every dream will come true….but at least your youngster will learn about life…that one can’t take success for granted….that in the long run, success – in sports and in other avenues of life — involves a lot of hard work and effort.
And if they do ultimately succeed and prevail, well, that victory is going to taste that much better.
For me, that’s one of the most important legacies sports can teach one’s kid.