I had a parent in my office the other day ask me for an example of an athlete of whom I was proud. Every example that came to mind were players who worked hard, who ground it out, who left it all on the gym floor when their careers were over. The athletes who got better every year, who found success—not because they were gifted by God with extraordinary athleticism or skill—but because they worked their butts off.
And why did they work so hard? Because they were in passionate pursuit of success. They wanted to be good more than working hard hurt. In a TEDtalk titled, Why You Will Fail to Have a Great Career, economics professor Larry Smith speaks to college students about why they won’t pursue their passions.
5 reasons our athletes may be sabotaging their success
- They don’t pursue their passion. Let’s say you coach a basketball team and have got three point guards. You’re a good coach, so you’re honest with them in terms of playing time. The athlete who’s third on your depth chart has a decision to make: is being the best point guard on your team worth her time and effort? Is she passionate about the position and her ability to lead a team? Will she fight, tooth and nail, to earn playing time and show the coaching staff that she’s worth their trust? Or will she give up? The passionate player won’t give up.
- Hard work won’t make them great. We tell our athletes that they’ve got to work hard in order to get good. So it makes sense that if they work really, really, really hard, they’ll become great, right? Smith says no. Without combining hard work with passion, greatness will always allude our players.
- Passion isn’t the same as interest. I think we sometimes make the mistake of assuming that all of our athletes are passionate about our sport, our program, and our team. I don’t think that’s always the case. When I was in college, I played with women who were naturally gifted to play volleyball: they were tall, athletic, and full of fast-twitch muscles. So they were interested in volleyball because they were good at volleyball…not because they were passionate about volleyball. That’s a big difference.
- Even noble excuses are just excuses. When a player isn’t truly passionate about their sport, they think up reasons that they aren’t able to continue playing. I’ve heard them all. They want to dedicate more time to their studies, they want to perform more community service, they want to participate in a particular internship, they’re transferring to be closer to their boyfriend (the worst!), yada, yada, yada. Those excuses sound great, and perhaps help them to sleep better at night, but I know the truth. They just didn’t have the passion and desire required to excel, so they gave up.
- They’re afraid to pursue their passions. Pursuing our passions means that we may fail and that’s scary.
We want those players who face their fears and shamelessly pursue success. We want a team full of folks who answer, “we want to win it all!” when asked what their goals are for the season. But saying it and doing it are two different things. For those who are committed to the hard work of making their passions a reality, success is surely on the horizon.