How do we teach “heart”?

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How do we teach heart
Question: As a new assistant coach at a high school I see the current generation of high school athletes. You have been training athletes for decades now. How do we teach these kids “heart”?

Answer: The first step is to define “heart”. It is the innate drive and determination to never quit, never back down no matter how imposing the opponent or demeaning the score. Those with heart never accept defeat; most do not know what defeat is. They know when they get beaten but not defeated. If they are beaten they get back up and go again. To be defeated is to not get back up. Heart knows that when the contest is over, no matter the outcome, every ounce of energy they possessed was spent on the field. Their opponents know that no matter the score, they were in the fight of their lives. Heart endures pain, fatigue and fear to elevate those who possess it above the game. Heart is a determination that conquers those voices both in your head and in the stands who tell you that you’re too small, too slow, too weak and that you’re just not good enough to be in the game.

Heart spends countless hours performing drills, shots, sprints and hoisting weights preparing to compete. It’s the work done in the dark to propel you into the light. It’s acceptance of where you are and the drive to be better because no matter how good you are, you can be better. It is confidence in your preparation. It’s joy in doing what you do. Those who don’t have heart call the behavior of those who do, obsessive and unhealthy. Those who want it won’t get it because you have to be beyond wanting, you have to need it. It’s being willing to extend your threshold of pain tolerance past what those around you will accept.

Heart is something that can’t really be taught but can be learned or molded by circumstances or adversity both real or perceived. In some, it seems heart is part of their DNA. It is a single minded pursuit of perfection.

What the current generation faces now is by the time most of these kids reach high school, they have been robbed of the development of the situations they need to cultivate heart by good intentioned helicopter and sunshine parents who don’t want their kids to suffer any type of failure. They have played games where the score wasn’t kept and everyone gets a trophy so no one feels bad. Those who excelled early were taught there was no greater reward for excellence than there was for mediocrity. Others were told how great they were by parents and coaches of travel teams that played low level games with high dollar fees that created outcomes that over inflated egos. The few who do excel and and develop heart it seems are running away from situations in their lives and athletics are the only way out or those who can see only the reward of a greater goal and are willing to have big dreams and take big risks.

In our kids’ world of virtual reality and watered down expectations it appears more difficult and rare to find those with heart. When you do find one with a spark, teach them how to overcome adversity in the weight room, on the field, in the game and in life. Teach them to quiet the negative voices and focus on their craft. Teach them to lead.

God bless and keep training,
Daryl

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