In an effort to revitalize my blog with new material I figured I would start writing down the once-a-week-or-so topics I cover with my distance team.
About a month ago Jess (Head track coach) asked me to talk to the team about toughness. We were heading to our indoor conference championship meet the following weekend and it seemed like a relevant topic to cover. Although Jess gave me ample time to prepare a talk on the subject of toughness I just couldn't seem to get the wheels turning. I've never thought of myself as a particularly tough person - I get woozy and disoriented when someone sticks a needle in me, I will admit to crying during the movie 'Marley and Me' when the dog dies, I tend to dislike pain and will almost always find a way to make something easier rather than 'tough it out'. Well I really wasn't getting anywhere with toughness so I figured I would just start looking up definitions, maybe that would spark something... here are a few that I found:
- The state of being strong enough to withstand adverse conditions or rough handling.
- The ability to deal with hardship or to cope in difficult situations.
- The ability to absorb energy without fracturing.
- To withstand great strain without tearing.
After reading these definitions I realized that maybe my pre-conceived idea of toughness wasn't completely accurate. Maybe I am actually tougher than I thought? I realized that I had been associating toughness with strength, which are in fact linked, but toughness exists outside of strength, including it and other qualities. To be tough mentally and physically simply means to resist breaking... to be strong enough.
As a history major I have an inherent affinity for historical accounts and one subject I can't get enough of is survival stories. One of my all-time favorite survival stories is the story of Ernest Shackleton and the crew of the HMS Endurance. This story took place between 1914 and 1917 and involved an explorer (Shackleton) and his crew of hardy men. These men had machismo, they had moxie, they had strength and intelligence, they had immense financial means the strongest ship ever constructed and a well-planned mission. In short they had everything going for them and everything accounted for, and they got owned. Their ship became trapped in sea ice far away from land and after drifting with the ice pack for months the ship eventually was crushed and sank. This left Shackleton and his crew marooned on the ice with very little hope for survival. Their once strong position was taken away bit-by-bit until they were literally in the most hopeless situation imaginable. Even the outside world presumed they were dead. However it was in the midst of this depressing saga that Shackleton's greatest quality came to be known, he was one tough S.O.B. Shackleton simply refused to quit, and he refused to let his men quit. Time after time they came up against seemingly insurmountable obstacles and either Shackelton or a member of his crew managed to find a way around the problem. Their survival was daring and courageous and it took incredible toughness. They dragged their life-boats across ice-heaves and fissures for endless miles and then rowed them in the open ocean to make it to an island. Meanwhile they were surviving on the remains of their dogs and when that ran out they ate boot leather... they were truly desperate. They had no strength left and yet they refused to quit and be beaten. This to me is the essence of toughness - toughness is a frame of mind, toughness is strength when there is no hope, toughness is saying 'I may be beaten down but I will never be defeated'.
Now we aren't surviving an Antarctic ordeal like Shackleton and his men, in a typical day we are not being pushed to the very brink of our human limits but we can still exhibit characteristics of toughness. Toughness is mindset, there is a toughness in victory as well as in defeat. As athletes how we react to success and failure reveals our toughness.
In a toughness frame of mind victory is seen as a positive result but not the end of the road. What can be learned from that victory? Was there something along the way to that victory that can be improved next time? How can I ensure that this victory is repeatable?