You can perform a tremendous amount of research on greatness and one of the key ingredients you are sure to uncover is the concept of grit.
Grit is defined as courage, bravery, strength of character, strength of will, resolve, resolution, fortitude, toughness, and ultimately perseverance.
But it’s more than that. Dr. Paul Stoltz will tell you it can be understood, measured and permanently improved. That there are four dimensions: growth, resilience, instinct, and tenacity.
For me, grit comes down to a simple concept known as hustle.
Hustle isn't about being the most gifted, best educated, or smartest. As it relates to sport it's not about being the biggest, fastest, strongest or most athletic. Hustle is purely about work ethic -- the willingness to always outwork the next guy. It's about grit.
Unfortunately last night I was extremely disappointed with many of our most seasoned players. Individuals who typically display very high levels of grit and hustle. However, on this occasion they were far from it.
Nothing was on the line. It wasn't a championship match and the outcome didn't really matter to many people. In fact, it really didn’t matter to me at all. However, their lack of focus and concern for their own effort - both collectively and individually - was most concerning.
Greatness doesn't take days off and grit doesn't have a calendar. It's not a sometimes thing. It's an all the time thing.
Hustling means being willing to do whatever it takes to achieve an outcome. And more than anything else it's a habit.
Where do you draw the line as a coach, mentor or teacher? When is it okay to just take a day off?
In my opinion, never.
If you aren't able to go out and give everything you have to accomplish your goal or task at hand, don't bother doing it.
The reality is most people will never actually give 100% at anything they do in an entire lifetime. That’s just the fact.
Let’s take a look at the Navy SEALs as an example. The attrition rate for BUD/S training is somewhere around eighty percent. A full 8 out of 10 soldiers who want more than anything in life to become a Navy SEAL fail to achieve that goal when it is completely within their grasp. And let’s be clear, these are not average soldiers walking the streets who quit BUD/S – they are the best the Navy has to offer. Each and every one of them is fully capable – mentally, physically, emotionally – of making it through the training.
I wonder when asked how many of those that quit wished they could have just held out a little longer. How many answered honestly and determined they wouldn’t continue to endure the pain instead of using the term couldn’t?
I’m not throwing stones here. I’m not suggesting for one minute that any of them are failures of any sort. I will likely never know in my lifetime the sort of struggle that goes on in attempting to complete Hell Week (nearly 75% of the candidates that drop out do so during Hell Week).
All that said, I would like to pose a question that has no discernable answer. How many BUD/S candidates do you think could complete the training if given the tasks to accomplish on their own?
What I’m asking is do you believe that any one of them could have put themselves through Hell Week without being pushed by their superiors to push through and not just quit and ring that bell?
I would put forth, without any data to support this notion, that not one human being is capable of putting themselves through such torture without the full support and direction of other human beings.
What about Aron Ralston? How many of you think you would cut your arm off with a dull two-inch knife to survive? Don’t bother pondering it for very long because it’s impossible to answer honestly unless you’ve been put in that situation. Do any of us know – even if we have the knowledge and skill to do it and survive? Would the average person choose death over such an unconscionable thought?
Why do we celebrate such acts of heroism? Because it’s atypical behavior – not normal, uncommon, rare, exceptional, incomparable, extraordinary.
My point is that acts of giving 100% effort are being an outlier – a data point that is far from the mean or average.
I’m certain many of you are thinking as you read this; what do Navy SEALs and cutting ones arm off have to do with training kids to play the game of soccer? Everything.
My point is that grit and hustle are not God-given innate abilities – they are learned. Not unlike the lack of a genetic Talent Code that Daniel Coyle unveils in his aptly named book. These are skills that are learned at an early age and can’t be found in a book or classroom.
Not one of the young players that play for us has ever truly given 100% in any game or training session. And that’s okay and expected. They really don’t know what 100% is or that they actually have so much more capacity within them to push through and achieve more. It’s not only a process of mastering the skills involved in the game but a process in developing their grit.
Most people don't normally think of grit, hustle or even temperament as a skill. We think of it more as a fixed state of one's character. However, I prefer to think of it as a muscle to be trained and this muscle is best trained in a competitive environment.
I realize there are times that players don’t like what we are asking of them. And I’m absolutely certain that the parents often feel that way. But I don’t care what the parents think. I know it’s their biological programming to keep their child safe, nourished and comfortable.
It’s my job to make them uncomfortable and push them to reach outside of their perceived abilities and want more. It’s my job to get them to hustle. To develop their grit.
I also realize what we are doing is not for everyone. I know that as parents you talk and question tactics and decisions. No one wants to see their child uncomfortable.
Many will say that the kids will burn out and lose their love for the game. That our job as coaches is to create a fun and enjoyable environment so that each player – regardless of their overall pursuits in the game of soccer – develops a lifelong love and passion for the beautiful game.
Well I’m sorry, that’s not my goal for this program. Otherwise, it would simply be average and I have no interest in being average. I want to eat average for lunch.
There are going to be people who badmouth what we are about – that’s to be expected. That comes with the territory. That comes with being an outlier. Everyone is going to have their opinions on what is right and what is wrong in how you develop people.
I don’t expect to have the attrition rate of BUD/S but I absolutely do expect to have an attrition rate. Being an outlier dictates that be the case.
One of the most accomplished developers of talent in the world is the Chinese Olympic diving team. There are many reasons for their success but one thing they point to is establishing team identity through sacrifice.
One way they do that is by training three days of the week at 6am. While no other team within the Chinese Olympic complex trains before 9am they train a full three hours earlier. Why? They do it because it's inconvenient. It creates an air of "we work harder than anyone else." And it shows.
So for me, last night’s effort was unacceptable from that particular group of kids. They are capable of giving much more.
And in the end, if I let them get away with giving less than their perceived best, even once, then I’m doing them a disservice as their coach.