With the Superbowl coming up this weekend, anyone who has been watching sports news has heard the word “strength” countless times. Without a doubt all of the guys that take that field on Sunday are physically strong. They are more than that. They are freaks of nature. Any coach will tell you though, that as important as physical strength is during a game, there is another kind of strength that is so much more valuable. This is a kind of strength that no amount of weightlifting can increase. It is your inner strength. Your fortitude. Your will to fight no matter what.
My father was a high school football coach for most of my life growing up. He has spent countless hours on the grid iron among men that can do incredible things physically. To this day, he pays me the amazing compliment of calling me the strongest person he knows. Looking at me this may seem ludicrous as my body is tiny and barely human, but he isn’t talking about my body, he is referring to and admiring my inner strength. My strength to go through life trapped in this body and in this chair.
He is talking about my will to get up every morning, even though the first thing I feel, even before opening my eyes, is pain. Pain that on a good day is bearable and on bad days will literally suck the life force right out of you. The strength to go out in public, amidst the stares, whispers, and pointing of others when they see me, and live my life. The strength to want as normal and full of a life as I can possibly get, even when everyone and everything is stacked against me. The strength to move 300 miles from home to pursue my dream of going to grad school and learning to help others. And I do all of this with a smile, rarely complaining, and feeling thankful that I can do as much as I can. That is the kind of strength that is most coveted.
I remember another coach saying to me many years ago, “Scott, if my players had a fifth of the heart that you have, we would win state every year.” At the time, I was too young to fully understand what he meant, but now I get it. I went through much of my life thinking that this strength that I possess was something everyone had. I just took it for granted. Having taken the time to more closely examine myself and others, and after countless hours of meditation, introspection, dialogue, and observation, I now value this powerful trait more fully and realize that not everyone possesses the strength I do. I now half jokingly think sometimes, “I have so much inner strength, that in order to make it fair for everyone else, I had to get a half dose of muscle.”
I fully believe that this skill can be cultivated by anyone. Just like any other behavior though, it takes a lot of time, hard work, and dedication. With practice however, you can build up your will to fight, just as I have. I have not always had the ability to live my life as strongly as I do now, but over time, I have developed the strength I now possess.This is one of the most important lessons I hope to pass on in most, if not all, of my Roll Models talks and workshops. You have to practice this skill. Saying to yourself, “I will not give up.” or “I can do this.” is only the first, tiny step. You have to actually do it. You have to walk (or roll) the talk.
Sunday evening as you are enjoying the Superbowl, as you watch these physical marvels engaging in what appears to be a battle of speed and power, remember that the real game is not fought on the field but inside each individual player. When it is late in the game and the players are tired, hurt, and losing, who has the inner strength to keep fighting? Even more, who has the strength to fight even harder, because the odds are stacked against them? These are the players that will make the biggest difference in the game, and they are the ones that we should truly admire.