[dropcap]I[/dropcap] once read somewhere (apologies to all my former literature teachers who would chastise me here for lack of parenthetical references) that “Solitude is a chosen separation for refining your soul. Isolation is what you crave when you neglect the first.”
I can’t say the above quote completely explains or excuses my column-writing hiatus for the past couple of months, but there is something to the notion of keeping personal refinement of one’s soul as a private and personal process that is difficult to expose to the masses (in this case, you, the readers).
The truth is, I am a brutally honest writer. That’s just my style. As Ernest Hemingway once asserted? Admitted? Lamented?: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is just sit down at a typewriter and bleed…”
Well, I do most of my writing from a half-broken laptop rather than a typewriter, but I’m usually right there with Hemingway — bleeding for what I believe needs to be said. It’s just not always that simple when the truth is difficult to expose, I guess.
With that being acknowledged, let’s get (re)started.
The Road is Life
I took a bit of artistic licensing when I decided to name my column “On the Road.”
I was given the freedom to name the column myself (shout out to my overly trusting editors for that opportunity), and I took advantage of this freedom in the way that I felt my life, my story and my writing was going to unravel.
To me, roads represent many things besides simple, physical, man-made mediums on which we travel upon to get to some specific destination.
Nah, roads aren’t that simple. Not literally, not figuratively, and most assuredly, not metaphorically. I could go into an endless, annoying critical analysis of everything the word “road” means to me, but for the sake of simplicity (and your sanity, if you’re still reading), I will sum it up in the way Jack Kerouac so neatly did in his novel whose title inspired this very column: “The road is life.”
Roads, like life, are full of their share of twists and turns, detours and chaos, dangers and monotony, congestion and freedom, hope and confinement, purpose and distractions.. They can make us feel lost, directed, isolated, inspired, and a bit scattered and confused; sometimes, incredibly, all of those things at the same time.
But roads, and our individual life journeys, always lead us somewhere.
In my case, I feel like I’ve been everywhere and back and through myself and back again in these past couple months. Yes, I’ve spent time and learned important lessons in a variety of places (Sweden, New York, Florida, Pennsylvania and currently, California). But my internal journeys are the ones that stand out in my mind as the true measures of “travel” in the past six months.
So, while I will get into more of where I’ve been, where I currently am, and where I intend to go in the future (more consistent!) column posts, for now, I want to focus on a specific topic that has been present in my journey from the beginning. A topic that has kept me grounded and focused and disciplined and appreciative. A topic that I think is a bit misunderstood, misrepresented, and unjustifiably feared in the soccer community. A topic I think will be applicable to every soccer player out there right now (many of whom are now gearing up for offseason and preseason training).
The common coaching vernacular phrase of “Fitness is not a punishment” has been used so often that I am honestly surprised I haven’t seen it on a bumper sticker yet. Well, that’s all well and good… and I agree… but if it’s not a punishment, then what is it?
In my opinion, fitness is an incredible metaphor. Yes, just like “roads,” I believe “fitness” is a metaphor for life
A Fitting Detour
After I returned home to Florida in late October after playing a professional season in Sweden, I was offered the assistant coaching job for girls soccer at Saint Andrews School, my alma mater. I had a few second thoughts about taking the job, as I had a lot of personal responsibilities with my family that I was dealing with at the time, but I settled on accepting the position and it ended up being an amazing, insightful, important experience in my life.
One of the first things I told the girls during our first practice was that I was going to be hard on them when it came to fitness but that decree came with two promises:
Our fitness would always be purposeful, and
I would never ask them to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself (also known as doing every fitness session right along with them).
Needless to say, we had several intense fitness sessions in the ensuing months but one in particular sticks out in my mind. It was right before Thanksgiving. Although I had the team do some ball-oriented/game-specific fitness drills at the beginning of a practice that had been designed to be taxing and exhausting, Rob, the head coach, decided at the end of practice that we “weren’t quite done yet.”
I was thrown off a bit because I usually ran the fitness sessions, but Rob wanted to take the reins that day so I lined up next to the girls while he proceeded to run us all into the ground with several creative, intense sprinting drills. I’ll admit it, it was rough. The rest periods were nearly nonexistent, the pace and severity was extreme, and Rob was relentless. Not a single player (on a very young, inexperienced, and at times, very distracted team that only had two club-level players) quit or dropped out. Some girls literally crawled across the line during the last few sprints, but not one player gave up.
Watching that, being a part of that — it was something too powerful for me not to address. So, while the girls were lying exhausted on the ground, many upset at what they just went through and slowly gathering their things and trying to get somewhat composed before rushing off to be picked up by their parents (who were probably not very happy practice went about a half hour over), I made an impromptu speech to try to live up to the first promise I made them: fitness would always be purposeful.
The thing was, I knew that many of these girls viewed what we just did as a punishment or as some consequence for something negative they had done previously in practice or our last game. Thoughts like that make you resent and fear fitness. It becomes less a necessary part of excelling at the game of soccer, and more a negative part of your psyche that you solely associate with pain and stress and not gain and benefit.
I could see this thought process happening before my eyes, so I decided to speak my mind about it. I won’t quote myself directly, and I will elaborate a little here because I have the time to do so, but this was the gist of it:
Fitness training, at its core, is a measure of endurance. But it goes so far beyond the scientific measure of cardiovascular or muscular endurance. Fitness is about your ability to endure exhaustion, uncertainty, pain, adversity, doubt, fear, expectations, anxiety, limitations, frustrations.
It’s equally about how much you can take and how much you can give; it’ll never fail to expose the intangibles of who you are as a person, player, athlete, competitor and teammate.
To loosely quote the Bible here, “To whom much is given, much shall be required.” Many of us have heard that, but how many of us actually apply it to the game we have the opportunity and the privilege to play?
Soccer/football/futbol, whatever you may call it, is a game of tremendous opportunity. It’s a game of creativity and fluidity, physicality and psychology, power and finesse, beauty and grit, athleticism and grace. It’s a game, it’s an art, it’s a craft, it’s a challenge, but most of all, it’s a gift. We, as soccer players, are given the gift to play arguably the most beautiful and multi-faceted sport in the world. So, we, as soccer players, must remember that much is required to earn and maintain and fulfill that gift to the best of our potential.
Faith. Focus. Finish.
I can probably complicate this notion with metaphors and analogies until the end of time, but what it comes down to is quite simple: To play the game of soccer to the best of our ability, to maximize our potential, to be the best teammate possible, to be a leader, to fulfill your individual gifts as a player and collective capabilities as a team, you must be fit. Fitness doesn’t have to mean six workouts a day, a strict no-carb diet and inevitable overuse injuries. It can just be as simple as doing a little more every day than you think you possibly can, understanding what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and doing it to the best of your ability, and never, ever, giving up. Remember, fitness is a test of endurance but it’s also a test of your character. I think some random guy named Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
If we are what we repeatedly do, then remember that giving up, even just once, in something you view as arbitrary as one fitness session has the power to carry over into your life outside of soccer. Giving up on the field can become a habit, one that can become a pattern off the field. Don’t allow that to happen.
Instead, get in the habit of embracing fitness as a vital part of the process toward betterment. Keep pushing yourself. Keep inspiring your teammates.
Be the one pushing yourself to utter exhaustion on a random field on a Sunday afternoon when no one else is watching.
Be the one who has the capacity to be the tireless worker and the reliable teammate on the field.
Be the one who makes that exhausting run in the 89th minute that sets up the game-winning goal.
Be the one who tracks back for a goal line clearance that no one saw coming.
Be the one that sprints across the field to cover for a teammate that has been beaten or pulled out of position.
Most importantly, be the last one standing so you can lift everyone up around you and push them toward greatness. The great ones are the ones that push on when everyone else has let go.
Be fit for those reasons. Embrace the fitness sessions and the tiring workouts and the extra runs during the game and the momentary pain of the process for the priceless reasons listed above. Make the most of the gifts you’ve been given.
[dropcap]A[/dropcap] final piece of advice: Sometimes the most difficult things to see in life are the things that are right in front of your eyes. Progress, action, improvement, change — you get those things by looking up and moving forward, even when you can’t quite see the finish line yet. Next time you line up for a sprint or cross the line to begin a game or start a training session, throw your heart over the line first and your body will follow. You just might surprise yourself by discovering how much you’re truly capable of and of all the progress you are heading toward.
Fitness is preparation.
Fitness is a challenge.
Fitness is a commitment.
Fitness is a test.
Fitness is a declaration.
Fitness is an opportunity.
Fitness is a requirement.
Fitness is a revelation.
Fitness is life.
Thanks for reading and I look forward to connecting with all of you soon!