As a coach, something I know for sure my players always heard me repeat is this simple reminder/mantra: “We may be outplayed, but we will never be outclassed, we will never be out-hustled, and we will never be out-conditioned…physically or mentally.”
Being strong in the parts of the game and even life you can control is completely up to you. It doesn’t take much, but what you can gain from the process of becoming strong is something you can’t replace if you don’t have it.
I watched the Women’s World Cup Soccer match between the US and Japan and found myself smiling at the apparent strength the US team came into the game touting. It was more than just physical. If you looked closely, you could see an immediate feeling of confidence in their eyes. You could tell right away, there was no doubt in their minds that they would win that game. And after the first few minutes, no doubt in mine either.
I have found that physically becoming stronger has also caused me to be mentally stronger as well. It’s an amazing how you really can’t have one without the other. When someone wants to lose weight, if they don’t become mentally tougher and stronger, they won’t lose the weight by just doing the physical part. Most often, we acquire bad habits because of our low confidence, our inability to look past mistakes and not make them our core focus, and our propensity to perfectionism. When we become mentally tough, we become stronger in every way.
The past few days I have also been caught watching Wimbledon. I even stayed on the treadmill this afternoon for an hour and 20 minutes so I didn’t miss the end of the marathon match between the number four seed, Wawrinka and the 21st seed, Gasquet. While it would have been fun to see the top 4 advance together for the first time since the days of Sampras and Agassi, I always cheer for the underdog. I think for the most part because “underdog” really isn’t a thing. “Unlikely hero on paper,” maybe.
The guts and grit these guys both showed was incredible. I watched them go toe to toe into the fifth set to push that final set to 11-9. The upset was fun to watch. But what I really watched was body language. I watched their eyes. I wonder what they are thinking and feeling. And I know for sure that being strong is more than just what they had left in their powerful serves or in their wobbly legs. Did the better physically conditioned player win today? Hard to say, they were both pretty gassed by the end. But it’s pretty easy to see the mental toughness that Gasquet took to the end with him was what tipped the scales in his favor.
The interview at the end is always interesting as well. They asked about his tired legs but they spent most of the time talking about his mind and heart. As most often at the end a game or sporting event, the conversation turns to “What were you thinking in those final moments?” Not as much about the physical ability to do the task that most in that realm are able to do.
And while I watched the end of the match, I made myself stay on the treadmill until it was over. I kept thinking I should just stop. I was tired. I felt physically fatigued. My feet hurt. And then I thought about the hours these men were on the court and I kept running.
Strength is about all of it. About being strong, about never being out-hustled or out-classed or out-conditioned. And it’s about digging in deep when you need it the most.
Even when your legs are tired and you’re out of breath. Because your mental toughness can pull you through physical fatigue, but your physical toughness will not often do the same.
Strength is the most important weapon in your toolbox.