Athletes - Opportunity

Don’t be afraid to go ALL IN

Humans repeatedly “test the waters” of their environments to see if they are safe. It is not only an understandable component of human nature, it is a necessary one.

When you dip your toe in to test the water, it is sensible to keep one foot on land; if you go two feet first every time, you might only get to be wrong once… Testing the water is practical. Testing the water is safe. However, folks occasionally find themselves stuck in a constant state of testing, unwilling to jump in.

This can of course serve as a metaphor for sports, but also one’s professional or social life: testing too often, trapping oneself in a unwillingness to jump in to the deep end of any particular situation. Though it feels safe, it causes stagnation and limits progress.

This “testing” component of human nature is the very reason humans are still in existence. Imagine all of humanity represented as a single village. Those people and their dispositions (their risk tolerance or conservativism) will certainly vary. Most of those villagers are busy dipping toes in potential waters with one foot safely on land, but as we investigate the edges of the spectrum, we find people who are willing to throw themselves into the deep end at a moment’s notice. And of course we have their polar opposites, who keep both feet planted on shore, content with their current state (or afraid to pursue a new one).

This is nature’s way of hedging.

You have to have folks who are steadfast on the shore. This is the safe bet. Without exposing yourself to new risks, you will surely make it to the next day. A certain level of preservation is necessary within a society. The village needs people to hold down the fort.

But the human species is also hungry for progress. Which is why we need folks on the other end of the spectrum as well, willing to run, jump, and explore with little or no hesitation. They often serve as the battering ram for evolution. As they throw themselves forward, the people around them must only watch. Either their strategies will allow for safe progression, or they will be devoured by what lurks beneath the water’s surface.

There are extremes on each pole of human disposition, each serving its own societal purpose – most of us are closer to center of that spectrum.

The Value of Thought and Action

Being in the center is the most thoughtful position there can be. We can learn from others and selectively dip our toes before jumping in. The issue, however, is that there are more pools than ever – there’s so much to test that the appropriate step is rarely clear. In psychology, this is referred to as the paradox of choice. While we love to have options, too many options complicates and compromises sound decision-making.

Consider this: you are at a restaurant, and you have two salad dressing options. Blue Cheese or Vinaigrette. Pick one of the other. Maybe you would have preferred Ranch. Oh well, it’s not an option. You select, and you make the best of it.

Now, head to nearly any grocery store. The salad dressing options are almost endless these days. As you wander through the aisle, the kaleidoscope of options can complicate decision-making in ways that might not have initially been obvious. In this scenario, they do have Ranch… do you want traditional ranch? Buttermilk ranch? Bacon? Peppercorn? Organic? Fat-free? Low-fat? Low-sodium? Ranch with a hint of Buffalo Sauce?

More options is not necessarily better, depending how one defines “better”. An overload of options is one reason young athletes find it so difficulty to go all in on their sport.

In the world of the high school athlete, sports are only one component of an increasingly complex environment. Their social ecosystem is faster and more complicated than ever. Their entertainment options are vast and happening at the speed of the nearest Wi-Fi. Even within sports, there are more levels, club options, and travel teams than ever before. Coaching might come from home, from YouTube videos, from a personal hitting coach, from an expert on twitter, from a reputable blog… who and what to pay attention to is a growing challenge for young people.

Which is why we like to share a simple message: be willing to go all in. Don’t jump off the deep end with both feet every time – that’s not what we’re suggesting. First, be thoughtful. Once you’ve done some investigating and decide that you like what you see, go for it. Commit yourself fully.

Do you like basketball? Great. Go all in. Do you want to be a musician? Sounds like fun. Go all in.

Growth or Regret

When you go all in you might fail. Basketball might not provide the opportunities you thought it would, and your talent for piano might be lower than your mom suggested, despite hours of practice. But if you go all in, even failure is valuable. Only then do you truly learn. Only then will you grow. A half-hearted effort that does not work out is meaningless. If you go all in on your pursuit, then the feedback you get will be honest.

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter.

Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

Samuel Beckett

As the summer moves swiftly toward fall, the school year, and the athletic seasons that come with it, it is time for athletes to go all in. The more you devote yourself to your sport, the more satisfaction and joy it will bring you. Yes, it does mean that it will hurt worse when you lose. It’s worth it.

Athletes who go all in might look back on their careers and wish that things had gone differently. There are countless stories of teams who were one score away from a championship. They report that it still hurts them to think about how close they might have been. Or perhaps they were disappointed that they were not selected as a starter, or that their team wasn’t very good… these reflections are valid, assuming the athlete went all in for themselves and for their team.

If they went all in, the experience was valuable in countless ways that do not get represented on the scoreboard.

It’s the athletes who don’t go all in that most often use the word “regret”. They regret not trying harder. They regret not being devoted to their team. They think back on their careers with an unfortunate glaze of missed opportunity.

Of course, this lesson extends far beyond sport. Whether it is in your professional life, relationships, or within your day-to-day decisions, think well, deliberate, then be willing to go all in.

Leave a Reply