Throughout your life you’ve inevitably ran into someone who played sports at an amateur or even professional level. They may have been limited to HS, gotten opportunities at smaller colleges (as I did), played on the stage of a major D1 University, or even dabbled in the professional realm.
Eventually those careers end, and we always hear varying responses as to why those careers ended earlier than they should have.
Years ago, my friends and I used to obsess over listening to a sports radio talk host named Jim Rome. He had a show on EPSN called Jim Rome is Burning, where he would audaciously rant about anything and anyone in the sports world that he found fitting. One such rant that we were particularly fond of (and quoted incessantly) was about “Softball Guy” which can be found here.
In this segment, Jim Rome builds out an archetypal character that is representative of a large population of those who participated in sports, but never quite learned how to become personally responsible for their careers. In it, Jim states that, “Softball Guy is the guy who claims he would have been the next Derek Jeter if his High School coach didn’t hate him.” Although this is a lengthy yet hilarious take on a particular type of individual, his thought provoking remarks are very telling of a deeply rooted principle; personal responsibility (or lack thereof).
I cannot tell you how many times people have told me about how perfectly their athletic career was taking off and where they would have gone had it not been for an injury, spiteful coach, loss of their “love of the game”, or -insert externality- that caused them to hang em up early. It must be said for the record, there are times and cases I know of in which very gifted athletes suffered career ending injuries; however, for the sake of this article, I am referencing the athlete who “tweaked their hamstring” and didn’t really care enough about their career to find a Physical Therapist to help them rehab. I mean, if Kobe Bryant can tear his achilles, sink two free throws, and walk off the court on his own volition and return to play another 2.5 years of basketball at 35-37 years of age - you can certainly rehab from a minor sprain in adolescence!
Our culture (and inner disposition as humans, I’d argue) is to adopt a victimhood mentality. Its far easier to shift the blame upon someone else either individually or collectively than to accept personal responsibility. As we think through this concept, I challenge you to open your mind to a new set of thoughts and ideas as we explore why being a victim can be detrimental to your development as an athlete and a person.
Adopting a Victim Mentality Will Hold You Back In Your Development By:
1. Assuming Other People Are At Fault For Your Own Shortcomings.
One of the biggest ideas adopted from a victimhood mentality is that someone else has done something to you that is so grievous that it has set you so far back in relationship to your peers, and you are incapable of “climbing out of the hole” so to speak.
This statement is partially true! Everyone at some level and in some way has been the recipient of a negative outcome, an oppressor, or an unfavorable situation. The levels of which may vary from individual to individual, and the “hole” by which they are to climb out of may be deeper depending on the individual and the circumstance. If everyone had it easy, no one would develop any discernible skills by which to navigate life.
However, this then presupposes that we as humans do not possess or are incapable of acquiring the skills necessary to carry on despite a perceived disadvantage. Perhaps that perceived setback you’ve encountered was actually the vehicle by which you were to learn the skills to conquer it!
Its easy to blame coaches for lack of playing time. Sometimes its a warranted claim! But do you really think that you have displayed the necessary competency over a great enough period of time to earn an every day position on the field if you are being looked over?
Alternatively, a soccer ref may blow a call to end match, but were there not plenty of other opportunities to perform in a manner which could have pushed the game out of reach? These are complex problems, but the point is this: its not as simple as “its this person’s fault that I’m not where I should be.”
Understanding where your deficiencies lie is the building block to becoming a better athlete and a better person. It is important to take a serious inventory of the areas in which you can grow, and hold yourself personally responsible to improving in those areas! It requires a great deal of humility, but the value of this skill is worth its weight in gold.
Lars Anderson recently did a piece in The Athletic about a Swing revival comparison with himself and JD Martinez. Its an excellent article that speaks to the humility required to self assess in an effort to grow, and it can be found here.
2. Drawing Comparisons to Others Who Suffer From A Different Set Of Deficiencies.
One of the things my father stressed to us in our youth was, “Its not fair to compare.” It was a phrase he used, which became a mantra for a time being as all we ever said to a perceived inequality was, “that’s not fair.” And although it had the feeling of a nonsensical dad-ism, there was such profound truth to it that took some time to truly manifest intellectually.
There is a tendency in athletes to see their peers have a higher success rate than they (although much of it has to do with their response to failure rather than lack of failure) and feel like they will never be like that individual. There is then a lack of desire to “try their best” because the defeated, self-pity mentality will always be, “no matter what I do, I’m going to fail. I’ll never be like so-and-so.” Once this occurs, apathy sets in. Where apathy grows, athletes quickly degenerate emotionally, lose their drive, and succumb to another individual who is striving for greater.
We are not all individuals on a level playing field, because one athlete’s deficiencies are resoundingly different than your deficiencies. Although there may be a level of overlap between two parties, everyone has their own unique sets of strengths and weaknesses. Its important to understand this concept and take an in-depth self inventory of what those things are. Where are you weak? Where are you strong? What limits you from becoming the athlete you wish to be? Where do you lack athletically in comparison to your peers, or those at the level at which you want to be? How can you set a course for the direction in which you want to go with your sport? What is holding you back from doing this?
These are all answerable questions if you are open and honest about them. Find someone who knows you well - heck, find multiple people who know you well and ask them these things! If they care about you, they will be honest. When they are honest, don’t take offense to their input! Understand they are trying to help you get to where you want to go, and again, there is a level of humility that you must learn in an effort to not become so hardened to their input and completely shut down. It will be hard and it will be painful, but there’s a very relevant Proverb that goes, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.”
Anecdotally, this was one of the most challenging things for me as an athlete. I hated seeing how easily some athletes responded to adjustments, how seemingly effortless it was for them to show up and bring the noise. I constantly felt like I was playing catch up. However, what I did know was that “its not fair to compare” and as such, it pushed me to learn more about anatomy and physiology, biomechanics, study film of the best in the game (even some of my harder throwing peers) and learn what patterns they projected vs the ones I had. I never made it as an athlete, because I never got to the level of competency necessary to play professionally. However, the lessons I learned along the way paved the road to the vocation I have today - and I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything!
3. Believing You Are Never In Control Of Outcomes
Athletics is all about failure, its one of the greatest teachers we have. World Class Athletes have failed over and over again just for the one opportunity at the step back fade away as the clock runs out, or the bases loaded 2 out at-bat, and even the final strike of a penalty kick. Unwillingness to deal with failure has ended more careers than it has developed.
The truth is, you are never entirely in control of every outcome. What you can be fully in control of is your process by which you strive to obtain a certain outcome. Recognizing that failure is a part of your process is an important thing to grasp. Failure is part of your process, it is not the outcome. To believe that you are not capable of controlling how you not only handle failure, but how it can be the vehicle by which you can better yourself is absolutely foolish!
The sport of baseball (though not exclusively) is a game of failure. The success rate of the elite hitters is somewhere around 30%. When you fail at a monumental rate such as this, its easy to use a cop out of something not “feeling right” (which it genuinely may not), the umpire has it out for you (see point #1), or you “just can’t seem to catch a break”. Now failure will inevitably come with disappointment, which is rightfully so. However, when failure becomes a colossal negative experience, rather than a new opportunity to grow, athlete’s find themselves at an insurmountable deficit.
When you determine you are the victim of a negative outcome, it reduces the willingness to engage in that activity, as one will always feel as they are being “held back” from breaking through the barriers of challenge.
Michael Jordan was infamous for saying;
“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Could you imagine after a few failed attempts if MJ just quit trying? He would never have achieved the athletic prowess he is known for! The outcomes of his endeavors were manifest by his persistent process of continued development as an NBA athlete. Despite taking multiple opportunities and coming away the loser, those experiences fueled a work ethic unparalleled to most. That eventually manifest itself into one of the best careers the NBA has ever known!
Use failure as an opportunity to reevaluate what you are doing it and why it yields the results you are having. From there a new, more comprehensive strategy can be implemented. Regardless of whether its working to improve a specific skill like a baseball swing or mechanical efficiency, learning to mentally cope better with negative outcomes, even understanding how to properly game plan against opponents with regularity - the list is inexhaustible! You are capable of assessing where to strategically address that which needs improvement in your life. You are 100% in control of that opportunity.
Personal responsibility comes at a cost. It comes at the cost of being humble enough to understand that there mare many facets of of our being that we are capable of improving on. You and you alone are responsible for your own growth and development, and no one is standing in your way of becoming who you want to be.
It is a very painful thing to grow through, because its easier to blame shift than take initiative and responsibility. You are a human being replete with weaknesses that are known to you, and many others you are completely unaware of!
However, you (as a human being) are that which when posed with an obstacle are capable of rising above and conquering those unique sets of challenges to become a greater version of yourself with each passing day.
That should be our ultimate goal as athletes and human beings - striving to become a better version of ourselves with each day we have.