During one of the few timeouts at the Prairie City-Monroe volleyball game on Tuesday night, I found myself looking around the room and letting my mind wander, as I do from time to time. My eyes stopped just a few feet from me. I looked down from atop the bleachers and saw the back of one of the Mustangs’ parent’s T-shirts, which read, “The one thing that matters is the effort.” While the match resumed, I hardly had time to think if I agreed with this or not, but over the past couple of days my schedule has been such that I’ve had the time to really think about it. I came to the conclusion that I don’t agree, but it’s not as cynical as you might think.
It all starts with effort. Nobody — and when I say nobody, I mean nobody — knows better than I do how important effort is in sports. Growing up, I was not blessed with height, speed or anything else in an innate sense that translated to a sports venue. So, the one thing I could give any team I was on was effort.
However, often times I found that I was left dissatisfied with myself. I knew I was trying as hard as I could, but that was not enough for me. It wasn’t until I got to college and for the most part was past my organized team-sports years that I realized exactly why I was unhappy with my performance on most night. I was working hard, but I wasn’t working smart.
In other words, I wasn’t getting any better. Specifically, I’m referring to basketball. I had figured out at a young age what I felt comfortable doing on a basketball court, and I tried my hardest to do that every time. The only problem was what I was doing was wrong in practice. I would go to the local park and run around shooting for hours on end, and I would never get any better. That was until I figured out that I wasn’t working on the right things.
Once I started practicing hard as well as smart, my athletic performance improved drastically. Anyone who I went to high school with and then saw me in college can attest to that, and I’m better off on the court today because of it. I was always that person running as hard as I could on both ends of the court, but now, I’ve found ways to conserve energy. In other words, I’ve realized it’s about working hard and smart, not either or.
I blame some lackluster youth coaching for this, which takes me back to the T-shirt. It takes effort, good coaching and a willingness to be coached to really achieve a feeling of adequecy in anything you do, whether it be an athletic competition or something else. Effort is not the one thing that matters, but it certainly starts there.