“The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up.” Paul Valery
After my life of experiences, both personal and football related, I would have to argue that fighters aren’t born, they are made. I would agree that some people are born with a little more fire in their bellies than others, but anyone can become a great fighter under the right circumstances.
One of my favorite movies is Million Dollar Baby with Clint Eastwood, Hillary Swank, and Morgan Freeman. In the movie, Clint Eastwood has just lost his best fighter to another manager, and Hilliary Swank has come to him wanting to become a fighter because that’s all she’s ever felt that she was any good at. We learn that the circumstances of her life have made her a fighter. Eastwood’s character becomes persuaded to train her, and eventually, she becomes a champion. One of my favorite lines is by Morgan Freeman’s character Scrap:
“To make a fighter you gotta strip them down to bare wood: you can’t just tell ’em to forget everything you know if you gotta make ’em forget even their bones… make ’em so tired they only listen to you, only hear your voice, only do what you say and nothing else… show ’em how to keep their balance and take it away from the other guy… how to generate momentum off their right toe and how to flex your knees when you fire a jab… how to fight backin’ up so that the other guy doesn’t want to come after you. Then you gotta show ’em all over again. Over and over and over… till they think they’re born that way.”
Every team needs fighters. I think one of the problems I’m seeing over and over as a teacher and the wife of a coach is the mentality our society is building of entitlement, the lack of work ethic, and the misunderstanding of consequences. A coach nowadays, of any sport, has the extreme job of building fighters and players on their team through the means of reteaching kids how to think about life. Many kids come to the playing field with the mentality that they deserve to play and that someone is going to hand them a championship trophy at the end of the season whether they have worked for it or not. They come with lofty ideas about how good they are, and how they deserve to win. Wins aren’t deserved-they are fought for relentlessly.
A few years ago I started learning to box. I have a bag out in my garage. I found in my own life that I wasn’t as strong of a fighter as I needed to be and that I didn’t handle criticism or failure very well at all. Learning some basic aspects of boxing has made me feel more focused and capable. I may not be great at it, but it is a process and helps me to feel both mentally and physically strong. When I put on my gloves I am transformed into someone stronger than I ever thought I could be. I’ve been through some serious s#*t in my life where I’ve had to fight to survive. All of that floods my mind when my gloves go on and I know that I am more than a conqueror. If you’ve ever met me, that’s probably a funny thought since I’m 5’2″ and weigh about 120. I promise I’m tougher than I look.
Players at higher levels of play should feel the same way when their uniform goes on. I know some kids who may not be the strongest or fastest or most talented players on the field, but when they step on the field are morphed into some of the scrappiest and grittiest kids I’ve ever seen. That’s because they’ve convinced themselves they are fighters. They have found the fire in their bellies and stoked it with all of the times they failed and lost and got knocked down, and they let it fuel them. They will be the winners on the field but also in life. They are determined.
Discipline has become a somewhat unsavory word in our society, but it is paramount for a team or a fighter to learn. The voices we hear in our heads are under our control. We have to coach ourselves and allow ourselves to be coached by others with more strength and experience. Work ethic, personal responsibility, and perseverance through failures, are all things a fighter must learn and mentally embrace. There’s lots of talk about mental toughness in the sports world, but there aren’t lots of people who seem to have it. People don’t want to talk about failure. It’s the real “f-word”. People don’t want to admit when they’ve failed or made mistakes and face the consequences. But when you are able to admit your failures, you have the opportunity to learn, to regroup and to make a new strategy to succeed. A fighter always finds a way to discipline themselves to come back after a failure with more fire and strength than they had before.
Losing a game is a wake-up call. Losing at anything should be. It’s a chance to find out where the potential fighters are. Fighters don’t make excuses, they don’t hide the truth. Fighters don’t point the finger because they know it’s all on them to step up, train harder, run faster, get stronger, before their next fight. Fighters know there are consequences. Losing is a consequence, but so is winning. Fighters never, ever quit.