A week ago Tuesday:
As he does five days a week, my son emerges from his room around 6:00 a.m. dressed in shorts and shirt courtesy of the school’s athletic department. His first class of the day is football. On most mornings that’s a good thing: roll out of bed, put on your athletic clothes, eat some breakfast and go. But this is not most mornings.
It’s Day One of Hell Week.
The term Hell Week is a bit of a misnomer. While most of the players would say the intense workouts consisting of everything from bear crawls and up downs, tire flips and sleds to good old fashioned power lifting, sprints and jumping rope is hell, it typically doesn’t last a week. Instead, it goes on until the coaches decide it’s over. If one or more of your teammates isn’t putting forth his best effort, everyone pays for it with added days. It’s a way to simultaneously strengthen the team and thin out the herd. Some set themselves apart, others decide it’s not worth it and quit football altogether. Most just keep their heads down and endure.
Knowing my son, it came as no surprise when I saw the anxiety on his face last Tuesday morning. He’s been through hell week before, but as a freshman with an all freshman class. This year he’s in there with the big boys–all upperclass linemen. He’s going to have to prove his worth against bigger and more experienced athletes. Still, it’s the first day. Getting stressed out to a point where you can’t even eat breakfast isn’t going to do you any good. I told him as much, not that any of my advice penetrated the fog of anxiety he was in.
As expected, Day One was “hellish”. They were divided up into 4 groups: A, B, C and D–“A” being the best. My son was put on the “B” team, which considering that “A” consisted of mostly varsity players, I thought was pretty good. But by the end of class, he had been moved to the “C” team. When he got home, he didn’t want to talk about it. “I just have to do better”, he said.
In some situations, I would have left it at that–let him lick his wounds and try again tomorrow. But not this time, because there is absolutely no good reason he should have been moved down. I say this not because I’m one of those parents who thinks my kid is better than he really is. I say this because I’ve spent the last two off seasons driving my son to and from strength and conditioning training five days a week; watching him build muscle, speed and agility performing most of the drills the coaches are putting them through now. If he got moved down, I knew it had more to do with the muscle in that big head of his than any of the muscles used to push sleds and flip tractor tires.
I couldn’t let it go. I pressed him. I asked him what was so hard about the first day of hell week. They didn’t do anything he hasn’t done before. He finally told me what the problem was.
Son: Mom, I’m afraid of getting hurt.
Me: You’re afraid of getting hurt? After going through a year of weight and speed training specifically designed to prevent injury? After putting in more time in a year than many of your teammates put in their entire high school athletic careers you’re afraid of getting hurt? After two seasons of playing football essentially injury free you’re afraid of getting hurt? If you go into hell week thinking you’re going to get hurt one of two thing will happen. You’re either going to get hurt, or you’re going to perform under your potential and all that training will have been a big waste of time and money.
By Wednesday, he had been moved back up to “B” team with a personal goal of being moved up to “A”, provided that hell week continues past Thursday. We’ll see what happens.
You can’t play a contact sport like football if you’re afraid of getting hurt. What you can do is trust your hard work and training.
You can’t stand up and sing in front of a crowd if you’re afraid of forgetting the lyrics or singing off key. What you can do is rehearse the song so many times that it’s forever burned into your mind.
You can’t write a book if you’re afraid of being panned by critics. What you can do is write the best story you can, and then you write it again with the knowledge that there’s no such thing as a universal audience for a book. If someone doesn’t like your work, it’s because it’s just not for them.
You can’t ride a bike, learn to drive, interview for a job, save a life, fall in love, lead someone to Christ or make a difference if you’re afraid of getting hurt.
Life is full of hurt. When we choose not to pursue something out of fear, we feel the hurt of regret for what could have been.
And that’s the kind of hurt we can seldom overcome.