Take the Gloves Off
Have you ever shaken hands with someone whose palms or fingers were so rough and calloused it felt like their skin was made of sandpaper? It’s amazing, isn’t it, that our hands can develop this natural defense mechanism for the challenging work we have to do – work that would otherwise blister our skin and expose our weakness.
Of course, the toughness that comes from calloused skin isn’t developed in a day, and it’s not something we can decide, at some point just when we need it, that we instantly want our hands to acquire. It’s only created through a long, sometimes painful process.
First, our skin gets exposed. The weak, sensitive part of us isn’t ready for the friction it encounters, and the result is that we painfully bleed and blister. Our skin gradually heals and strengthens, and then we’re more prepared for the difficult work the next time. When we try again, our hands are a little more resilient. Slowly and steadily, over the course of time, the hard work that used to expose us gradually begins to strengthen us. With more challenging experience comes more resilience. As the process continues and our toughness develops, our hands become capable of tackling even the biggest, most important work, and we know they’re capable of handling it.
Mental toughness is a quality of every champion athlete and man, and it’s developed much the same way. Champions understand that achieving anything great in life requires a significant price to pay, and that overcoming some adversity - the challenge, the hardship, the “friction” that occurs in life – will be a part of that price. Whether my son can develop the mental toughness it takes to overcome adversity on his way to greatness, I’ll help to determine. I can foster this process of growth and development, and help him get tougher. I can also hinder it, depending on my perspective on adversity in his life today. The same is true for you and your son.
As an athlete, the mental toughness to overcome adversity will separate your son on the field of competition. Even though difficulty, hardship, and challenge are a part of every athlete’s experience, most will struggle to overcome them. An injury. A bad call. An off night. Experiencing failure, disappointment, or a missed opportunity. There is always something to overcome. Some of it may be your son’s doing, and some may exist outside his control. Either way, what happens to your son is actually much less important than how he learns to respond to what happens to him. If your son has developed this understanding and a strong response to the adversity he faces, his opportunities to succeed on the playing field will multiply. While those around him flounder, he will flourish. If he hasn’t developed the right understanding or response, though, then his opportunities will diminish. He’ll be the one floundering out there – weak, exposed, and blistered.
What happens to your son is actually much less important than
how he learns to respond to what happens to him.
The same will be true, of course, when it comes to his life as an adult. Sports is a great dress rehearsal for the skills and abilities it takes to succeed as a man. If you want success for your son when it really matters – in life as a husband, a father, an employee, and a friend? Then using sports to develop his mental toughness changes who he becomes for life.
So how do I help my son develop his toughness?
First, I have to take the gloves of protection off so his toughness can develop. Of course he doesn’t have to encounter every bit of adversity that exists in life. We don’t need our hands to be calloused everywhere – in some areas, being softer or more sensitive helps make us better. But if he’s never encountering anything difficult…if he’s soft everywhere? Then what am I preparing him for? There are some places – if I really want him to reach his full potential in sports or in life – where my boy must develop some toughness.
Allowing him to experience hardship is not a sign that you don’t love him or care about him. In fact, it’s just the opposite. It’s because I love and care about my son that I want him to experience adversity, learn and understand the reality of its place in his life, and develop the toughness it takes to overcome it. Yes, it will expose his weakness. Early in the process, he will be vulnerable and sensitive. Yes, he probably will blister some, and it probably will hurt.
I always have the option to come running in and put the gloves of protection back on him – that buffer that keeps him from what is difficult – if I choose. I can work really hard, actually, to keep him from the “friction.” I can find someone or something on which to put the blame, I can make excuses for why it’s hard, I can justify how unfairly he’s been cheated out of what he’s entitled to. I can easily play the role of the victim, like so many people do today, and I can help my son learn how to play that role, too. Or I can help him understand the truth: that if he’s going to do anything worthwhile in life, then there will be a significant price to pay, and overcoming adversity is built into that price. We don’t always get to control the difficulties we face, but we do get to control our response to those difficulties. That’s a champions mindset.
Each time I allow him to experience a challenge and then help him understand that truth, I help him heal that wound and strengthen himself where he needs it. I also prepare him more for the difficult work he’ll face later. When that time comes, he will be a little more resilient. Slowly and steadily, over the course of time, the hard work that used to expose him will then begin to strengthen him. With another challenging experience comes more resilience. As the process continues and his toughness develops, he will become capable of tackling even the biggest, most important work, and he’ll know he’s capable of handling it.
Don’t forget – just like with that calloused skin, your son’s toughness can’t be developed in a day, and it’s not something you can decide, at some point just when he needs it, that you instantly want him to acquire. It’s only created through a long, sometimes painful process. But it can be done. It must be! Let’s get to work by using the adversity in the lives of our boys today to prepare them for successes that really matter tomorrow. Let’s take the gloves off, develop some toughness, and raise up some champions.
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