What does it mean to be TOUGH?
Coach Holly Journal
What does it mean to be TOUGH? More importantly, what does it look like?
When I started Renegade Lacrosse exactly one year ago, I set out on a mission to empower young women through athletics. Guided by this vision and a bit of creativity, I decided to select three powerful words at the core of my mission. These words are: TOUGH, TENACIOUS, and THIRSTY. Through messaging, deliberate practice drills, and leading by example, I try to teach Renegade athletes to be TOUGH, TENACIOUS, and THIRSTY.
This week, I would like to share a bit of my history and my philosophy on what it means to be TOUGH. Where and how did I learn to be tough? How do I respond to tough situations as a player? How do I respond to tough situations as a coach? I hope my reflection sheds light on how YOU can train toughness and be better prepared for future challenges!
Because remember…when the going gets tough…the tough get GOING!
Where and how did I learn to be tough?
My parents taught me to be TOUGH. I grew up wrestling with my dad and sisters. In a full nelson, the only “release” was yelling, “I am a monkey’s uncle,” or “I am an elephant’s poop!” Well, you better believe I NEVER gave in. This was a test of wills. You would have to ask my dad if this was intentional "tough" training, but like any skill or habit…practicing tough situations where you are encouraged to persevere will ultimately build toughness.
I remember wanting to give up piano lessons in fifth grade; the same lessons I had BEGGED for in kindergarten. I just wasn’t interested, and I did not enjoy going to lessons. My mom would not let me quit. She said I would have to continue through seventh grade, when I would begin playing year-round sports. For the next two years, I would practice piano five hours a week and perform in recitals…including school talent shows! I wasn’t happy, but I reflect on that experience with gratitude and know it was character building. Would I sulk and hate my mom? Or, would I stay the course and put my efforts into learning and making the most of the situation?
Fast forward to freshman year of college when I met my future husband. It just so happened that we started spending time together, you guessed it, PLAYING the piano! Needless to say, I am grateful I stuck with it!
What are my takeaways? Embrace difficult situations. Love challenge. Never give up. When faced with failure, learn from it. Thank you, Mom and Dad!
How do I respond to tough situations as a player?
As a player growing up, I was extremely critical of my play. If you can believe it, I would cry after games…games we won by ten goals! To me, tough meant being tough on myself. In many ways, this had led me to success in my younger years. I wanted good grades, so I would study hard and earn good grades. I wanted to be the best on the field, so I worked hard on the field and hated being beat. Yet, I struggled during my teenage years to understand that my “tough girl” focus was driven by being better than everyone else. I wanted to be faster, stronger, better, score more goals and so on.
This mentality hit its breaking point my sophomore year at Princeton. I had what I and Coach Chris Sailer would consider a very poor season. I sulked after every game, I focused entirely on my performances in games, and yet, I still thought I was TOUGH. I thought I was supposed to be hard on myself.
Following the season, I sat down with Chris and she put me in my place. Thank you, Chris. About a month into summer, I finally understood Coach's words. In trying to be tough, I was completely absorbed in my play because I viewed my teammates as competitors. Instead, I needed to see my teammates as challengers…best friends who made me better day in and day out.
Now when I play, I smile in the face of challenge. When I face Dana Dobbie on the crease…I inwardly giggle thinking, “What trick is Dana going to try to pull on me? Bring it, Dana!” If she beats me with a shifty move followed by a between the legs twizzler, well, heck, good move. If I stop her cut, I think to myself, "Good work, Holly, but be ready for something else next time!"
How do I respond to tough situations as a coach?
My interactions and observations of coaches over the years have shaped my coaching philosophy. For me, my beliefs as a coach mirror my beliefs as a player…challenge is good. This past week, I ventured to San Francisco with a Southern California lacrosse team. Northern California is respected for the highest level of lacrosse in the state, and I was on a quest for challenge. In the second of two games, I found my team losing 14-1 at halftime. I cannot remember losing this bad EVER. I was frustrated. I was most troubled because this team wasn’t thirteen goals better than my team, but the scoreboard doesn’t lie.
So, what did I say at halftime? I pulled my girls in, and I said, “We came here for challenge. This team is better than us, and they are making us play harder and faster than we have ever played. This team has exposed our weaknesses. We have splintered, and now we know where our fractures are. Now we know what we need to change.”
No, we didn’t pull off a Herculean comeback, but, we did play better in the second half. We still struggled to score, but we moved the ball better than we had all season on attack. We re-defended hard and scored some great caused turnovers. We finally began to EMBRACE challenge and rise to the occasion.
I will never forget losing during regular season to Virginia 15-2 in my freshman year at Princeton…only to upset the Cavaliers in the NCAA Sweet-Sixteen by a score of 8-7. My motto is and will always be, “Lose and learn.”
I do not regret traveling to San Francisco and playing a team that beat us 20-1. It challenged me to be the best coach I could be on the sideline; it challenged my players and exposed their weaknesses; and it challenges me to regroup and make necessary changes for my team to move forward.