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  • Brian Pendergast

Is Commitment Under-Appreciated Today?

As a professional coach, it seems to me that the importance of commitment has changed over the past decade. It’s not that we don’t believe that commitment is a desirable characteristic, but that we are generally not willing to do what it takes to be committed, especially over the long-term. We all like to say that we are committed, but when push comes to shove, many of us give up rather quickly sometimes. Commitment is a form of mental toughness; we all have our breaking point, but those who know where that breaking point is can be fully committed to success in their pursuits. In today’s day and age, where distractions abound, where instant gratification is commonplace, and the notion that everyone deserves recognition and praise for minimal effort, it is not surprising to find the pitfalls of staying committed.

Why Commitment?

Before diving into what commitment is and why I believe we struggle with being committed, I would like to first discuss why I was inspired to write this article. Over the course of a couple of days, one event after another occurred that made it glaringly obvious that commitment these days is lacking.

One event occurred when I had a conversation with a former coach of mine (who I believe is the best baseball coach with whom I have ever played). He was telling me that out of 35 games this summer, he had his entire roster present at two games. Let me repeat that, only 2 out of 35 games was the whole team in attendance for a game. That’s a whopping 5.7% of the time. What is astonishing is that this team isn’t a rendition of the Bad News Bears; this “elite” team has several Division I commits to Old Dominion, Notre Dame, Boston College, and Marist to name a few. And the year before, this team had over 10 Division I commits as well! The most baffling part of this story is the reasons for the absences:

  • I have to go on vacation with my girlfriend and her family.

  • I have to go to a family party.

  • I want to take some time off from baseball to catch up on rest.

  • I have to go to football practice (even though I already said that was not going to miss any baseball activity for football).

Years ago, I had the privilege of playing for this coach on a similar “elite” team when I was in high school, and I can remember that nobody missed games or practices. You just didn’t do that. The only exception was if you had high school graduation on a night we had a game. Other than that, the two-month summer season was all about baseball and nothing else. And if you were a guy who missed a game or practice, the rest of the team would look at you as if something was wrong with you. That doesn’t seem to be the case today.

The next event happened when I turned on ESPN and the show “Training Days: Rolling with the Tide” was on. This show follows the University of Alabama football team through their Fall Camp. While watching the show, I was inspired by and reminded of the commitment that these athletes demonstrate to their sport. The message that Coach Nick Saban kept preaching was about mental toughness and about breaking points. He wanted his athletes to find their breaking point to know why they broke and how to persevere through those moments. He challenges his athletes to not look for the easy way out. What does this have to do with commitment? Well, not only do these athletes spend their entire summer at school with a rigorous schedule of working out, team meetings, practicing football in the heat of the day, and taking summer classes, but most of them don’t even get to step on the field in uniform during the season. They spend hour after hour, year after year working towards the opportunity to play for the University of Alabama. They don’t go home for Thanksgiving Break. They don’t get to take a week off to go on Spring Break. Nothing is guaranteed. Nothing is given. As a coach, I reflected upon many of my athletes telling me they want to play DI this or be a professional that, without realizing the loyalty, sacrifice, discipline, and hard work that it takes to actually play at that level. It is easy to say you want something, but it is a whole other thing to go out and really work for it.

The last event was when I came across a video that the Farmington High School baseball coaches showed our baseball players this year before the season began. The video (click here for link) is Coach Geno Auriemma talking about commitment without once ever using the word. Coach Auriemma discussed how important body language, enthusiasm, and the willingness to be selfless is and how these traits are a premium for his team. These are the character traits you will find in outstanding athletes who take their commitment beyond just the physical part of the game.

What is Commitment?

Commitment is defined as the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc. It is also defined as an engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action. I particularly enjoy the second definition. As a former athlete, I can remember countless times of having to “miss out” on things that most kids my age enjoyed. For example:

  • Skipping the all-night, school sponsored high school graduation party so that I could go to bed to wake up early to drive to Long Island for an AAU baseball tournament the next day (even though I was already committed and signed to a DI athletic scholarship).

  • Staying in every night of the week and getting to bed by 10pm to make sure I was rested to work out the next day.

  • Missing high school prom to go to a baseball tournament.

  • Skipping the senior picnic to be 100% ready for a game that same afternoon.

  • Waking up early on the weekends to either work out with my dad or drive 75 minutes each way up to Massachusetts to throw a bullpen with my pitching coach.

I firmly believe that my commitment to my athletic development was responsible for my success as a baseball player. In fact, I distinctly remember taking pride in my ability to make sacrifices knowing that in the long-run, it would pay off. I would listen to my teammates talk about how they wanted to be DI athletes, but wondered how they expected that to happen when they didn’t put in the work and weren’t willing to make sacrifices. It’s no surprise that it didn’t happen for them and they went to school as regular students instead of as student-athletes. I can happily say that my sacrifices have paid off, not only in the mid-term of my baseball career, but even today, as I use these examples to help demonstrate commitment to my athletes as their coach and to myself when I find that I need some motivation.

The Under-Appreciation of Commitment

As mentioned in the introduction, it seems that there are a few key reasons why we struggle with commitment today. Although much of what I’ve mentioned has been sports related, commitment is a deciding factor for success in any area of life.

Options and Distractions

I believe that today, as opposed to even just ten years ago, there are so many more options for people. Whether it is choosing which one of the dozen local AAU teams to join, which three instruments you want to play in band, or which “cool” outfit you want to wear, you can now construct your own little world where you are king or queen and have the selfies and Instagram posts to prove it. Although there are certainly many positives with more options, such as creating a more well-rounded self and exposing yourself to different possibilities, there are also drawbacks. For instance, the more options you have, the less time you have to put towards a specific task or goal and the more likely it is that you may become distracted from the commitment to that task. The simple message is that what you get out of something is the product of what you were willing to put into it, which includes any success, proficiency, joy, and appreciation. Again, this certainly goes beyond sports and applies to school, work, family, relationships, hobbies, obligations, etc. Sacrifice is the name of the game here. Let’s consider some examples:

  1. You are a junior in high school and have a goal of being a scholarship soccer player in college. The school soccer season is in the fall at the same time that you play flag football for fun on the weekends. You have really enjoyed playing flag since the league was created a few years ago to offer kids the option to play football without the contact. Since this is a major recruiting time for soccer, it will be difficult to be at the top of your game balancing two sports along with your academic workload. You also enjoy playing the countless amounts of online video games with your friends and use these times as your primary source of social interaction. However, all of this limits any extra practice time for soccer. Do you decide to sacrifice playing flag, even though you really enjoy it, to practice soccer? Do you forgo video games and your social life for the opportunity to be a college scholarship athlete? Don’t be surprised that if you don’t make these sacrifices that you aren’t going to earn that scholarship for soccer.

  2. You are 12 pounds overweight, want to cut down your body fat from 16% to 10%, and increase your lean muscle mass. You enjoy having a drink after work during the week and going out Friday and Saturday night to dinners where you eat to excess. You also claim not to have the time to hit the gym with any consistency yet find time to watch your favorite television show at your leisure on your iPad. In today’s world you have so many options for your quick-fix diet where you can eat whatever you want when you want and you have so many workout options that claim that you only need to work out 10 minutes a day to get ripped! Even though you have gone through several of these diets and workout programs, you are still overweight and out of shape. Are you committed to sacrificing going out on the weekends and ending the daily drink after work? Are you committed to a long-term, disciplined approach to your diet that requires conscious effort and a stick-with-it attitude before jumping ship to something else? Are you committed to making time for yourself to get to the gym on a consistent basis even though you may be tired or unmotivated? Or are you still looking for the new, quick fix where you can eat what you want, work out occasionally, if at all, yet still achieve your goal? Good luck!

  3. Over the past month you have signed up for four different dating sites, each with so many options declaring to have found your perfect match. You have gone out on several dates with several different people but there is no connection. On your first few dates, you worked hard impress: you put in extra time on your personal appearance, you used your best manners at dinner, and you were fully attentive to them when they were talking. On your later dates, you think your job to impress is done. Now, it’s your turn to be wooed. You focus more about yourself, your wants, and less about the other person. What do you think is going to happen next? Although the answer is obvious, it is astounding how often this happens in every relationship, from the new to the long-term: boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife, family member, and friend. The same behavior pattern occurs over and over again; you have gone above and beyond for one person, jumping at any opportunity to listen and help them. Now that you have established a relationship with your girlfriend/boyfriend, husband/wife, or friend you feel that you have done enough, you aren’t fully present to their needs and it becomes a habit to not always listen attentively. You stop being so eager to sacrifice your time and energy to be a partner or a friend. You are more concerned about what you want to do and your happiness, even though you claim otherwise. Are you committed to sacrificingyour ego and your personal agenda to find a balance that will work for your relationships? Or are you good with being self-involved and wonder why you have such difficulty forming solid relationships?

I’m sure you can come up with numerous other examples in your own life dealing with issues at home, school, or work, or any other aspect of life where you have plenty of options from which to choose and you can either take the easy way out or to make the commitment to sacrifice. The choice is yours.

Instant Gratification

Issues with commitment also stem from our world of instant gratification. Today, we can order most anything online and have it delivered to our doorstep overnight. We have television shows, movies, and video games on command with a click of a button. We have 10-minute workouts and week-long diet cleanses. We have eight-hour drivers-ed programming stuffed into a weekend and one-week SAT cram sessions. We have smart-phones that allow us to look up anything we want instantly. At every turn there is an easy way out. These “life hacks” or shortcuts are tempting. It is no wonder how this mindset has evolved in society today. Even mindfulness has its shortcuts; just meditate 10 minutes a day and you will be as enlightened as the Dalai Lama himself! When young people enter the workforce, they are upset that they aren’t on the fast track to upper management making $100k a year after the first six months as a lowly sales rep. Even Mike Babcock, head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, had to remind his young and anxious-to-win players about the process of winning this year after the Washington Capitals and Alexander Ovechkin won the Stanley Cup:

“They were able to watch Washington do it at their own level, and see a 32-year-old guy like Ovi, who has not always been at playoff time smooth, and [got] lots of kicks in the butt, win. But that's what life is about. Steve Yzerman won his first Cup at 32 (with the Detroit Red Wings). It just doesn't happen for most people right away and you have to dig in."

It is as if the value of hard work over a long period of time has been forgotten. The long-term, disciplined approach, is the sure-fire way to success. Unfortunately, this is the only way to obtain real success. The positive energy you put in to discipline, consistency, and hard work is what yields the results for which you are striving. The quick fix “home run” isn’t the answer. You may not reach your end goal on the first try or even your second, but as long as you keep going, you can still make it. And when you do, you will have an appreciation for what you have done. This sounds so simple, but apparently it confounds many of us today.

Our Entitled Attitude

With more options available to us and a more accustomed state towards instant gratification, we have become an overly entitled bunch. We love to take the mindset that things are owed to us, that they are a given in life, and that we deserve them. Unfortunately, this approach usually leads to disappointment, frustration, and a lack of appreciation. Instead, when we take the perspective that what we want, we need to earn, clarity arises. I am a firm believer in that you can always do more for the things you desire and the moment you think you have done enough, know enough, or are good enough, there is usually unhappiness waiting around the corner. This is especially true in any sort of partnership, whether it be sports, personal relationships, employee relations, etc.  where we have a commitment to ourselves and each other. I have never heard of anyone reaching their dreams or goals, without lifting a finger. We need the support and help from others. This is impossible with an entitled attitude.

We also have taken the attitude that we are special and deserve total freedom to do what we want when we want. This selfish attitude is the opposite of the definition of commitment (an engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action). I will agree that we are all special in the fact that we are individually unique in our existence and each of us hold different skills, talents, and characteristics that better our world. We also share a great connection as being imperfect human beings. Not everyone is great or wonderful or special at everything that they attempt. What’s wrong with being rewarded for our failures or ineptitudes? Intrinsic motivation goes out the door once everyone is rewarded the same. The value of commitment is what should be rewarded. So what if are a terrible at something like singing? Go work harder at it if you want to be better. Take voice lessons. And if you still aren’t as good as Beyonce, stop comparing yourself to others and be happy with being the best you can be. Good for you if something comes naturally to you. I have been around long enough to know that natural talent will only take you so far, so you better learn to work. It is no secret that our society has turned into one in which everyone gets a ribbon and even poor effort and performance is rewarded. It’s easy to be “committed” when things are going well and you’re crushing it. But that’s not really commitment. Commitment occurs when you are getting your butt kicked yet you take it in stride. Commitment is when you don’t really want to do something, but you do it anyways because you know it will lead you to your goal. Commitment is hard and tough. But commitment has value and worth. When you look at it from that perspective, the hard and tough turn into reward and appreciation.

Let’s be Honest

We can not be 100% committed all of the time in everything we do. It is impossible because we inevitably fail sometimes. But, this is the beauty of being human. In past blogs, I have argued that it is when we fail that we tend to learn the most, and without failure, there are minimal opportunities to grow. Perfection equals completeness with nothing to strive for and no room for growth.

Early in the article I gave some examples of how committed I was to my athletic development and success. But as mentioned in a previous paragraph, it’s easy to be committed when things are going well. I loved baseball and training for baseball, so it was easy for me to make the sacrifices I made and commit the way I did. It would be unfair of me and downright false to say that I didn’t have things that I could have been much more committed to during that period of my life. A great example was school. I was a straight B+ student in high school even though I was more than capable of getting straight A’s. I didn’t particularly care for school and just went through the motions, satisfied with my “second honors” status (which sounds a lot like everyone gets a ribbon).

Today, I can reflect and objectively say I did not fully utilize my opportunity to learn and be the best I could be. I failed to do my best. But, that was me then and now I use that failure as an opportunity to grow. I love learning now and read at every opportunity. It’s never too late to start something.

Even today I still fail to be committed. A perfect example is this very blog article itself. When I first came out with this blog, my goal was to release two articles a month on the first and third Wednesday. I did great starting in March of this year, but right now, I am two weeks late with this very post (funny how I am writing about being committed yet I faltered at commitment itself here). I knew as August 1st was approaching, that I had this deadline. I just wasn’t motivated to writing it, so I missed it. At the end of the day, it’s still ok though. I can accept responsibility for my inaction and use this as an opportunity to learn and be better. It is a great reminder: why not be the best you can be or do the best you can do in this moment?

In Conclusion

If you have made it this far through this article, you are certainly committed to reading the long-winded thoughts I have on the subject of commitment. I think the most important idea to take away is to know when you are being committed and when you are not. When we become aware of our state of commitment, we can be accountable to, and accept the consequences of our decisions and actions. This self-reflection is crucial to who you are as a human being and how you achieve your perception of success in life. Just remember, you can always commit more to what you desire.

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