Coach LeRoy Gardner



The Tyranny of the Goal

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'Aim for the Moon so even if you don't make it you're among the stars...' I've seen a form of this shared, and read it frequently throughout my time as a competitor.

Over time I have reflected on this concept of setting high goals or goals in general. During my time as a competitive student-athlete, I spent many days and years with the goal of being a National Champion. It was incredibly rewarding and immensely fulfilling when I was fortunate enough to attain it.

However, it also created an interesting introspection, why me? In my senior season, our team put six of ten individuals into the NCAA Finals. Why had I emerged, along with two others of this group, to reach the same goal that we all had?

Surely we'd all trained the same training or at least similar enough to not be a differentiator (or maybe there are differences and that's the difference). We'd come up in the same culture - from a coaching perspective.

It hurt me seeing three guys I'd trained along side, fought in the room, lifted with, dreamed, and generally shared the last many years with not reach the same goal individually.

In this introspection, I realized that some of the drive from having this goal was, it was achievable only at one tournament a year. Therefore each season, I spent three-hundred and sixty-four days, not being a National Champ regardless of what happened on the mat one day out of the year.

It helped keep me hungry by default. It helped me stay after the work to get there. But I also realized that throughout my career there were times when I doubted the goal, doubted that I could make it, but kept doing the work anyway. Appropriately Coach Miller's common refrain was, "Do it anyway."

It dawned on me after the fact, the work was the value. What was the common thing that I stood on to help me win BUT also my teammates who'd not won also stood on, not in their winning but forever, for the rest of their lives? The work. Thier work. Our work. The path we walked together. The shared struggle. That was the value.

I wouldn't trade my championship away but I realized, that one moment was but a single moment, a single match in many, many matches of a career. Although an important bullet point, it is still just that, in a full experience I'd had over many years.

It got me thinking, questioning: if I'd been able to have some of this perspective about the work and the process earlier, could I have spared myself some of the dissatisfaction or frustration that comes with inherently only holding up that one tournament a season as THE thing? I think yes.

I'd have enjoyed the process more. Had more fun in all the work. My experience shaped my perspective that I often characterized wrestling as not very fun but very rewarding. Competing was fun. Training sometimes wasn't fun. Seeking to find the fun, enjoyment, and maybe even better, the fulfillment - is what the best find a way to do.

I don't have a full answer yet. Now that I am a coach, one of the things I hope and work to pass on is to really value that everyday path not hold out and measure one single event. Value all of them. If my athletes can find value in everyday, therefore value in all the aspects of this wonderful sport and apply in their lives - I've successfully done my job. Fulfilled my mission.

More to come but food for thought as an athlete or coach.