Being raised by a Marine, but more importantly, by someone from the coal mines of Northeastern Pennsylvania, one lesson that was hammered into my head is the importance of putting in hard work. Nothing is ever given to you and if you want something, you're going to need to invest the time, sweat, and effort to get it.
The first time this was applied to my athletics career was the Saturday after I won the 8th grade wrestling championships. After a celebratory visit to McDonald's, my dad told me he was going to take me to the gym the next day. Mind you, the 8th grade championships were the weekend after the 8th grade field trip to Knott's Soak City, an all-day trip to the water park where I decided I didn't need sunscreen. Even though I gutted out (to my rather amateur opinion) 3rd degree sunburn to take home first place, my dad was still going to get me over to the gym to get in a workout.
As we were lifting the next day, he told me that I was getting ahead by coming in to the gym on a day when my competition would be resting or hanging out with friends.
I took that to idea to heart. I view working out as strengthen my body, consuming as much sports media as my head can handle as broadening my knowledge, and jotting down blog posts about my thoughts on Britain's Royal Wedding as honing my writing all as efforts of me bettering myself when my competition is sleeping, partying, or being just plain lazy.
At a larger scale, H.D. Woodson's girls basketball team traveling the nation to play in tournaments against the county's best outfits and sames like this season's Gonzaga/Wootton lacrosse match-up, I see coaches and players taking my father's philosophy personified.
Woodson head coach Frank Oliver is allowed to schedule 12 out of conference games and he fills up his team's schedule with the top teams from states such as New York and California to name a few. Oliver packs up his squad in an airplane or bus--on weekends so his team never misses a day of school--and hits the road out of the District to contend with the nation's best. Since it's proven that the Lady Warriors are heads and shoulders above the DC Public School competition (the Lady Warriors haven't lost a conference game since 2006), Oliver finds other ways to better his squad.
"Exposure to competition is good. You can then visualize what to work for," said Oliver.
Oliver takes his girls on the road to keep his girls sharp in preparation for the City Title game where the DC Public School champ matches up with the winner of the Catholic Conference. The WCAC night in and night out have its team compete in grind-it-out schedule compared to Woodson's conference schedule having evolved into more of a formailty as the Lady Warriors breeze through to another conference championship. Woodson recognizes they need to undertake the extra burdens (financial, academic, etc) in order to avoid being worked like a speed bag at the Verizon Center in March.
Montgomery County boy's lacrosse creditability begins towards the end of the alphabet as Wootton has won straight five-straight regional titles. That same creditability ends once the Patriots make the state semis as Wootton is sent on their merry way home.
And much like Woodson's girl basketball team, Wootton also rips through their regular conference season schedule at a regular clip, enduring a couple close calls and a loss here or there, but nothing that truly challenges them.
Wootton sandwiched in between their league schedule a match-up with WCAC champ Gonzaga, a squad that has sliced through this season's conference slate themselves.
And as both teams season's intersect briefly before they go off into their respective conference tournaments, they will be able enjoy each team's best shot. Rather than squeezing in an easy "W" which would ultimately amount to the equivalent of running wind sprints for a couple hours, the Patriots and Eagles will bash each other's heads in to see where they stand before the postseason. Teams don't truly know how good they are until they play teams as good as or better than them.
In a world where lying, cheating, cutting corners, taking short-cuts (thanks for allowing me to bore you with clichés), sports are one of the few places where that kind of deceit is (mostly) policed and hard work is still the premium. That there is work before there is glory.
It's important that me and you still have that reminder.