Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A fine line between hard and stupid

Some recent experiences and not so recent experiences have convinced me to write about a topic that I don't think really gets discussed much, especially by military types. We've all felt the need to crank out the last set, that last pullup, finish up that last mile. And if you're like me, a little bit of hurt makes you push a little harder, and gut it out. However, as adults, it's time to own up to the fact that there's a fine line between hard and stupid.
"Driving on" is something that men, and especially military men are famous for. The drill sergeants were always saying "Drive on, men, drive the f*ck on!". We even had a cadence, called, "Drive On". There have been numerous sayings, one of the most famous from Vietnam. FIDO, or "Fuck It, Drive On."
"Drive on" applies to more than just military folk as well. Tired and not feeling like going to college? Drive on, or skipping class will become a habit. Hate your job, but don't have any alternatives? Drive on, because a steady job is in short supply these days. When you're just having a bad day, or a bad week, you just need to drive one. Things won't stay bad forever.
What this essay seeks to discuss, however, is not the general, benefical side of the drive on mentality. Instead, I'm going to focus on something I've written about in the past, and probably will again. This is the harmful, less discussed side of "driving on." I've seen it plenty of times, in high school sports, in the Army, in various gyms, and in martial arts. All sorts of people are saying "I'll just drive on, this will go away." Whether they say it out loud, or in their heads, a lot of people tend to ignore things and drive on.
When I was a brand new private in the 82d Airborne Division, there was a fellow soldier who was brand new, who had hurt his knee fairly seriously. He did the normal, go to sick call, get some Motrin. When the knee failed to get better, he did not continue to receive treatment for it. Instead, he drove on. His knee got progressively worse, and eventually he just couldn't run anymore. At this point in time, our daily PT regimen was somewhere in the neighborhood of five miles a day. What finally did him in was the day we ran five miles in our body armor. Imagine five miles, then imagine it with a forty pound vest...then imagine with a hurt knee.
After this soldier was MADE to go back to sick-call, he was put on crutches for weeks. Even after he was off the crutches, he was not allowed to do PT. Then light PT, then regular PT. End result? Approximately three months without doing any sort of meaningful PT. Being nineteen at the time, it didn't effect his physical readiness as much as it would if he had been well into his twenties. It did however slow him up quite a bit, AND he missed a lot of training.
I have been guilty of this as well, where my back is concerned. A friend of mine tried to bully me into going to see the docs for my back, to no avail. I've also ignored my knee until it got so bad I could hardly walk. I tried to ignore a seperated shoulder once, but that wasn't happening. Once it got so that I couldn't move it anymore, I had no choice but to go to sick call. Did I stop when I hurt it though? Being as I was only twenty one at the time, and a young paratrooper playing football...what do you think the answer is?
I see it a lot, too, in high school sports. All high school athletes, especially the seniors, want to get out and play, not knowing when they'll have another chance, if ever. This is commendable, for sure. However, not when it reaches the point of serious injury. Especially as a teen, the injuries one sustains might be injuries they will never fully come back from.
It is important that a balance not only be reached, but is taught to up and coming athletes as well. Student athletes need to be exposed to lessons, even if they cannot actually be taught. I only say this because I know how hard it was for me, at the age of 16-18 to actually take some of the things my coaches say to heart, and I know that some of the current crop of high school athletes have the same problem. When a person is young, they are more or less invincible, until they hit about twenty-three or so. In this invincible state of mind it becomes harder to think of the "what ifs" that may occur while playing sports, contact or otherwise.
There is almost no practical way to force something on the high school student-athlete, because if they do not see the value in it, they will simply go through the motions. For example, stretching. I harp on the athletes at the high school track team about stretching, every year, at the beginning of every practice. Yet, I know almost instantly who is going to ignore me, and who is going to pull a muscle in the middle of a race. They are the ones who are just going through the motions, not really making any effort to properly stretch and warm up.
Is there a solution to all of this, both for adults and teenagers? Certainly not a perfect solution. As always, all we as coaches and instructors can do is to make the tools and resources available to the athletes, including ourselves. Every now and then an athlete will come around and realize that he or she doesn't have to push to the wall every time, and will start to allow themselves time to recover from injuries, no matter how slight. These are the small victories that we need to look for, that can hopefully change the way all of us look at exercise and competition.


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