A friend posted a story about her 8-year old child’s first day back at soccer practice after recovering from a concussion. A boy asked her where she had been, and she explained that she couldn’t play because she was hurt. The boy showed her a scrape he had on his arm and told her , “You need to toughen up. You don’t see me being a big baby over this. Pain doesn’t matter.” His Dad rewarded and reinforced his son’s attitude, saying “That’s right, pal. Push though no matter how bad.” Needless to say, my friend was very upset.
Leaving aside the complete lack of empathy or interest in the child’s situation from American Dad for a moment, it reminded me that this glorification of athletes who play while injured is a curiously American phenomenon, and poorly thought out on a number of levels. I have no doubt its origin is in the military. In desperate times when under attack, you probably would value the guy in the foxhole next to you continuing to fight even after being wounded. Extreme case granted. But glorification of the military is part and parcel of American culture and is deeply entwined in the image of professional sports here and the gladiators remind American dads of their own physical inadequacy.
For this to have become a social norm where parents praise and reward such behavior in children is just wrong. It has always struck me as weird when I hear baseball, football and hockey players playing through injuries and being lionized by commentators. What message does that send? It tells their teammates on the bench that they’re not good enough. That an underperforming injured star is better than what a fully healthy replacement can offer. How is that good for team morale? How does that get squared away with coaches preaching that you win as a team and lose as a team, that the whole is better than the sum of the parts? It doesn’t.
I played Gaelic football (in simple terms, a cross between soccer and rugby) at a decent level when I was younger. If I tried to hide an injury to keep my starting place on the team, the coach would be really angry. If he had to use one of the limited number of substitutes the rules allowed early on in a game because I wasn’t competitive, he would be pissed that I was so selfish that I had jeopardized the whole team’s interests. Making a change early on can have a disruptive and even crippling effect on a team. We always had the attitude that a 100% fit replacement was better for the team than a hobbled starter. When being a split second slower is the difference between your team gaining possession or losing it, there’s no 90% fit. There’s 100% or 0%.
Anyway, just thought I’d put that out there. Not every one thinks you’re being a hero when you take a teammate’s spot even though you’re not capable of giving your best.