What’s with “I suck” statements?

I want to start by saying that I’ve wanted write about this topic for a long time, and have stewed and chewed about it for it seems like forever.  I’ve never really taken the time to share many of my personal thoughts or beliefs about things as I’ve often wondered about whether or not it was necessary.  Through my own personal reading I know that many professionals, in all fields, share their thoughts, findings, and experiences in blogs and posts and I feel that now is the time for me to share mine from time to time as well.  So here goes…..

I’ve been wondering for a long time, why so many students (let’s say Grade 8-12 students for argument sake), say “I suck at….”, but many times they never really give what they “suck at” a fair shot.  For example: I often ask kids to come out for the track team and they reply, “I suck at running.”  It’s really disappointing honestly to hear that because, maybe you aren’t “good” or “excelling” at it today, but where could you be tomorrow with some practice? In a month with practice? In six months?  In two years?  I usually think to myself, “You suck at running? Did you even practice? Did you have a coach teach you how to run? Did you give it time and practice?”  I imagine that if you went out to run without any lead up exercise or practice, especially after a brutally cold Manitoba winter, which likely caused you to say indoors, that yes in fact you might not do so well in your run.  But what is doing well really?  It’ll be completely different for each of us.  I also know that if you compare yourself to others, if other run at the same time, that, yes, there may be some people who did better than you.  I also often wonder why we get so hung up on what place we finished anyway instead of focusing on how much we improved, and why we tend to shy away from individual sports?  Maybe something to write about another time.

What I really want to know is why so many of these students say “I suck” after only trying something once, twice, a few times? Why did we become like this?  When did we become like this?  Why is it even acceptable to say “I suck”?  Really, if we all quit things after trying it once, where would we be?  We really aren’t born able to do anything so most of our lives when we are young are spent trying to learn to do new things or perform tasks better, yet at some point its okay to stop doing that and say “I suck”?  To me, its not okay to say that.  I don’t buy it.  You don’t “suck” you maybe just don’t do it to your fullest potential yet.  If we all didn’t stick with things, we wouldn’t be able to walk, no one would talk, skating probably wouldn’t happen, definitely couldn’t ride a bicycle (I fell many times learning to ride my bike, broke my arm once pretty bad too), we wouldn’t be able to hit a baseball, play an instrument, swim, read, write, and we (at least I) probably couldn’t even colour within the lines of a colouring book.  Think about all the things we do everyday that once we couldn’t do? The list is HUGE.  We all stuck with it and got pretty good at a lot of things and especially those things that were important to us or were at the very least necessary.

Track and field like anything takes practice, lots of practice.  More specifically, running takes practice.  Yes, we all can run, and, yes we all can do it after we’ve learned to walk, but not all of us run properly.  There’s a lot that goes into running.  The mechanics involved in running is really phenomenal; placement of the foot at ground contact, flexion vs extension in a lot of joints, front side mechanics, backside mechanics, arm mechanics, and even how we hold our head factors into things.  Not only do we have all of this mechanical “stuff” to worry about and learn, but we have to train our bodies to get better over time allowing us to run faster.  It’s a process and it takes a lot of time to get better, much like anything else really.  Everyone practices.  No one started perfect.

Now, I can appreciate that some people don’t like running, I guess it’s not for everyone, but it is a fundamental skill and can be a good building block for a lot of other sports if one didn’t want to pursue life as a track athlete.  Track and field, which teaches running, teaches good mechanics and movement patterns, develops speed, strength, power, agility, body control and awareness, all of which are beneficial in every other sport.  Don’t believe me? Research how many elite NFL players run track in high school or university – https://www.trackingfootball.com

I’ve been reading a book lately called, “The Sport Gene”, by David Epstein.  Terrific read so far if you are into science and sport and I suggest reading it.  In the book there’s a story about Jim Ryun which I’ll paraphrase below.  I want to share a bit about the story of Jim Ryun to highlight my point because I think it’s a perfect example of not quitting and trying.  The story really did push me over the top to write this post.

As a boy he couldn’t make the church baseball team because he was unable to throw the ball from third base to first base without bouncing the ball.  He was cut from his junior high basketball team despite being taller than most of his classmates.  By Grade 9 (still considered Junior High at the time) the tried out for the track team one last time.  He had failed previously at long jump, knock himself out pole vaulting, in Grade 7 crashed through hurdles, in 8th grade he pulled a muscle in the 50-yard dash.  So, in the spring of 1962, he tried the quarter mile, or 400m.  He started that race great, but by 200m was running out of gas and didn’t run fast enough to make the team.  But he did lead for a bit which kept some hope alive.  That next fall, in Grade 10, the high school cross country coach spoke at an assembly saying something like, “many of you boys have done poorly in junior high sports, but don’t be discouraged.  Everyone grows at a different rate and some of you still have plenty of growing to do.”  So, Jim went out for the cross country team.  He had never run 5 miles before without stopping.  He found another in-experienced 10th grader and together they helped each other not quit and run a complete 5 mile run.  At the first mile (1600m) time trial he ran 5:38, which is not bad but it placed him 14th overall on the team.  “Give it up,” his mother urged.  “It’s too hard on you,” his father said.  But the boy’s teammates were encouraging.  So, he went to his first cross county race, ranked #21 on his team, and he set out to improve.  In 6 weeks he moved up from the C-team to the JV team, and after two months the boy led the varsity team to the Kansas state championship. Despite his success he wasn’t set on running and took the winter off from running.  That following March, he ran a mile (1600m) in 4:26 to defeat the defending state champion.  He followed that up with a 4:21 mile.  He finished Grade 10, his first ever track season, with a 4:08 mile down from 5:38.  From there he began to train like a professional, 100-mile weeks, intervals, etc and in grade 11 he ran the mile in 3:59 becoming a national sensation.  That summer he made the 1964 US Olympic team while in high school.  At 19, he set the world record 3:51.3 in the mile.  He later broke his own record with a 3:51.1, a record he then held for 8 years.  Today, he’s still remembered as one of the best middle-distance runners of all time.

So, Jim Ryun, was cut from baseball, basketball and track while in JR High.  In all likelihood he could have said, “I suck”, but he kept at it and tried again.  He practiced, and learned, and didn’t quit and he went from being the 21st best runner on his team (so he wasn’t very good when he started) at the start of Grade 10, to running a 3:59 mile in Grade 11 and made the Olympic team.  Unreal!  That’s what can happen if you stick with something, give it a try, and then commit to it! You can do it!

I think we have to change our mindset from “I suck” to “I can”, or “I will”, or even “I won’t stop trying”.  Life is about growth, we place one foot in front of the other when we walk, we move forward.  It’s that idea of being a life longer learner.  We keep learning, we keep growing and we keep getting better.

So, tomorrow, like any other day, I’ll ask students to join the track team, and I’ll be curious to see what they say.