Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Sports Ethics: Power Through

“I’ll just power through.” She stated it as a simple reality of how she would deal with the problem plaguing her. No longer on the playing field, my old student faced some serious emotional wreckage and career challenges. But she evoked the language of her life as an athlete when she faced the obstacles or adversity of life. Sometimes being smart or well trained or good is not enough, sometimes shit happens and a person must “power through.” I admired the clarity and courage of her approach and believe that this attribute involves a basic human capacity and requirement that any high performing person needs to call upon at certain times.

Anyone seeking to live his or her life according to a purpose needs to power through sometime. Anyone seeking to survive has to power through some time. Anyone facing obdurate obstacles in their mind, emotions or physical environment, sometimes has to power through. Notice the emphasis here upon will, upon deploying attention, mind-focused energy against obstacles to endure in a purpose. It is intimately related to “showing up.”

To be honest often the person may not even know where they will end up. All the individual knows is that he or she must get through the conflagration facing them. It is enough to focus upon getting through with integrity and body intact. The other side may be unclear but it will permit escape and new start.

Teams and players face the challenge to power through when they face adversity, serious adversity. Notice the emphasis here upon “power.” This does not mean the player or team does not use its mind and plan and adapt. But at the core, the challenge facing a person who must power through requires an emphasis upon the internally organized and deployed power to endure in face of pain and adversity and keep going even when things get worse rather than better.

Powering through assumes that a person or team will get through it. But the “it” and the end are not clear. Often it means just getting through the adversity. It could be as bad as being in the middle of a melt down by a team or a huge thumping where a player or team is simply outmatched or not on its game. They are getting beat. They probably will not be able to win no matter what they do; but they must continue to be present, continue to perform and be loyal to each other and their goals and team culture. They play with integrity even when the plan is falling apart and the game is being lost.

It may mean powering through a bad spot or touch of adversity. Maybe a series of mistakes or a serious injury that takes away a critical player or a good friend during the game. It may mean a sudden jolting change in the dynamic or the game, the balance of power or talent or just losing momentum and suddenly playing from behind.

In all these cases, it recalls almost Nietzsche’s will to power. Not in its demand for dominance, but in the sense that Nietzsche believed that the force for living and growing could be harnessed by a person and directed inward and emerge as a form of self-mastery. This requires the internal person to expend immense attention and energy to forge a steady ability to overcome the desire to quit or give up or stop trying. It means the person or athlete can endure the pain or loss or push back from the obstacle they are facing. Often the battle is never seen, maybe the body movement gives evidence, but the real battle occurs internally in the mind, focus, intention, will and cognitive capacity and organization of the person.

Enduring pain and pushing or fighting back against the sapping fear of failure or desire to give up takes huge amounts of internal energy and will. It requires focused attention and concentrated action to organize and move body and mind in an intentional manner. This can be as direct as pushing your legs to keep moving forward when you are tackled in football to tossing the ball and smashing a serve when a player is down and has missed the first serve.

Powering through flows naturally from the central aspect of athletic and achievement based ethics—intentional integration of mind, body and emotions for a purpose. Powering through means a person is capable not just of overcoming physical limitations but also of putting aside distractions or being distraught to stay on track for a goal, even when aspects of a person’s body or mind or emotions may scream to not try, to give up, to just stop. It also means the goal may fade, become fuzzy or reduce to just getting out alive or soul intact.

The challenge can be as daunting as facing mental anguish or the dark radiance of depression to just get up each morning, get dressed, eat and show up for work. To do the work and relate to others requires some aspects of powering though. It can be as overwhelming as facing six months of rehabilitation work to restore an ACL or torn Achilles tendon. Each day demands doing exercises, often with little perceived return, but the athlete or person must show up and do the exercises and endure, persevere and face set backs and bad news, but keep going. Most of these days of
overcoming injury or emotional pain call for powering through.
It depends heavily upon the ethic of self-mastery but also of the loyalty and training that go together in athletic achievement. Often it requires the support of fellow players or coaches or advisors who can give encouragement and help and advice and constructive criticism in technique or buffering to sustain the effort. Going through the physical or emotional therapeutic journey depends upon strong, consistent and supportive therapists and friends.

This triumph of will of powering through centers strong athletic achievement and virtues. It demonstrates what coaches call being “mentally tough.” But tough is not enough, it requires not just standing up amid the turmoil but forging an intention to act and then calling upon all our resources to act despite the odds and even when we do not feel like it.

Power through has its own dark side. The emphasis upon just power, just getting through to the goal can result in serious loss and injury. The Achilles temptation always arises when will to power drives powering through. Nietzsche knew this as well as anyone. Sometimes a person should not “play through the pain.” Sometimes the limits of endurance physical and emotional have been met and it is time to stop, rethink, renew and maybe even change purpose.

Powering through is not sufficient and left untended by reflection and good advice and support, it can lead athletes and people down paths where injury can get worse and isolation can lead people to implode.
Another danger of powering through is that an athlete or person can get isolated in their pain. It can become the loneliness of the long distance runner. Athletes and people need a “little help from my friends” and experts to get through these trials. Like all aspects of ethics, powering through is important but needs to be tempered by mindful consultation with friends and teammates and coaches and experts. Support can matter as much as will.

In the end like all dimensions of athletic ethics and performance ethics, power through supports and sustains. But it builds more deeply upon purpose and integrity. This means it can drive to achieve, but needs to be tempered by the wisdom and support to know when to change direction and purpose.

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