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What Every Athlete Should Do: Play Tough. Play Smart.

What Every Athlete Should Do: Play Tough. Play Smart.

How should you play? Whatever the sport and whatever your skill level, the answer is simple: Play Tough. Play Smart.

Eye Black: Play Tough. Play Smart.

What Every Athlete Should Do
Play Tough. Play Smart.

“How should I play?”
“What type of player do I want to be?“
“What does coach want to see from me?”  

Athletes are constantly asking these questions.

There are many different answers to these questions, but at the core, there is a simple answer: Play tough. Play smart.  

There’s a very good reason that this is our company motto: these are the words our own team lives by! And, as an athlete, if you do these two things, you will certainly stand out to your coach, and be an invaluable asset to your team - regardless of your experience, athleticism, or skills.

It may sound simple enough, but I think Play Tough. Play Smart. merits some explanation.   

Let’s start with play tough.  Often, we have a limited understanding of what it means to be tough.  We limit toughness to physical play or overcoming pain.  Yes, continuing to play without hesitation after being cleated is tough.  But playing tough can mean much more.  I love this classic dictionary definition of tough from Merriam-Webster: “characterized by uncompromising determination.” Many teams use different words to describe the concept of “uncompromising determination.”  When I played and coached rugby, our team’s motto was “Relentless.”  Rugby is long, physical game; we needed to play with the same energy for the grueling 80 minutes of a game in order to be successful.  As a coach, I was looking for relentlessness from my players more than anything else.  

Another concept used to describe “uncompromising determination” is “motor.”  NFL scouts talk and write a lot about which players have a great “motor.”  They are looking for a player who doesn’t stop, who plays with sustained energy from whistle to whistle.  This is playing tough.  Lots of athletes can make a good play, or can be active in a game for a few minutes.  However, it takes toughness to be active and involved for your entire time on the field during a game or practice.

When you think play smart, I’m sure your mind pulls up images of the type of plays that announcers would call “smart” or genius.”  Reading defenses, making smart passes, rotating on defense, and executing similar plays are all a part of playing smart.  Learning more about your sport and position is  critical, as is listening to your coach and other knowledgeable mentors.  You need to understand the plays, schemes, and concepts your team runs in order to play smart.

But play smart also means “know your role” and “play within your limits.”  Playing smart looks different for every player on every team!  And it is usually not spectacular.  One of my high school football coaches was notorious for shouting “Do Your Job!” (shout out to Coach Shaw).  It sounds simple, but we needed the reminder!   This mantra fueled our success as a team, because it was essential that each player carry out his specific job.  Doing your job is an essential part of playing smart.

The athlete who plays tough and plays smart is someone who plays with uncompromising determination, working hard and doing their job for their entire time on the field.  

Let this give you focus today and going forward as you practice, train, and compete: Play Tough. Play Smart.