All my life, like so many other people, I've been an athlete. From the time I was old enough to hold a football, to now at age 20, the tallest one in my family with a thick beard, I've devoted myself to sports, especially football. One thing I always had to deal with from when I was six years old, was that I never naturally rose to the top.
This isn't to say that I was a bad player, or even that I was a bad athlete. This was instead that I was never the best athlete. I was never someone whose instincts took over, and became a dynamic force on the field. Instead, I was someone who drifted in the middle of the pack. While I wasn't the kid who would make the coach snort with disgust at their incompetence, but I was subject to having coaches constantly call me "Red" or "Carrot Top" because they'd forgotten my name. In short, I was just another face in the crowd, which at times felt as if it was worse than being on the bottom of the depth chart.
The reality of this became obvious as I entered high school, having spent the past two years firmly as a second stringer on the football team. I was coming home from practice frustrated in a way that only a fourteen year old could be. I usually internalized my feelings about this, but for the first time, they came bursting out.
"Dad, I don't know what I'm supposed to do. Maybe I'm just not any good." The lesson my father taught me always stuck with me.
"Jack, there's always going to be someone bigger, or stronger, or faster, or even just better. You can't control that. The only thing you can control is your toughness and how you outwork them."
It may have seemed like something that was intuitive, but that became my mantra. I was an lineman, but I was always undersized, so I had to make up for it. Over the next few years, I worked like my life depended on it. Finally, my senior year, I got my chance.
For the past few years, I had floated around as a back up player, and while coaches would sometimes put me in, I was still, just like years later, not the player in the forefront. When I talked to the coach, it was clear that I was seen as someone who could play, I wasn't seen as a guy who stood out. Once again, I was just a face in the crowd.
In the end, my father's advice won out. I worked in the weight room, learned my playbook backwards and forwards and played tough. My coaches began to see me as a work horse, a player who could be depended on to make the right choices. And my reward for this work was being a member of a starting line up for a state championship team.
Almost three years later, I find myself in a not so different position. I play for a division III college team, and now more than ever, find myself to shift into the middle of the crowd. But still the advice rings in my head. And despite everything, I've gotten used to being the player whose just decent. I wouldn't have it any other way.