Editorial Note: This piece was written by Alexa Eldracher, a friend of mine.
First things first: I’d like to establish that as a Division 1 track and field athlete, I love to work out. Running? Good. Ab work? Good. Pushups? Good. Jumping jacks? Eh, kinda useless, but nothing against them. You get the idea. And as someone who likes to keep things as simple as possible, I crave structure. I thrive on being on time, executing drills properly, and working hard. Now, I’m not trying to imply that I think I’m better than the next guy because of these traits- far from it, I assure you- but what I am trying to demonstrate is that I believe that I could have been satisfied with the type of environment that the military would be able to offer. Especially because I can be quite loud for a little 5’4 trackie.
Recently, I found myself participating in “The Program” with a rather sizeable group of my fellow sports captains. Essentially, the main goal of The Program is to employ physically demanding exercises, executed in perfect unison, to create a sense of leadership and camaraderie among those participating. During this time, you are expected to follow orders, push yourself beyond what you believe are your physical limitations, and be as loud as possible. Sounds like it would be my own personal paradise, right?
But Lex, you’d say, you like that kind of stuff.
So what’s your problem?
Allow me to explain.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy pushing myself physically, and I can appreciate what the group is trying to accomplish. They want to create better leaders. And if we were training to be leaders in the military, then I feel that this type of training would work well in preparing us for combat. Here’s the catch: track and field is not military combat. End of story.
Yes, we need to find a way to get the results that we need as a team in order to be successful. Yes, we need to understand that it is going to involve hard work, both physically and mentally. Yes, as a leader, I will find myself in situations where I will be required to be assertive, emotions aside. These are skills that will prove to be quite valuable to me in the future.
But when I heard the former drill sergeant say in a mocking tone, “You need to demand results. Nothing was, nor ever will be, accomplished by saying ‘You got this’”, I was...well, let’s go with “disgruntled”, for lack of a better term. And if this guy didn’t look like he could easily crush my head like a walnut between his bicep and forearm, I would have stood my aching ass up and told him so. But I didn’t, and I find myself regretting having the balls to do so.
So without further ado, here is what the people at The Program need to understand, from a trackie’s perspective:
I am all for creating an atmosphere of discipline and respect. And I will say that I did enjoy learning how to be assertive, and how to hold my teammates accountable for their own success and failures. However, I repeat: WE ARE NOT THE MILITARY. We are a group of strong, dedicated young woman who have come together to train and compete in the sport that they love. We are there because we want to be competitive. There’s no denying that; I mean, who doesn’t like winning? But we are also there because for some of us, it is our sanity. We train because it is our escape from the stress of the rest of the world. It is our break from strenuous academic work. It is our time to be with a group of people that bring us joy and motivate ourselves to be better athletes, better friends, and better teammates. We are there to help push each other forward. And sometimes, all it takes is a single work of encouragement from a teammate to get us back on our feet when we fall.
As a leader, it is my responsibility to be there for my team. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. But I am not there to bark orders. I am not there to demand anything of them. I am not there to “put my size-seven shoe up their ass” as one of the men phrased oh-so-delicately, when I do not get the results I expect. My job is to serve as a guide and a resource for them as they make their way along their own path to success. These girls are not my minions; they are young women with enough personal autonomy to want to improve themselves in order to benefit the team. They made the choice to come here, I did not force them to, and if they do not feel up to the task of being a dedicated member of the team, then they can choose to leave. I am there to act as a role model- and yes, there is NOTHING WRONG WITH LEADING BY EXAMPLE. It is my job to set the standard high, and be there to help my teammates rise beyond their own expectations.
And I will always, always, ALWAYS be sure to remind them: you got this.