It’s rarely good when a person says, “I think I’m about to die.” But then, as a coach trying to expose younger players to the work required for professional advancement, those words are evidence of success. Thus, when my player said those words to me this morning after ninety demanding minutes beneath a 90-degree sun, I simply smiled and said, “Keep working.”
The day before we witnessed two finalists play a 3-hour-and-40-minute match in midday heat, so my sympathies ran short. John Wooden said, “Sports do not build character, they reveal it.” Whether this type of training breaks or makes these kids, only time will tell. The truth is, they need to battle through this, grabbing their racquet and pounding away every single day to perfect the imperfectable so they can compete against the international community, knowing that every hour they miss is an hour where their competitors are grinding away on the practice courts trying to better themselves, knowing that the sun will never relent and the real enemies are time and fitness, and knowing that they better get it right before they retire because eventually they’ll look back and think, “remember when.”
Consequently, we have two more hits scheduled today.
On another note, every morning since I’ve arrived, I’ve hit the beach a little before sunrise, digging my arches into those warm, white Caribbean sands and shedding a few lbs. on my dawn run. Along with the requisite Crayola skies and lapping waves, there’s a pint-sized Mexican man, in what looks like a drab UPS outfit, holding a rake and sporting an upper lip snarl that you just know means “don’t trifle.”
On day two, he gave me a subtle raised-palm wave and we’ve become A.M. acquaintances. His name is Mario. Mario has almost five teeth and sundrenched skin that suggests prosciutto. His job description entails sanitizing the beach of the seaweed that washed up the previous evening, presumably because the thought of morning kelp touching international tourists is just about the worst thing this hotel’s management can conceive.
When I run past, I refer to him as Super Mario for the sheer fortitude it must take to grab a metal rake and to do daily combat against the entire fucking Caribbean Sea, in what has to be the most Sisyphusean job on the planet. The guy is a mensch!
Imagine knowing that you’re going to spend the next few decades getting up early, putting on the same outfit, grabbing the same tool and heading out to the same gritty surface to try to perfect something imperfectable. See yourself laboring, day after day, with little appreciation for your efforts, with no hope of ever stopping the adversarial tide, and knowing that age and sun and the international community will eventually grind you into an old-aged hack who stares at the horizons and thinks, “remember when.” Waaait a minute….