Sumo wrestling champions are rarely Japanese anymore. They hail from poorer places like Mongolia, Samoa, even Bulgaria where kids have a deeper incentive to train hard.
Understandably, the Japanese don’t like what this says about the declining athleticism, drive, and motivation of their own youth. After all: what does it say about your national sport, when the best in the world are not from your country?
Americans can relate: our national sport, Baseball, has been dominated by non-Americans for decades — people who worked harder, and went further, than the descendents of the people who invented the sport in the first place. 1
Humans are getting lazier and weaker by the generation. 2
America is the richest, most powerful country to ever grace the earth — and its inhabitants are becoming the laziest and the weakest of them all.
From massive obesity rates — to grade-inflation — to the scourge of the skinny-fat kid who thinks he is in shape because he has abs (he can’t do a sit-up to save his life) — to drastically declining science and math skills — to growing rates of depression and anxiety — Americans are falling apart.
What does the ever-decreasing physical capacity of Americans say about the MINDSET of the humans who are entombed inside of these bodies? 3
Just as importantly: How do we reverse it?
The Tale Of Two Children: Foo & Bar
Imagine we have two children: Foo & Bar.
Foo loves to play outside. If her dad let her, she’d play outside constantly — never sleep, never eat, never stop.
Bar — in contrast — loves to play video games and watch TV all day. Sure, all humans love these things. But, she will choose them over playing outside in every case unless forced.
Let’s assume Bar has a decent father who forces her to play outside, whether she likes it or not. Unfortunately for him, it’s a constant struggle to peel the kid away from the screen. But, at least he’s trying.
Today, the kids in the neighborhood are all playing a game of tag.
There are about 10 of them, and it’s a wild one. The children are flying all over the place — into and out of people’s backyards, up and down trees, and up and over fences.
At one point — at the exact same time — both Foo and Bar hit the deck, scraping their knees, legs, and hands on the concrete.
Weirdly, their injuries are identical. They are pretty scraped up, but it’s nothing serious.
Foo immediately leaps back up — yelling a curse word she knows she’s not supposed to say — and then bolts as fast as she can to get away from the tagger. She flies up a tree, laughing because she knows damned-well the tagger is slower than she is. He totally sucks at climbing trees — she’s a master.
Foo climbs out on a long branch that hangs over the fence of the neighbors yard, jumps down into the yard — and gets away. Someone else got tagged.
At this point, her Dad takes notice, and realizes his kid is bleeding. “Foo, get your butt over here!”
“Damn,” she says under her breath, then yells, “I’m fine! Seriously. It’s not a big deal. Just let me keep playing.”
“No. Don’t talk back to me. Get your scrawny self over here, right now, so I can at least wrap up your legs so you don’t get an infection.”
Foo quickly complies, knowing full-well that anything less would be remarkably unwise.
Her dad is always having to reign Foo in and he watches her like a hawk. She has an amazing knack for getting herself hurt, in trouble, or both.
Contrast this with Bar…
Bar, after she fell, started crying, and went inside immediately.
Her dad helped her clean up and tried to encourage her to at least go back outside and watch the other kids run around, even if she wasn’t going to participate.
Bar refused. She wasn’t having fun anymore.
Signals Are Not Orders
Foo and Bar had identical injuries. Their reactions where opposite.
Bar believed the signals of pain — that her brain was receiving from the wounds — were orders for her to stop and do something else.
Foo ignored the signals of pain outright, because to her, the imperative was not getting tagged — at all cost.
Both girls got hurt, but only one of them stopped having fun.
Can You Jump Over The Wall?
“At some point in life you’re going to have to jump over that wall … like when someone is shooting at you in Iraq.”
— Sergeant Josh Smith
We spent a fantastic weekend up in Watertown, NY, running a 2-day seminar at Cold Blooded Crossfit. (If you find yourself in the area, it’s the place to be.)
Watertown is a military town next to Fort Drum.
That fact was reflected in the participation at the seminar. All but 3 or 4 of the people in the room were military men — and, true to the cliche you have in your head, they worked their asses off. We had them lifting for a total of about 18 hours over the course of two days, with MANY squat sessions 😉
Josh, their head coach, and the owner of the gym, has spent his entire adult life in the military. Now in his thirties, he’s coming to the realization that he’s “becoming the old guy.”
Of course, biologically, he’s quite young. But, in a world where you are faced with leading a new crop of (very) young dudes every year, a 10 to 15 year age span can feel like an eternity.
Sadly — unlike the guys at the seminar — Josh is finding that more and more young men he is charged with in the Army are more like Bar than they are like Foo.
The trouble is that as much good as military training can do for a person — it’s hard (as hell) to battle 18 years of behavioral training like what Bar has given herself.
If YOU were in charge of a bunch of young soldiers, who would you hope they were more like: Foo or Bar?
Childhood Is Training
“High School was the best time of my life.”
— Many random morons (don’t trust these people)
I never trust any parent, teacher, or coach who tells me childhood is meant to be fun, carefree, and the best time of a persons life.
You mean to tell me that for the REST of this humans life, it is all downhill? No thank you. I plan to play like Foo until the day I die.
You can always tell this type of parent/teacher/coach by how little they discipline the children they are responsible for, how little they push the kids to reach beyond themselves, how often they allow the kids to decide what is best for themselves — as if the kids have the wisdom to know what they will need in 30 years — You do, they don’t.
Childhood is a time when humans are primed for preperation. If you don’t learn a skill in childhood, you probably never will.
Sure… you CAN learn new skills — like a new language, how to play an instrument, how to fight through pain when it matters, how to be polite, how to be responsible, how to jump over walls — but, most adults don’t.
Case in point: Who ends up getting degrees in math? The adults who were once geeky kids who liked that kind of thing.
Training Is Playing Through Fear & Pain
Adults don’t have a clue what “training” — the word — even means! They think it has something to do with work. As such, they treat it like work, and avoid it at all cost!
Yes, in the strictest sense of the word, training is certainly work. But, it is more than that.
Every move you make, every action, is a drill that is building a habit that will manifest itself when it matters most.
Foo and Bar both had a CHOICE about what action to take once they hit the concrete.
- Foo, not even realizing it, practiced the act of facing fear and pain and driving toward her goals anyway.
Bar practiced the opposite.
Which one of these girls is more likely to be successful as an adult?
Why I Prefer Clients Over The Age Of 50
If you are under the age of 50, you are quite unlikely to relate to Foo at all.
If you are under the age of 30, you probably think I’m out of my mind.
Non-coaches find it odd when I tell them that if I have to choose (at random) a new athlete to work with — and I only know their age — that I will always pick the person OVER the age of 50.
Because they played outside. It’s really that simple. They are more like Foo than they are like Bar.
Yes, they may look out of shape NOW. They might have gained 60 pounds of fat since they were 20. They may be unable to do a single push up. But, when they were kids, they climbed trees, ran their asses off, and jumped over the wall — because they couldn’t imagine anything more fun.
That makes MY job stupid-easy!
All I have to do is get them doing anything at all, and their body will begin to revert back to what it already knows how to do.
Reversal: The Jillian Michaels Fallacy
If you require your coach to “motivate” you to train harder, you are not a real athlete.
That is not their job.
A coaches job is four-fold:
- Set up a positive, and strict, learning environment.
- Guide you toward the right path.
- Guide you away from the wrong path (even more important).
- Save you from yourself — hold you back when you’ve gone into crazy land (like Foo).
YOUR job is to:
- Help make the atmosphere positive.
- Work your ass off.
- Have fun.
- Do what you’re told.
Unfortunately, in the fitness industry, things have completely been turned on their heads.
People hire coaches and trainers precisely because they want someone ELSE to provide them with motivation they don’t have.
Coaches have succumbed to this fallacy and give people exactly what they paid for: They yell, scream, push, push, and push some more.
- Then you get rhabdo.
- Then you get a slap-tear.
- Then you get whatever the cool injury of the moment is.
Advice To Coaches: Let Bar Go
Coaches exist because athletes are crazy
NEVER “motivate” your athletes.
If they don’t have it on their own, you can’t give it to them. All you will do is end up injuring someone who wasn’t ready — psychologically.
Instead, spend all of your time cultivating an environment that attracts the right people, and keeps out the wrong ones. Eventually, when one of the “wrong” ones decides — for themselves! — that they want to join you, they will, with ample motivation of their own.
Focus on becoming a master of guidance and the lasso. Real athletes are like Foo. They need you to reign them IN, not ramp them up.4
Coaches: When in doubt, shut up.
Advice To Athletes: Cultivate The Mind Of Foo
If you don’t honestly have the motivation to do the work to reach your goal, you don’t have a goal — you have a dream.
That’s like an alcoholic who keeps saying they are going to quit drinking vs the person who joins AA and does what it takes to actually quit drinking.5
Spend your time cultivating the mind of Foo. Then find a coach who knows how to keep you from killing yourself. That’s a winning combination.
Athletes: When in doubt, stand up.
This is the end. But it doesn’t have to be.
While there are many problems Americans need to face to finally fulfill the promise that our country was founded upon, certainly one of them starts with kids growing up knowing how to get back up off of the concrete, keep running, climb a tree, and jump over the wall.
Life is hard. That’s exactly what makes it fun. Who can you help to learn that lesson?
Now go lift something heavy,
PS. The image at the top is of Asashoryu, a multiple-time grand champion, one of the greatest sumo wrestlers of all time. He’s Mongolian.
- On it’s own, this is great! I love that sports that were once homogeneous are slowly becoming a hotbed of diversity. I like listening to stories about a young Mongolian kid who makes a career for himself in the hyper-modern world of Japan in the (ironically) hyper-ancient sport of Sumo. The sports themselves, the audiences who watch them, and the new athletes who play them all benefit from this diversity. But, how sad that an ever increasing number of 1st-world kids can’t take part in it. ↩
- This applies to education as well. Americans are getting dumber if you mod-out by access to education rather than averages across the entire population. The average education today is certainly higher than it was in the middle ages. But is that really the bar we hope to measure ourselves by? How about instead we measure progress by what each person could be doing vs what they are doing. It’s reasonable for humans in the middle ages to have been dumb, they had NO access to education. We have ALL access to education, and we Americans squander it, regularly ranking in the bottom of all first world countries in every area that matters. ↩
- If you are not sure about how closely connected your physical body and your mind are, don’t worry — this entire blog is dedicated to that. Just keep reading :-) ↩
- Not ramping someone up, or motivating them, isn’t the same as the good habit of cheering someone on. It’s always good for your athletes to know you believe in them and have their back. But, if that athlete wouldn’t have made the lift (or finished the WOD) without your cheering, you’ve done something wrong.* ↩
- I have far too much experience with the first type to have any patience left for “talkers”. ↩