There is a strange insult on youth athletic fields these days.
“Don’t be such a Work Hard” is a slam that is meant to mock the hardest working players at practice. In most cases, it’s more a tease than a direct insult, but we all know that “I was just joking” is no joke.
“Yeah, he’s a Work Hard” is meant to discourage the sort of aggressive play that requires extra-hard running, physical contact, and mental intensity. It’s a sarcastic swipe at the up-and-comers. Often it comes from the older or starting player who is feeling the pressure of a younger harder working player. It’s a way of saying, “Dude, take it down a notch. It’s just practice. Don’t make this harder than it needs to be.” In most cases, the coaches are not aware of it because it is said out of their earshot.
This attitude of entitlement and laziness has no place in youth sports. It’s an insidious message to young kids that says, “Talent is better than effort. Hard work is just annoying.” It’s an elitist attitude that says, “Hey, back off, this is my position on the team. You aren’t entitled to it. Your extra effort reveals your lack of talent.” It represents all that youth sports should NOT be about.
Back in 2002, Allen Iverson gave a famous press conference where he said “It’s just practice” over and over again. This was his response to his coach who called him out for poor practice performance and attendance, which the coach felt led to the embarrassing loss which eliminated the team from playoff contention. At that time Allen Iverson was the richest, most talented guy in the Philadelphia 76er’s organization, and he was the league’s MVP. Millions of kids were wearing his jersey and idolized him. And while there was no doubt that he gave 100% in games, he clearly didn’t care much about practice, which is what the coach was saying caused their team’s demise. And in that famous press conference, he shouted to the world, “How the hell can I make my teammates better by practice?” Click here to watch it, if you don’t believe me.
On the flip side, there are countless examples of Work Hards in sports, those who push themselves and their teammates every time they step on the practice field or court. Many of them were perennial All-Stars who achieved legendary status like baseball’s Cal Ripken Jr, basketball’s Michael Jordan, and football’s Walter Payton. These guys were Work Hards, whether it was just Spring Training or the World Series.
There is a sports cliche for this: “He brings his lunch pail to work every day,” which refers to the middle class, blue collar workers who built this great country. These working men were not taking two hour lunches at the country club during their workdays. They were up early, made a sandwich before sunrise, worked hard until noon, then took a 25-minute lunch break under a shade tree or in the back room of the warehouse.
At any level, most sports teams have players who exhibit a work-hard-every-day attitude which benefits the whole team. Many of them are on the end of the bench and never get in a game, but their attitude and effort push everyone to be better than they once were. The best teams will recruit, develop, and reward the Work Hards. They create and maintain a culture of Work Hard.
To all of those players and coaches out there who are putting in the hard work, I say, “God Bless the Work Hards!”