Posted by: Joe English | May 21, 2013

Mental Games — Balancing Should Versus Want

running-advice-bugI’ve told the story countless times about how I ended up a runner. My mom had put me in sport after sport, so the story goes, and my soccer coach pulled her aside. “Ms. English,” he said, “your son is a terrible soccer player, but outruns everyone on the field. Perhaps he is a runner.”

I always tell this story to get the chuckle that invariably comes when the coach says that I was a terrible player. This is likely true. I’m one of the least coordinated people that I know. In fact, I often refer to myself as a “big dumb engine” — turn me on and I just go. But there is another side to that story that I’ve never really talked about. Another response my mom could have had was, “well, is he having fun?”

It occurs to me that we are often so focused on being “good” at things like sports that we forget that we can do them just for the sake of having fun. At the young age of six years old, should it have mattered that I was terrible at playing soccer? Should it have mattered that I might excel at running? What if I loved the game of soccer and hated running? Should we always be in search of the things in which we are most competitive?

I’ve noticed a bit of language that I key in to related to this these days. When I’m talking to runners and triathletes, they often use the word “should” — as in “should I run another marathon?”, “should I try to qualify for Boston?” “should I do another Ironman?” What underlies these questions is a sort of obligation. ‘Should’ implies there is a some reason or duty there. ‘Should’ could be interchanged with “must” pretty easily.

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