By Joseph M. Valenzano, Jr.

Every young man and young woman dreams of being the best athlete, the greatest swimmer, the finest dancer, the fastest runner, the star football player, the toughest boxer or wrestler. They watch intently those athletes who are successful and try to emulate their every action. They try to mimic their batting stances, running styles and copy the techniques of the greatest stars they see on the playing field. And they wonder “what makes them the best?” How can they seem to effortlessly be so successful?”

Every young man or woman tries to find the answer to these age-old questions. What is it that makes men and women the very best on the athletic field? How do they do it? What sets them apart from everyone else and how can I be like them? Well, as a former collegiate and professional athlete, and college coach, I learned many years ago that the answer was always right there before my eyes. I just was not looking in the right place. And the strangest thing was…it was not even a secret! It was actually contained in the writings of a southern gentleman, perhaps one of the greatest sportswriters and poets in America, the incomparable Grantland Rice.

Now, Grantland Rice back in the 1930’s and 1940’s is the man who wrote those famous lines contained in a poem so often quoted by coaches around the nation that goes like this:

“ For when that Great Scorer comes
to mark against your name;
He writes… not that you won or lost,
But how you played the game!”

So poignant and so true. The message being that if you played hard, competed fairly and left everything you had on the field, it really doesn’t matter what the scoreboard says, you are a winner in the game as well as in life because you did your best. But that really doesn’t answer the question of how you personally can be the best just like the athletes you tried to emulate. For that you have to read yet another poem by that same southern gentleman, this one eloquently addressing the secret to being the very best. It delivers a message that is not just important for you today, but for your entire life and the words are these:

“You wonder how they do it, and you look to find the knack;
You watch the movement of the feet, or the shoulders or the back.
But when you spot the answer where those higher glamours lurk,
You’ll find that going higher up those laurel-covered spires.
That most of it is practice.
And the rest of it is work.”

A message for everyone, the able bodied as well as the differently-abled! Keep working hard!

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