Preseason Conditioning: Ferreting Out the Gray Man

One of my least favorite words in the English language is mediocrity.  I don’t like to say it and I don’t like what it means.  The idea of something being disappointingly average conjured up strong images as this week we addressed a new crop of players vying to be members of our Division III basketball team. It doesn’t matter at what level you compete, if you don’t put the effort in, you’ll find your self being mediocre.  As we begin our preseason training, we have many new faces – new to the team and new to the school.  It’s an exciting but challenging time.  Our first hurdle for players to climb in their desire to make our team will be pushing themselves to improve their conditioning.  Much of that is physical, but more importantly for our team, preseason condition sets the tone for the unity and selflessness we strive for – we can’t compete with mediocre teammates.  And, as will talk about today, God doesn’t want mediocre Christians either.

LIFE – Nasty, lukewarm water!

I shared with many teams my distaste for mediocrity and the life-long image that sticks in my brain, as I shared before in an article about Apathy.  There’s nothing more disappointing than lukewarm water when you’re desperately thirsty, or for that matter, chilled to the bone.  We ache for it to be refreshing or invigorating and when it’s not, it’s disappointing – even a bit nasty.  That’s what mediocrity is like and what’s most revealing is that it doesn’t take any effort to make water lukewarm. Just let it sit and that’s what you’ll get – lukewarm mediocrity.

No Easy DayDuring my summer of reading, I picked up a book written by a U.S. Navy Seal called No Easy Day. While it details the mission to find Osama Bin Laden, it also provides a glimpse into the training and testing required to be a member of the highest level within the Seals commonly known as Seal Team Six.  Our players are not training for the Seals, but I found an interesting takeaway.

During the nine-week evaluation process, many of the candidates drop out on their own or they’re cut through an intense evaluation process, but the final cuts become increasingly difficult.  Hidden in the survivors are those who have the talent and have the ability, but their commitment to the group is often hidden.  To find those who are not willing to think beyond themselves, the evaluators seek to “ferret out the gray man” – those who will detract from the unity of the unit, even though they have all the ability and talent.  On a weekly basis, candidates are asked to rank the group with a Top 5 / Bottom 5 approach.  You see, the difficulty of the training and the evaluation process will make it clear who is really on board.  Being mediocre, lukewarm, or gray in your work, in your friendships, in your family is a miserable place to be, isn’t it?

FAITH – God doesn’t want gray men either!

When you truly live in God’s grace and commit your life to Him, this idea should make a lot of sense, but isn’t it hard?  We give our lives to him, but many of us don’t live it.  We try to do it on our terms, only living our faith when it’s comfortable. That’s gray.  That’s lukewarm. It’s mediocre.  We’re told in simple terms what God thinks of that in Revelation 3:16:

“So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

BASKETBALL – The value of preseason conditioning.

At Marquette, I had the chance to work with one of the best strength coaches I’ve ever been around. Scott Hosopple is tough and demanding, and he understands the mental and emotional value of team building through conditioning.  Scott transformed both the men’s and women’s teams at MU, moved on to work with Kentucky basketball, Florida football, and now has the challenge of helping Charlie Weis turn around the football program at Kansas.  When Scott worked with our players, not only did they get in top physical condition, but they learned how to think outside themselves.  Consider Scott’s list of Benefits of Strength Conditioning for basketball players.  Included in the list are communication and team cohesiveness.  Getting players to depend on each other and trust each other helps us discover which players are gray and lack the willingness to be great teammates.

When things are tough and when the work is demanding, most of us tend to focus only on ourselves.  We think about how hard it is, how much we hurt, or how we can cut corners. That’s the default set that we all have – that’s mediocrity.  You have to do more than show up.  And here’s a little secret – you may not be a great player and you may not have great athletic ability or the speed, stamina, or strength of other players – but each of us can be a great teammate!  My encouragement to players and teams involved in preseason work right now is to ferret out the gray man and do more than just show up and get through your workouts.  Use your workouts to become more than just conditioned.  Use them to become a great teammate!

“The greatest compliment to any player is that he or she is a great teammate. We can’t all be great players but we can all be great teammates… Great teammates choose to commit fully to the team’s goals and understand in the big picture what is required of each individual.”
Jay Bilas, ESPN Analyst and Author of Toughness