Coach Jake Shannon – Comparing Yourself

Recently I got caught out comparing myself to another strength coach. He’s the same age as me with the same qualifications as me, yet he works at AFL level with one of the best teams in the competition. I quickly remembered why I try hard not to compare myself to others in my profession. We all have our own path…
When I was young I was always above average (could have been great, never bad, but sadly not exceptional) at both Aussie Rules and cricket. I grew up in a small town in country Victoria called Woomelang. Where I grew up if you didn’t play footy on the weekends you didn’t have friends. Literally the essence of our town revolved around the footy club.

Now here’s the deal. My old man was never a very good footballer. He was a reserves player at best who the seniors coach could call upon at the last minute if they were short and trust that he would do a required job for a week or two in the senior grade. Then he’d make his way back to the old magoos when injured players would return to the senior side. He was happy with this as he knew his limitations. But the thing was my old man would attack a football field like an escaped lunatic from the mental asylum. A pack of players was something to run into with his pointy elbows. An opposition player with the ball was an opportunity to hurt someone. The greatest man I’ve ever known, my grandad, had told me several times that during dad’s time at boarding school he started many fights on the footy field because he tackled too hard. Devine skills weren’t his strength. His strength was his disregard for the fact he weighed 75 kilograms and his utter determination to get the ball at all costs. This was 90’s country football after all and this kind of thing was seen as something that a local footy side required.

We moved to the town of Woomelang in 1990 (I was only 6, so not quite strapping on the boots yet due to no Auskick in these days) and in his first year of playing dad managed to get in some fisticuffs with the biggest, baddest, meanest player in the league during one of his rare senior opportunities. I kid you not; this guy’s nickname was ‘Gorilla’. Dad tells me it was a 50/50 result. I never saw it, so I can’t relate. But the result was that it gave him an instant reputation for being tough. This reputation stuck with him until the day I was 15 and playing in the reserves myself and dad was called upon due to a shortness of players. First tackle resulted in dad wrestling and fighting two players at once and me pretending to help while copping an elbow to the jaw. I may as well have just stood and watched I was that useless.

What I was blessed with in sport, in particularly footy was an incredible hand eye coordination that was recognised from a very young age. While my twin sister couldn’t even skip properly, I could confidently perform any number of technical skills with bat or ball or club or whatever you handed me. What dad had passed to me was a desire to succeed, but succeed in mastering the technical side of sport. I would keep practising until I was perfect at it. Unfortunately I was a tad soft. It pains me to write that, but it was the truth. I was the guy who looked like a superstar on the training track but struggled to get the ball on game day.

My sister was never blessed with a great deal of sporting talent, but she did get dad’s white line fever which rendered her crazy, yet highly successful on the netball court. I watched her break someone’s nose one game. Our mum was never a team sports athlete, but she was a great runner in her younger years, as was her mother and her grandmother. So my sister and I had sport and athleticism in our blood. We probably just inherited the wrong traits for our chosen sports.

So when I got to the age of 17 I was a regular member of the senior 18 team and trying desperately to forge a career in football. Yet I was forever compared to my old man. Damn him and his reputation that constantly hurt mine. I can confidently say that I was a better footballer than my dad ever was but if you asked anyone from that town of Woomelang who they’d pick first at our best, dad would win out. No matter what I did, if I made interleague sides, kicked a bag of goals or just had a good game it never became good enough for me and I always felt like I was living in his shadow. I began to compare myself to him as well, I began to feel as though the town didn’t value or respect me like they respected my dad. It began to engulf me and it didn’t matter that he was immensely proud of everything I did. He probably just didn’t tell me enough, but that was his way of doing things and I’ve always respected it.

Eventually I quit footy at the tender age of 22. I haven’t played since and I turn 33 this year. What bugs me the most is that I quit at an age where I should have just been hitting my stride as a good player. Not an elite player, but a great country footy player.

Life goes on. It certainly goes on after footy and you begin to realise that it really doesn’t mean that much and there are far more important things in life. You get older and you begin to realise these things. You wise up and begin to see yourself for who you really are.

At grandad’s funeral in 2012, dad gave the eulogy. Of course, with not even a hint of a tear. But something very strange happened. Listening to the words he was speaking I realised that dad had spent his whole life comparing himself and feeling inferior to his dad just as I’d felt compelled to compare myself to dad. It put my mind at ease. I realised that I’d spent my whole life to that point comparing myself to someone I’m not. The fact is we are very different people in many ways.

There’s always going to be someone we feel is better than us. There’ll always be someone we feel the need to compare our achievements against. But it’s rubbish to think this way. The fact is that you’re best off comparing yourself to who you were yesterday.

If I can draw a really long bow on the back of a long winded story, I’ll try to somehow relate this to strength and conditioning and sport. Think of a team mate you train with regularly, a team mate that lifts heavier than you or can run faster than you. Don’t let your mind wander. Stick to your guns and keep on getting better. Keep listening to your coach and only compare yourself to a previous version of you. Just keep doing it. It’s hard and it takes time but a strong will and discipline will get you to your goals. Ask yourself this “if the entire team had my work ethic, would the team be better off or worse off?”

It may sound like I resent my father after reading this blog. This couldn’t be further from the truth. He pushed me to be the person I am today and I’ll be forever grateful for that. He is my best mate and the person I turn to first when I need advice before I ask anyone else. He taught me how to be a man and I love nothing more than just sitting at a bar and talking about life with him. If you ever get a chance to meet him, you won’t be disappointed.