By Judd Biasiotto Ph.D.
Last month we were talking about courage and how important it is for an athlete to face his fears. If you recall, we said that a courageous individual is not someone who is never afraid. All brave people experience fear. Being afraid is a perfectly appropriate response when one is threatened or confronted by a fearful thing. As Leo Rosten says "those who do not know fear are not really brave, for courage is the capacity to confront what can be imagined." That's the type of courage we are talking about - acting bravely when we don't really feel brave.
We also mentioned that if you look at the really successful people in life, they are people who are willing to face their fears, willing to risk, willing to live on the edge now and then. These are the people to whom the world belongs. If you don't have the courage to face your fears, to experiment with your life, you'll never reach your ultimate capacity. You have to have the courage to be all that you can be. The courage to create your own destiny.
Now here is something else you need to understand. There is a world of difference between what an athlete says and what an athlete does. In other words talk is cheap. Anyone can talk, but not everyone can act. I've known a lot of athletes who have written a check with their mouth that their butt couldn't cash. They will talk all sorts of "trash," but when it comes to backing it up, they fold. William Bennett said something I believe is significant. He said, "Saying you'll do something may take one kind of courage, but actually doing it requires a different type. Real bravery lies in deeds, not words." I like that statement.
Do you remember Aesop's tale about "The Brave Mice"? - The one where the old cat was catching all the mice in the barn, so the mice got together to make a plan to get rid of the cat. And what they decided to do was to tie a bell around the cat's neck when he was asleep so that when the cat was around they could hear him. Do you remember what happened?
All of the mice at the meeting wanted to be the one to tie the bell to the cat, but none of them were willing to take the risk, when it came time to do it. A lot of athletes are the same as the "Brave Mice." They talk a good game, but they don't play one.
When I was competing I had a tendency to run my mouth about what I was going to do. My father would always say, "Fuc the non verda," which is Latin for "Don't tell me, show me." Like Bennett and Aesop, my father was aware that actions speak louder than words. I'm not the only blabbermouth though; I hear guys in the gym all the time talking about how great they are, about what they are going to do when they compete, but when competition comes they're never there. They always have excuses "my shoulder hurts", "my back is bad", "my training is not going right” It's a joke. They want to tie the bell on the cat, but when the cat shows up, they run and hide - they're cowards. Courage is facing your fears -- not running from them.
You know I love stories, probably because my father was a magnificent storyteller. In fact, I know of no one who could tell a story better. The way he would describe the characters of a story and their escapades was magical. He would bring everything to life in your mind's eye. My sisters and I would sit at his feet for hours listening to his tales. Over the years he created a treasure chest of adventure and enlightenment for us. It was great. Of all the stories he told us, my favorites were about the warriors of Sparta. As you are probably aware, Sparta was a city-state in ancient Greece that was famous for its military might. In fact, many historians believe that the Spartans were the most feared and courageous warriors in the history of the world. Even today, the name Sparta is synonymous with courage. I think that's why the stories about Sparta are so exciting and inspiring to me. One of the most instructive stories that my father told me about Sparta was the Laconic Answer. The story is a primary example of what we are talking about - that real courage lays not in words but in deeds. That what a man says is not so much important as what a man does. I'd like to tell you the story. It's a great tale, one that's been passed on from century to century. In ancient days, the country of Greece was divided into several independent city-states, each with its own king. Macedonia, in the northern part of Greece, was one such city-state. Macedonia was ruled by Philip, a warlike king whose objective was to rule all of Greece. In order to fulfill his objective, Philip raised one of the mightiest armies in the world, and then declared war upon the other city-states. Within no time, he forcibly unified most of Greece's cities. He kicked butt everywhere he went. Actually, he was feared not only in Greece, but also throughout the known world. Feared by everyone, that is, but the Spartans. The Spartans, who lived in the southern part of Greece, in an area called Laconia, were pretty fair butt kickers themselves. As I mentioned earlier, they were known for their military might and bravery. They were also known as people who used few, but well-calculated words to express themselves. Even today a short answer is often described as "Laconic".
Philip knew that if he were to rule all of Greece, he would have to conquer Sparta, a task that would not be easy. So he raised the greatest army he could and took them to the borders of Laconia. He then sent the Spartans a message, If you do not submit at once," Philip threatened, "I will invade your country. And if I invade, I will pillage and burn everything you hold dear. If I march into Laconia, I will level your great city to the ground and salt the earth it stands on."
After a few days, Sparta sent Philip their answer. When he opened the letter, he found only one word written there. That word was "If". Isn't that great? Courage doesn't come in words; it comes in deeds. Anyone can say they're great, but not everyone can prove it. Great athletes don't just talk a good game, they play one too. Remember that.