Sunday, May 1, 2016

Be Smarter Than The Elephants

CNN Breaking News announced that the elephants in Ringling Bros. Circus will be performing for the last time today.  Their performance in Providence, RI will be their final show before retiring to a conservation center in Florida.  While this might not seem like big news to most, it certainly caught my attention.

For years, the Ringling Bros. Circus has made the Convocation Center one of its' stops and I guess the kid in me comes out, even to this day, when it comes to town.  It was nearly 17 years ago (shortly after I had been hired as Head Coach here at Arkansas State) that the Circus came to our arena and it was an elephant that made the biggest impression on me.  Not because of the show, or his talent, or the tricks he'd was for another reason.  The elephant made a HUGE impression on me because he was not very smart.
The Circus was to be performing in the Convocation Center Thurs - Sun, but it was on the Tuesday before that I walked into the arena and noticed this giant elephant standing all alone.  I was fascinated by this.  Not only was I amazed by this giant creature standing in our arena I was shocked that he was standing there with a single rope around his leg.  This 3,000 - 4,0000 pound animal with this small rope around his leg standing unattended.  Well, of course, I couldn't let this go...I needed answers.  So I tracked down the training and started asking questions.  The trainer explained that they bring the animals into the arena a couple of days before the show so that they can get acclimated to their surroundings.  This, of course, made sense but the most important question was why such a small rope around the leg of such a huge animal.  The trainer replied, that, honestly, elephants just aren't very smart.  He went on to explain that when the elephants are babies they train them with the exact same type of rope around their leg. While they are young the rope is indeed strong enough and the babies can't break it or pull free from it.  As the elephants grow older and become much stronger they could easily break the rope but in their minds they can't.  They refuse to even try because of the sensation around their leg.  They just assume they can't break it.

I thought about this for a while and it hit me that so often as humans we do the same things.  We give in to these perceived limitations that are placed on us...the "rope around our ankle" so to say.  We, far too often, just give in when we assume we can't do something (we're not smart enough or we're not talented enough) just like the elephants.  One of the things I love about coaching is that I have the opportunity to try and break some of those perceived limitations with our athletes.  Daily we strive to take our athletes from average to above average, from good to great, from great to being the best.  Nearly once a semester one of our student-athletes will come to me wanting to drop a class because they "think" there's no chance to pass it (early in the semester) but yet they stick with it and get through it.  Every preseason, when really challenged, there are athletes that think "I can't" but yet they are able to get through it.  An injury might occur, and that athlete may think there's no way they'll come back from it but they do.  My job as a "coach" is to try and push and encourage our student-athletes to do more than they think, to be better than they believe and to not easily give in.

So while the elephants will be retiring from the Ringling Bros. Circus after today's performance the impression that I received from that one elephant standing in the Convocation Center 17 years ago will not go away.  I refuse to let the athletes in my program give in to perceived limitations.  Because after all we're smarter than the elephants we don't have to just settle and give in to that "rope around our ankle".

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