I used to date this guy who loved sports. It wasn’t unusual for him to wear his filthy New Jersey Devils cap everywhere, even to bed. He was fanatical about cheering on his team, and when he played a sport himself, he gave it everything he had. When he took up pool, he bought his own cue and carried it around in a pretentious little case, despite my merciless teasing.
Mike’s love for sports was much greater than his ability. He was never the best skater or shooter on his hockey team. He was far from the fastest on his running team. He didn’t have the most coordination on his ultimate and soccer teams. But he went to every game, he never missed a practice, and he always did his best. And, win or lose, he had fun.
I grew up in a town where participating in team sports was reserved for those who were athletically gifted. Mike was the first person I met who played every sport he could–and enjoyed doing so–even though his talents were average at best. One thing he told me that will always stick with me is this: “I may never be the Most Valuable Player, but I can always be the Most Improved.”
Mike won the medal for Most Improved player many times, but far more important to him was the sheer joy of playing his sports. There’s never been a game that man doesn’t love, and for him, staying active is the way he lives a life less ordinary.
I’ve been thinking of Mike and his MIP ambitions a lot lately. It’s easy to get down on ourselves when we’re learning a new skill, or struggling with something that is difficult. But instead of expecting perfection, what if we just strive for improvement each and every day?
There’s no shame in being the most improved player. It shows growth, it shows determination, and above all, it shows heart. The person who has to work damn hard to achieve success grows so much more than the one who hit it out of the park his first time at bat.
I knew from the start that I wouldn’t be the most skilled fight camper. There are many things I can’t control: my height, my reach, my experience, my natural ability. But what I can control is how hard I train, how much I want to succeed, and how much I put into my sport.
Like my dear friend Mike, I’m striving to be the MIP. Win or lose, no one will ever be able to say that I didn’t give it my all.
And where’s the shame in that?