The inches we need are everywhere around us. They are in every break of the game, every minute, every second. On this team, we fight for that inch. On this team, we tear ourselves and everyone else around us to pieces for that inch. We claw with our fingernails for that inch. Because we know when we add up all those inches, that’s gonna make the fucking difference between winning and losing!
~ Coach Tony D’Amato, “Any Given Sunday”, 1999
“I don’t know what to say . . .”
So begins one of the best motivational speeches ever recorded. Sure, it’s fiction. Sure, it’s an overpaid actor, preaching to a choir of overpaid actors. But look past all that – close your eyes if it helps – and let the words sink in. The struggle to succeed is universal, and the path to success is paved one inch at a time.
The first day of school is upon us.
We have had a crazy summer, packed with ice cream and camping and enough swimming to wrinkle our skin and turn our lips blue. We rode roller coasters at Great America and sat peacefully in lawn chairs as stars danced above our heads. We rode bikes to the park, walked around town with the dogs, and took long drives in the van, just for the fun of it. And we logged more hours in front of the widescreen TV, watching movies or playing Little Big Planet, than most experts would consider healthy.
Screw the experts. We had fun.
And now, this. The backpacks are in the closet, stuffed to the gills with multicolored note cards, TI-30s, glue sticks, filler paper, three-ring binders and the kitchen sink, just for giggles. Schedules are highlighted, locker combinations are memorized (remember not to turn past the last number!) and lunch accounts have been padded, for those days when Nestlé Strawberry Cheesecake bars or chocolate chip cookies are available, and necessary.
We are poised at the starting line. We are prepared. At this point, as my Pentecostal brethren would say, it’s all over but the shoutin’.
Bring it on, I say! This year, there are new teachers, new schools, new subjects, and new challenges. And new ways to succeed. Not just by getting good grades. Not just by earning an award or some other sort of recognition. Those things are good, and we’ll display your achievements proudly, I assure you. But more important is you, recognizing your own accomplishments, no matter how small, and celebrating each and every one. Like when you make the effort to study extra hard for a test. Or if you’ve put all the sweat and tears you can muster into a piece of art. Or a research paper.
If you’ve done the work, and not cheated yourself out of an opportunity to excel, then grades be damned. Grades will come. For now, just practice. Take the steps. One inch at a time. Do the work, and counting the ways you will feel great about yourself will become impossible.
And if you find yourself needing a shove in the right direction, we are here. Mom and I have done this before, but not quite the way you are doing it. So much is expected of each of you, and there are pressures that, at times, may seem unbearable. You might even want to cry. That’s cool. We are here for you. We also have a box of Kleenex. And I promise we won’t throw it at you, call you a Jackwagon, or send you to Mamby Pamby Land.
If you need anything at all that would help you succeed, we will do our best to help you find it. We’ll help you dig deep in that imagination box called your brain and figure out a way around, over, under or through whatever obstacle stands in your way.
This will be a hard year for each of you. So many changes. But, as a family, as a team, we’ve always met change with a grin. Sometimes a sheepish, tentative grin, but it’s been there, underneath all the confusion and panic.
In more ways than I care to admit, I can relate to Coach D’Amato. I have made my share of mistakes, burned too many bridges, and hated with a passion the man in the mirror. But that is changing as well. I am succeeding in my own, unique ways, fighting my battles and winning, staring down, with a shaky yet determined gaze, the oft-frightening six inches in front of my face. I am learning to do this . . .
And together, we will march through this school year. We will achieve things we never dreamed were possible. We will fight for every victory. We will learn from every mistake. And we will do it one bloody inch at a time . . .