The Man (Coach) in the Arena
“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly…who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who have never known neither victory nor defeat.” -Theodore Roosevelt
In Paris, on April 23, 1910, Theodore Roosevelt gave what would become one of the most widely quoted speeches of his career. The title of the speech was Citizenship of the Republic. However, it became popularized as “The Man in the Arena” speech. Who would think parts of this speech would end up as a tattoo on the arm of Miley Cyrus, while at the same time, being provided by Nelson Mandella to the South African rugby team before they took the field to upset the All Blacks from New Zealand in the 1995 World Cup.
In the speech, in addition to touching on his family history, war, human and property rights, the responsibilities of citizenship, Roosevelt scolded cynics who looked down at men who were trying to make the world a better place.
“The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer,” he said. “A cynical habit of thought and speech, a readiness to criticize work which the critic himself never tries to perform, an intellectual aloofness which will not accept contact with life’s realities.”
There are not many professions that are more “in the arena” than coaching. Coaching decisions are scrutinized and criticized by players, fans, and anonymous posters in internet chat rooms. As satisfying as the coaching profession is, it is also a profession that offers the opportunity to get slapped around by those in the cheap seats who possess opinions they feel to have merit and will share with anyone who might offer an ear.
I would encourage coaches at all levels to ignore criticism from anyone that doesn’t reside in the arena with you. To ignore those who opine from the peanut gallery is not easy. However, it is critical the coach that resides in the arena to keep its focus in the arena.
Seeking out for advice those who currently are or have dealt with the challenges of the profession is the mark of a prudent coach. It is a great way to continue to sharpen the coaching skills. An often overlooked coaching skill is how to ignore those who cannot help you or whose advice you did not pursue.