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  • Writer's pictureJack Mullaney

We Only Deserve a Styrofoam Cup

One of my favorite short stories is the one that author Simon Sinek tells about a Styrofoam cup.

If you haven't seen it, take a couple minutes to watch.

After describing how, once retired, an Under Secretary of Defense no longer received his coffee in a ceramic mug at a particular conference, Sinek closes the story with a lesson:

"As you do well in life, you will be afforded many advantages. People will call you "Sir" and "Ma'am", they'll carry your luggage, they'll hold doors open for you, they'll bring you a cup of tea without you even asking for it. But it's not meant for you. It's meant for the position you hold. And when you move on, they will give all those things to the person who replaces you. Never ever forget, you only ever deserved a Styrofoam cup."

This same sort of treatment plays out in the coaching profession all the time. When your athletes are successful, you're seen as a coaching savant. Peers want to know what training you've prescribed, athletes ask if they can join your team, and the media emails to see if you'd be willing to be on their podcast.

But like the Under Secretary in Sinek's story, all the attention isn't meant for you. It's meant for the position you hold, which, in this case, is that your athletes ran fast.

For a period of time, you have "the secrets." You are the one who can help an athlete reach their potential. You are the interesting story that people want to know more about.

But what happens when your athletes get injured? What happens when the wins stop coming, or the records are no longer being broken?

Like the Under Secretary, the metaphorical ceramic mug - the status obtained from the success of athletes coached - is no longer available. Instead, we're left with the Styrofoam cup.

That's not to say we can't enjoy the ceramic mug. It's not to say that we aren't doing a good job, or that athletes shouldn't want to be part of our team. And it's also not to say that nobody needs to hear our story. Quite the contrary, in fact.

It's just that those things are a luxury that comes when good coaching, good athletes, and a bit of luck align at the same time. We certainly aren't entitled to them.

Because all we ever deserve is a Styrofoam cup.

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