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Hard Work Pays Off....Doesn't It?

One of my biggest pet peeves is how people, namely parents and amateur coaches, use the slogan, “hard work pays off”.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in good ol’ fashion hard work. I grew up with an immigrant for a mother and a blue collar, hard working father who came from poverty.

Both parents instilled hard work into my life, and it’s not going away any time soon.

Sometimes even, my “hard work” can be me just over doing things that really don’t require the amount of work I’m doing. But that’s a totally different topic.

Back to the topic and hand; “hard work pays off”.

So you may be asking yourself, “what’s the big deal?”, and that’s fine, I’m going to explain what the big deal is for me here…

From what I have seen, and yes, I’m only 32 years old, so I’m younger than a lot of the people reading this, and no, I don’t have kids, but I have been a kid, I work with kids, and I have been exposed to a lot of different people and different cultures as well as spent the majority of my life studying people so I think my opinion is somewhat valid. I also don’t think I know everything, so that further helps my case I think.

From what I have seen, many coaches and parents, who don’t understand what it truly takes to have high levels of success at any level, consistently pound the message home to young people that “hard work pays off”. This message is typically broadcasted on the back of insanely difficult training regiments that place extreme physical demands on kids and never actually understand what they’re doing.

They are asked to just push through fatigue, do a bunch of reps, throw around a lot of weight in the weight room, and any other physical task that goes into their sport. They just ramp up the physical intensity with zero focus or direction.

And what happens most often, is these kids fail.

They fail a lot.

They fail to be more successful in their sport.

They fail to win the awards they want to win.

They fail to be moved up.

They fail to be granted more playing time.

All the while, someone continues to pound in their head to keep working hard because…. “hard work pays off”.

Then, suddenly, something good happens.

The player has a good game, or the team wins a game.

Then, guess what happens.

Did you guess that those same people reiterate to that player that “hard work pays off”?

If you did, then you’re right.

That’s typically exactly what happens.

The off chance of a good result happening happens and the person who has been saying “hard work pays off” over and over, jumps at the opportunity to hammer the point home with their perceived proof.

Little do they know, the player failed countless time, and typically failed as a result of said “hard work”, usually because the work itself was poor quality.

And if that kid doesn’t wake up and realize the truth, then they just continue the cycle and tell everyone within their reach of influence that “hard work pays off”.

I was that way when I was younger.

I’ll tell you a quick story to help understand this hard work idea I have.

When I was in high school, I bought in hard core to the notion “hard work pays off”. I took 400 swings everyday.

I’m not exaggerating, I took at a minimum 400 swings…..

Every. Single. Day.

And because I bought into the hard work phenomena I didn’t just take 400 swings.

I took 400 HARD swings, because I was doing “hard work”.


If I was going to work then I was going to work HARD.

My intensity was to the max, through the roof.

Two years of that and I found myself in a back brace with two lower back stress fractures.

Well, as I thought at the time, now I just have to work THAT MUCH HARDER to get back to being healthy and make my way to the MLB.

I was crazy.

For the sake of your time, I’ll fast forward three years.

I was fortunate enough to be a very talented baseball player.

I was able to do things that some people just can’t do.

It wasn’t because I worked for it, I was just born with it.

Some things I worked for, but the natural things I didn’t.

I don’t say this to sound arrogant, although some reading this may think I am; oh well.

It was my sophomore year at The University of North Carolina.

We were the number 1 ranked team in the country in Division 1 college baseball by practically every major ranking poll.

We had studs at every position, all-americans, future first rounders, and future multi-multi-million dollar contracts just waiting to be had.

Our team was stacked.

I was still on my “hard work pays off” kick. We were two weeks into the season, I was working hard, and I was hitting about .185.

Yep, that “hard work” was NOT paying off.

What it did was cause me to place an insane amount of pressure on myself.

I rationalized that because I was working SO hard, my results should be much better.

I couldn’t figure out why I was struggling so bad while my teammates were doing so well.

I was staying after practice, doing way more than coaches asked of me, taking extra swings, running extra sprints, anything and everything.

I bet I took an extra 200 swings daily.

Then, suddenly, I looked up, away from my understanding of “hard work” and my understanding of what it took to succeed at that high of a level, and I saw my teammates doing the bare minimum.

They were laughing, joking with each other, having fun, and they were only doing what the coaches asked, and some of them barely did that.

They were not taking extra swings in the cage like me.

They weren’t doing extra sprints.

They weren’t going to bed at 10pm everyday.

They weren’t doing all the extra things I was doing, and somehow, they were ALL having tons of success.

I’m pretty good at math, so I kind of put two and two together, and realized, I was working so hard that I was actually sabotaging my chances of doing well.

I was creating so much pressure and anxiety, and probably creating physical fatigue as well, that I couldn’t perform.

So what do you think I did?

Yep, I stop working so hard.

I stopped doing the extra reps.

I started doing what my teammates were all doing.

I started having fun, I started connecting with my teammates, I started doing only what my coaches asked of me.

And guess what happened that year….

I went from batting .185 the first few weeks to batting over .300 by the end of our regular season and had 12 homers.

I was awarded the most improved player on my team that year.

Our team ended that season as the runner up in the College World Series.

It was a great year.

A fun year.

And it is a year I will always remember as the year I learned to stop working so dang hard and take the pressure off myself.

At the time, I didn’t quite learn the difference between “hard work” and “smart work” but I did learn that a few years later, which was a complete game changer for me.

Two years after I learned that, I was awarded with an All-Star team selection in 2010 in the minor leagues.

That is an entirely different conversation which I will save for later.

This conversation is about how “hard work pays off”, or, how it doesn’t.

I would love to see parents and amateur coaches changing their message to young people.

I would love to see them educating players on “right work” rather than “hard work.”

Do I believe in hard work? YES!

I’m not saying not to work, nor am I saying that there is never a time and a place to work hard, and I’m not even saying that “hard work NEVER pays off”, because many time, hard work DOES pay off.

And, many times, it’s hard work that separates the successful from the unsuccessful.

But can we please stop using the empty saying, “hard work pays off”, simply because we don’t know what else to say or how else to help people?

It portrays a wrong message and just causes many young athletes to constantly put unnecessary pressure on themselves and bang their heads against an immovable wall.

The saying is misleading to so many young people.

Hard work MIGHT pay off, but it’s not an absolute.

There are many factors that go into success, and I think it is important we, as a collective adult unit, start helping young players understand this point.

Help them understand the value of hard work, but also help them understand the value of taking time off, and of working right and not just hard.

If you run really hard in the wrong direction when in a race, you will ALWAYS lose that race.

You have to be moving in the right direction to win the race, the same is true when it comes to work.

Work right, train right, and if the results are there, then enjoy them, but if the results are not there, then don’t just automatically default to working harder, take a step back, assess the situation, make a decision on what needs to be done, and then move forward.

Know when to push, know when to step back.

Let's not make the concept of work miserable.

A healthy work ethic will have a positive influence on people's lives and their success.

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