Embrace the Suck
By Josh Firmin, OSI Assistant Director
At OSI, something we refer to when talking about learning a new skill is the idea that you have to suck at something before you can be good at it. The phrase “embrace the suck” is popular among our coaching staff and team athletes. Not only is sucking at something a part of the learning process, the struggle experienced when learning something new is absolutely critical to improvement. Without struggle, there can be no growth.
Often our culture emphasizes being good at something without recognizing all the effort that needs to occur beforehand. Just take a look at any of the action sports videos out there and all you see are athletes crushing big lines or sticking crazy tricks. What you typically don’t see are the countless hours of struggle that it took to get to that point. It’s true, even professional athletes sucked at some point.
When working with young people, all too often I hear students say something like “I can’t/don’t/won’t do that. I’m not good at it.” As if somehow the being good at it comes first. Of course they are not good at it. You need to struggle before you get good at something, and you have to take a chance and actually try new things before the learning process can begin.
You see the fundamental problem with that line of “I’m not good at it” thinking. What we’re seeing is fear. Fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, of ridicule, or even just of being uncomfortable and struggling through something. Often young people, and plenty of adults too, won’t attempt things or won’t stick with things as they struggle, and ultimately reinforce a story that they “can’t” do something. It’s a vicious cycle of stagnation.
As outdoor sport coaches and leaders working with youth, and even as outdoor sport participants ourselves, we have an opportunity to change the stigma surrounding this aversion to struggle. One extremely effective approach used by OSI coaches is simply acknowledging the fact that sucking is part of the learning process. Just reminding athletes to “embrace the suck” helps change the narrative from “I suck and I can’t do this” to “I suck and I’m getting better”. By working with our students and helping them meet challenge and struggle with a determined outlook we’re not only preparing them for success in outdoor sport, we’re providing them with a valuable mentality they can apply to every aspect of their lives.
Recently, I’ve taken the dive (quite literally) into the world of SUP surfing. Newsflash: I suck at SUP surfing. If one were to chart my time spent in the water vs. time spent on the board, the graph would clearly support my previous statement. I’ll be honest, at first it was supremely frustrating to spend so much time falling off my board. The interesting thing is that as I’ve struggled, I’ve started to suck less. While there’s room for improvement, I’ve learned to “embrace the suck” of each session and remind myself that it is just part of the process.
I’m curious to hear about the different things you all are sucking at, past and/or present, and any good stories you may have. Leave your comments here on Slack for everyone to enjoy and as a community, let’s “embrace the suck.”