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Iron Sharpens Iron: Earned, Never Given

Earned. Never Given. — It was a cold, blustery Thanksgiving eve back in the late ‘80’s. At the time, I was the head strength and conditioning coach for the University of Toledo. I was driving on I-80 East, the Ohio Turnpike, with my family from Toledo to Steubenville, Ohio for the holidays. 

My wife, Marianne, was sitting in the back seat with our daughter, Alaina, who was in her infant car seat. Both were fast asleep. Traffic was relatively heavy, and lake effect snow was blowing sideways. About halfway into the four-hour drive, I came upon a vision that has had a lasting impact on my coaching career.

earnedIt was a semi-trailer truck that had the United States Marine Corps emblem — the globe, anchor, and eagle — emblazoned on the back doors. Upon passing the semi, I glanced to the right to see a striking graphic on the side of the trailer. It was the Marine Corps dress white cap, saber, and in big, bold, beautiful red, white and blue letters — EARNED. NEVER GIVEN.  

Needless to say, the sight sent chills down my spine. Even though it happened over 30 years ago, it is still imprinted on my brain, and most certainly on my heart.    

For the remainder of the trip, I could only think of what those three words mean to the men and women of the Marine Corps. Of the honor, duty, sacrifice, and everything they put on the line for all of us and our country on a daily basis. To earn that dress white cap, saber, and Marine Corps emblem, one must carry a sense of pride and accomplishment that the rest of us can only imagine.   

From a coaching perspective, I made it a point that day to adopt that mentality and to implement it in every phase of my program. I started to teach the importance of “Earning the Jersey,” which, yes, implied that our athletes would have to work with passion, purpose, and dedication to be bestowed the privilege of wearing our colors — but it had a much deeper, more impactful meaning.      

I wanted it to become a mantra for their lives. A personal statement that everything worthwhile they were hoping and searching for, all of their meaningful goals and aspirations, had to be earned — they would not be given to them.

That can be a tough road. It’s called going the “hard way.” Roger Staubach, NFL Hall of Fame quarterback, has a quote that hits right to the heart of the “earned, never given” mentality: “There are no traffic jams along the extra mile.”      

Basically, if you’re content living in “Average City, USA,” you will ultimately get what you deserve — a mediocre outcome. However, if you are seeking personal fulfillment, are driven to succeed, and want to be part of something special, you’ll need to come to the understanding that the extra mile is fraught with storms, obstacles, and adversities.    

And you will be expected to embrace all of it.  

You will be expected to earn it!