I loved the double entendre of this clever saying, almost as much as I appreciated the wisdom behind the words.
If you think about it, this simple phrase is at the heart of every successful athlete. You must work hard and have fun — you cannot have one without the other. If all you do is continually put in the hard work, it will eventually wear you down both physically and mentally; and if you only have fun, well, clearly you will not be fit to compete.
The fact of the matter is, working hard and having fun are equally important; and to be truly successful, you must have a balance of the two.
When my kids started playing sports, I wanted to share this profound insight with them. Since the original saying’s double meaning only worked with running, I modified the phrase to adapt to the various sports they played, simplifying it to a straightforward version: play hard and have fun.
I said it every time my son and daughter got out of the car or headed out on the field or rink. They came to expect it — and still do. They roll their eyes, mockingly say it with me, cut me off with an annoyed, “I know Mom” — but the message behind the words, to me, is important enough to relentlessly repeat. And quite frankly, I’ve actually witnessed what playing hard and having fun can do.
Take my son’s high school soccer and hockey seasons for examples. Years of high-level, high-intensity travel soccer had robbed him of his passion for the game. The fun of it had slowly been drained out of him and, by the end of his last season, he told us he was done with travel and wanted to play for the school only. In his first varsity outing, he was given the boots, an honor bestowed upon the MVP of the game — a nice reward for his hard work.
But something even better happened. For the first time in a long time, he was smiling and laughing with his teammates on the field. He was coming home from practice in a good mood and telling funny stories. The team was having fun while working hard together, and boy did they perform! They regained the district championship that had eluded them the year before and, in the midst of it all, my son regained something else: his passion.
And then came hockey.
The team started out great, but midway through the season, they found themselves smack in the middle of a losing streak and were struggling to break out of it. Suddenly, they weren’t having fun anymore. After all, it’s a lot easier to enjoy yourself when you’re winning, right? Not so much when you’re losing.
The problem was, the more they lost, the harder they worked to get back, the less fun they had, and the longer the losing streak continued.
Then, one day, the boys went to the coach with what they thought was the answer: They needed to lay off a bit, step back, lighten up and have some fun. The coach agreed. And guess what? When they took the pressure off themselves, relaxed and enjoyed their practices while they continued to put in the work, sure enough they started winning again. In fact, they went on to win the conference championship for the first time in the past seven years.
Personally, I’d like to take some credit for that (LOL!). All the times I told my son to play hard and have fun seemed to pay off. Despite all the eye rolls and the mocking, perhaps the words finally resonated with him as they had with me so many years ago.
My son has one more year of high school sports, one more year of hearing me say, “Play hard and have fun” over and over again. Will he still roll his eyes? Probably. But that’s OK. I’m willing to bet that someday when his kids get out of the car and head to their games, he’ll find himself yelling after them to play hard and have fun — and I sure hope they do.
— By Kelly Kalis, Tribune community columnist