Surpassing Mediocrity

You can learn a thing or two from watching the show “Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team”. I am simply infatuated by that show, but not for the reasons you might guess. During episode 204, former cheerleader and DCC Director, Kelli Finglass, said both to the private camera and to the prospective athletes, “At this stage in the process, good is simply not good enough. The good will get cut but the great will survive.” Ms. Finglass’ words strike more than a chord for athletes of all sports. Excellence is a principle — a necessity, actually — that transcends all other demands on students involved in varsity level sports. We either perform above standard, or succumb to mediocrity.

Those of you who are regular patrons of Country Music Television’s hit reality show know all too well that more goes on in picking the top dancers than we might think. The hottest, ditsiest, most genetically endowed girls find their applications ignored or torn up because they have a variety of shortcomings — they can’t kick high enough, they have no social skills whatsoever, they don’t know who Tony Romo is, etc. This same principle applies to all sports. Coaches certainly don’t care how pretty you or your technique is, just as long as you perform, represent your institution with integrity and bring in winning results.

This past weekend, like the one five weeks ago, we saw our tennis program suffer more than a few hard-hitting defeats. Let’s just say we realized the “goods” we brought to the Reis tennis arena were ineffective against the “great” every other team seemed to have. It wasn’t a total wipeout — many of the matches went the distance, but going into the final stretch, we didn’t seem to have that extra, necessary push that can vault a player from being a loser to a winner. Acquiring the flashiest uniforms and the most up-to-date equipment or having strokes alluring enough to grace the covers of GQ means nothing because, like the DCC prospects found out during the rigorous screening process, appearances aren’t going to stop your opponents from stepping on you, or judges from overlooking you. In Ms. Finglass’ eyes, and the eyes of players, coaches and spectators alike, we would not have made the cut because our performance was forgettable, maybe even humorously underachieving.

Back in high school all of us were big shots academically, athletically and egotistically. I cannot say how many times the college life has knocked us down since we got here. Being “good” used to distinguish top tier grade school athletes from their mediocre supporting teammates, but in an arena where all players are the cream of the crop, headliners and first-team picks, the only way to make a splash is to work harder, play with conviction and aim to be the best, regardless of whether you are a first year or a senior. It is time far overdo to leave our histories of triumph behind and toil en route to setting new records, rewriting history and breaking out of the cusp. Mediocrity is the realm of underachievers. Shooting for anything but the highest strata is guaranteed to limit our successes, the way people see us and the way we see ourselves. If our team, or any of those Colgate sports teams who just saw an end to their fall seasons, want to come back in the spring and tear through their Patriot League foes, then we must do what we know best: represent more than ourselves, continually strive for better and show others that we know what it takes to earn the distinction between satisfactory and superior.

This weekend was not enjoyable for obvious reasons, but I feel that our team learned a lot about where we aren’t in terms of progress. We are a great team with more than enough potential, a batch of hovering breakout stars that got put in their place by schools I’ve never heard of in my life. Sometimes, painful stints tell us more bluntly what we needed to understand, but were ignoring when it was expressed with good intentions at first. In this case, what we verily required was the words of one wise former cheerleader who knows all too well that good is not good enough. When game time comes with the New Year, I know our squad will be prepared and come out guns blazing, ready to supersede Army and Navy at the top of the league. Look for us. We’ll be the team shooting for the stars.