Grit in Dublin

In last week’s Globe and Mail article, “Why Kids Need to Fail to Succeed in School,” Margaret Wente argues that we need to do more than simply help students deal with adversity; we need them to understand that grit is an essential virtue. It is the character trait that may end up defining their future success.

I was watching the Notre Dame vs Navy football game this past Saturday when something remarkable happened, something that reminded me of Wente’s thesis. Take a look at this short clip and watch how Trey Miller, #1, deals with a mishap. In this, the first game of the season, the Navy quarterback fumbles the ball and is immediately thrown to the ground like a ragdoll by a Notre Dame lineman.

This kind of thing happens frequently on the gridiron, but take a close look what takes place immediately after the fumble.

Even as Miller comes out of his tumble, you can see that he is already trying to scramble to his feet, so that he can give chase to the defensive lineman who has picked up the ball and sprinted downfield.

It’s a futile chase, of course, but Miller’s determination is inspiring. CBS’s play-by-play man, Verne Lundquist, has his eye on the ball, but I can’t help but think that he missed an important part of the play. How many of us would have stayed on the ground, or pretended that the fumble was an incomplete pass? Would some have saved their energy to berate the referee or, worse yet, to follow Buffalo Bills’ Stevie Johnson’s example and blame God for a dropped ball? (That’s a tweet that Stevie wishes he could erase.)

All of this leaves me wondering: Where does Trey Miller’s resiliency come from and how can we inculcate this virtue ourselves?


7 thoughts on “Grit in Dublin

  1. Dr. Power,

    I have been contemplating your question for a few days now. Grit and emotional toughness are very hard to teach. However, in my personal experience, the best way to teach grit is to put the body under repeated extreme stress which the mind has to overcome. Experiences such as early morning workouts, camping trips under adverse weather conditions, endurance running, field training exercises and mountain climbing come to mind. The common denominator between these experiences and all of the others that I can think of is that they ‘sucked’ at the time. However, after the fact (perhaps a few months after the fact), these grit teaching experiences are generally remembered fondly. Experiences that teach grit well are, by their nature, difficult and if made optional would be poorly attended by students who need instruction in mental toughness the most.

    Applying this principle practically at UCC outside of a ‘Battalion’ like environment seems difficult to me. I would suggest activities such as mandatory week long hikes under adverse conditions, stricter fitness standards, and stricter academic punishments (many of my peers collected gating’s and detentions like free breath mints at an Asian restaurant). However, I am not a professional educator so I am sure that you and the faculty can come up with much better solutions than I can-solutions which balance achieving the goal of instilling mental toughness while still being palatable to parents when kids eventually complain about something new, hard and mandatory. Perhaps some educators as the Royal Military College would have some techniques and strategies for teaching mental toughness.

    Thank you for your response to my comment. I have found your blog to be a fantastic connection to UCC as an alum and as a student your weekly speeches in assembly were something I very much looked forward too. They were definitely a pillar in my moral development.

    Please let me know if I could be of any more assistance.


    Stuart A. Allan

  2. Middies are taught from day one – they have been chosen to become tomorrow’s leaders and role models. Defenders of our freedom – on watch 24/7.
    I sleep better because of the Trey Miller’s and his teammates.

    I have already forgotten the score…but not the determination and effort.

    Mark (a father of a Naval Academy grad)

  3. Great clip. I like to think the answer is yes to both questions; Miller’s character is definitely revealed. Hopefully every player on the sidelines learned from watching Miller trying to chase down the ball. A good coach is going remind everyone that fumbles happen; what happens after the fumble reveals the team (and individual) character.

    Great lessons in sport. probably 80,000 saw his effort at the game, a few million saw it on TV, and the you-tube crowd.

  4. Thinking of all those delighted ND fans after Saturday’s clobbering of Navy (my mother’s team; old boyfriend, etc), but mostly of the challenges each coach had keeping his players focused amidst all the faith & fun.

  5. Thanks for writing this.

    Best part of the game for me is still the end when both teams stay on the field and go to each other’s sides and sing the alma mater. I was standing there this with the Navy rugby coach (navy played Trinity Friday in rugby and gave them a great game – only losing by 5) and we both thought how proud but gentle the Navy song is in contrast with our mission. Just one year ago we lost one of our best rugby players, former team captain and an American hero. Coach broke down reminiscing how years ago Jeremy closed an evening out at a crowded bar on tour .. “Shipmates, the blue and gold…” 25 Navy teammates stood at attention. Hands on hearts. The bar went still. And a minute later it crescendoed and was over. And the bar cheered.

  6. Sir-

    I agree that grit and perseverance are extremely important qualities that help build emotional resiliency. These qualities are not taught at UCC and should be. It was an aspect of my education at UCC which was certainly lacking. I did not get real instruction in in this until participating in ROTC at my current college in the states. Dr. Power, UCC should strive to teach its students grit and emotional toughness. I think the best way to do this would be to bring back the Battalion.

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