I played a lot of tennis, and basketball and done my fair share of running, swimming, and weight room work in my 50 some years and have enjoyed them all immensely. However, the last several years have been more difficult. I stopped playing basketball in my early 40s and even though I do all sorts of things to prevent it, tennis often causes me a lot of pain. It doesn't make me stop but it is something that I deal with if I want to keep playing. And the type of pain I'm talking about isn't 'ouch my knee hurts' type of pain but more like a chronic low level hum of moving ache that makes it hard to walk down steps or stand up or run or whatever. I control it with massive doses of stretching, trigger point therapy, and if all else fails a touch of ibuprofen. I take that as simply a condition of playing the game at my age.
However, my voluntary acceptance of this pain has given me some insight into football and hockey players in an odd way. Those sports have pain as a byproduct from day one and it shapes how players play and the attitudes they take into their games. We've all played games as kids, teenagers, and young adults. You play... sometimes you fall down... it hurt some... you get back up and tomorrow it's all ok. Professional sports are different though. Pain is the price of admission and it's the static that every player has to play through to even practice on a regular basis. And both football and hockey are that to the extreme.
Different sports have different measures and balances. Cross country runners, even in high school and college, find out early that to get better, you need to practice but the more you practice, the more pain you invite into your life. It is definitely a delicate balancing act requiring the counseling of a skilled coach. Other sports have different balances but they all exist. With direct contact sports, however, paid is a prerequisite for even getting started.
When I made the yearly transition this spring from less taxing indoor doubles to more demanding outdoor singles leagues, I found myself torn. As much as I wanted to get into the competition, a part of me knew that it was going to hurt, win or lose, long beyond just the evening of the match and there was a certain instinctual hanging back which was surprising to me. Even in my early 40s, the summer singles season was difficult but as long as I took care of myself, I could get through it ok. Now, I'm finding that I have to work a bit to let go of my... well... fear... of what was surely coming. I found myself holding back a bit and not throwing myself into the games as much. It wasn't a planned thing... it just happened and seemed somewhat out of my control. Quickly enough I got by that but it was an interesting bump in the road.
Fast forward to the Steeler's season and all those 'old' guys. Their pain scale makes mine look like silly. Is is any wonder that they might have the same problem? They've been around enough to know what's coming next. And even if they don't think about it, the parts of them that they don't think ARE parts of them CERTAINLY know. Maybe there's a little bit of each one of them that is struggling with that same tug of war. Maybe they missed those pads practices as their chance to work that out before the season started. Clint Hurdle coined the phrase 'all in?', as in 'are you all in' at the beginning of the Pirates baseball season. Maybe they haven't had the opportunity to get past their initial shock of the new season.
Just a thought.