Be A Sponge: Have You Decided Yet? | Darren LaCroix

Be A Sponge: Have You Decided Yet?

By Darren LaCroix | Inspirational

Have you ever felt sick and tired of the way things are that you become mad as heck and you ain’t gonna take it anymore? It is usually a final straw incident that puts us there, but usually has been building up over time. We work hard at trying to change our situation, but it’s just not enough and we keep getting the same results.

I grew up as the youngest of three and grew up in the shadow of my sister being super smart and my brother being a super jock. I wanted to stand out, but did not know how. I was just the nice guy. I loved sports and had an awesome loving dad who coached my little league baseball teams and played catch with me whenever I wanted. As I got into high school I had different coaches that didn’t start me, and rightfully so. I wasn’t that good.

I tried out for basketball, but couldn’t even make the team. I played and loved baseball and football. For my first three years of high school sports I was a pitcher and played quarterback. I was always second string. I was a great bench warmer, though I think the coach feared ever having to put me in. I was loyal and practiced hard just like everyone else. I dreamed of playing professional ball, but the summer going into my senior year, a harsh reality set in. No one on any college team was going to recruit a player from the bench. I also was tired of watching the games from the sidelines. Complete transparency –no girls were excited to date the guy who rarely got in the game.

I remember that Joe Beaulac, the home run hitter from our team, would go every day to the batting cages after practice. At the time it did not make sense to me. Why? He was already our best hitter and could hit the ball farther than anyone. He had a natural gift and yet he continued to hone it. Now, I can see that was what great athletes do. In fact, people who are the best in their field don’t just work hard; they work passionately with a purpose.

Who do you think is the greatest athlete you can think of? Do you think they were just gifted, worked hard, or both? Do you think they have one coach or many? One mentor or several?  Picture them in their young, hungry days if they were learning from a coach they admired and respected, do you think they were leaning back happy to grab a tip or two or do you think they were leaning in as a true sponge to squeeze out all of the wisdom possible?

My dad took a picture of me on the sidelines at a football game. I remember getting so mad at him. I did not want to be remembered standing on the sidelines hoping to get in the game. How dare I be mad at him, I was the one who was not good enough to be in the game! Take some responsibility, Darren! Give your poor dad a chance to take a picture of you on the field.

The summer before my senior year, I decided this was it. This was my last chance.  I was mad as heck and I wasn’t going to take it anymore! I made a decision. I committed. I was not just going to work hard, I was going to work passionately with a purpose. I would start my senior year. I can see now that our biggest enemies are laziness and ego. Doing the minimum and expecting greatness and thinking we know it all. If I knew it all and was good, I’d be starting. I was going to change me. Period.

That summer I started lifting weights, I even had my big brother stand over me on the bench press to push me. I needed it. I was tired of being a wimp. I started running four miles a day. I started taking protein pills to supplement my workouts. Most high school athletes took the summer off, but feared double sessions in August. That is when you practice hard in the morning, take a break for lunch and have another practice in the afternoon. Never mind the daily wind sprints. Our coach, Mr. Ferreira worked us hard. That’s fine, I’m going to work harder and follow Joe’s example. I think only one person from my team ever went to football camp. That summer I went to Holy Cross Football camp.                                                                                                                                  

When we want to make permanent change in our lives, we are truly committed to changing our skills, mindset, or both. We need to go deeper to create that change. If we look at this like the levels of a 1980’s video game we need to go deeper to achieve a permanent higher level of who we are, how we think and how we operate. If you dig down you can make some changes and achieve a higher level.  You can also make a decision to own a much higher level by digging even deeper.

When the games started in September of 1984, my senior year, I was not a starter. However, I could tell that my efforts were starting to get noticed. When you do more and work passionately people will notice. Billy Noonan, the team captain noticed and commented on it. The assistant coaches started to give me more attention. I knew the head coach would eventually. I even got the nickname “Chester” because of my bench press commitment along with my brother’s pushing. I had developed a strong chest.

Here was another challenge. I was a senior, but the starting quarterback was a sophomore, Tim Backlin. He was a natural gifted athlete, much bigger and more confident than I was. When we practiced I could often throw better with more accuracy. I hoped the coaches would notice. Here was what I was missing at the time –I’m short and could barely see over the offensive line. So, in practice I may have been better, but in a game situation, I could barely see. In my mind throwing as a QB was the important part. I thought that was the skill that mattered. What I did not see was the importance of leadership and confidence that I severely lacked. What skills truly matter in your field? Are there some areas maybe, where you need some help? 

It was not until the third game of the season when I finally did become a starter. I did not start as quarterback. I did become the starter returning punts and playing corner back on the defense. I was in the game. As we grow our talents we increase our value to the team. You will be noticed and there will be a place for you. I never went on to play college football. I’ll be honest, though I loved the game, I didn’t love getting hit! This lesson of finally committing to taking full responsibility, letting go of the ego and leaning in as a sponge would serve me later in life. What lessons did you learn in your youth that still serve you today? Let me be transparent again; I often need to be reminded of our own lessons learned. I think as a speaker, part of our job is so that it be a professional reminder.

Yes, I was the youngest of thee and lived in their shadow because I didn’t know I could create my own. My lack of self-belief raged quietly inside me. Creating our own starts with a decision and then reinforcing it with relentless pursuit. We get battered, bombed and bruised along the way, but our commitment and forward focus seems to numb that pain and fills our journey with true growth. Step back, reflect and ask yourself, “Am I working hard or working passionately for a purpose?” If your purpose is bigger than you, that is even better.

OK, dad, now you can take the picture.

What I Learn From This?

  • People will notice people who work harder than everyone else.
  • People who are the best in their field, when learning from experts don’t lean back hoping for a tip, they lean in to sponge every bit of wisdom they can.
  • The decision was mine. Until you decide, not much changes.
  • You must go deeper to reach a higher level.

What do you take from this?


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Darren LaCroix, AS, CSP

World Champion of Public Speaking


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