For the past several years, I’ve coached my son’s flag football team.
A few seasons ago, he was feeling pretty upset about a loss that came about due to the team’s lackluster flag pulling.
“How am I going to get better, Dad?” Gus asked me as I put him to bed. “We do flag-pulling drills every practice and you walk us through on technique. Why can’t I pull flags?”
Gus was right. The first thing we do in every practice is go over flag-pulling technique and run flag-pulling drills. So I could see why he was frustrated. He was doing all the right things and yet it wasn’t translating into success.
As I sat there on the bed with my arm around my son, a phrase popped into my mind that I hadn’t heard or said in nearly 20 years.
Hay que echarte ganas, cuate.
You’ve gotta want it, buddy.
I lived in Mexico for a couple years in my early 20s. One of my favorite things about Spanish is the words they use to indicate desire or wanting.
To say “I want to eat a taco,” you say “Tengo ganas de comer un taco.”
The literal translation is “I have desires to eat a taco.”
There’s something about the idea of having or not having desire that makes the idea of wanting more visceral for me. You either have the desire, or you don’t.
Ganas is also used as a way to encourage and pump people up.
A soccer coach in Mexico might yell “Echale ganas!” at his players.
The literal translation is something like “Throw desires into it!” Again, the idea is that desire isn’t so much a verb, but a noun. It’s a thing.
The more colloquial translation of “Echale ganas!” is something like “Get cracking!” “Put some life in it!” “Be more enthusiastic!” “Want it!”
When my then 9-year-old son was bummed about his performance in flag football, I knew his problem wasn’t technique. He drilled it enough that his technique was fine.
The problem I saw as a coach and as a father was Gus just didn’t want to pull the flag enough in a game. Sure, cognitively, he wanted to pull the flag. But he didn’t really want to pull the flag.
He was timid and hesitant when going in for the pull. If he missed on the first try, he’d kind of just give up.
Le faltaba ganas.
He lacked desire.
I told Gus as much.
“Look, little guy, we can drill flag pulling and go over technique over and over again, but that’s not going to do anything for you in the game.
You have to want it. Really want it.
And I can’t teach you that. I can’t drill you on that. I can’t give it to you.
You have to get that desire for yourself.
Do you get what I’m saying?”
He wiped the crying snot from his nose and reluctantly nodded his head.
I tucked him in his bed, gave him a kiss on the head, and walked out the door thinking that what I had just said probably didn’t land.
But I was wrong.
The next game something was different about Gus. I could sense it during the warm-up. There was a fire in him that wasn’t there before.
Instead of timidly going after a flag, he’d aggressively attack it.
He was diving for flags and getting turf burns.
He was getting in front of runners going full speed just so he could get his hands on the flag.
He was a flag-pulling machine.
Gus had ganas.
That’s the moment flag football changed for Gus. He understood that if he wanted to be a success, he had to really want that success. Not just an intellectual or cognitive want. A bodily and emotional want.
There’s a lesson there for all of us, I think.
When I look back at the goals I’ve accomplished or failed to accomplish, one of the deciding factors was how bad I wanted it. It wasn’t the only factor, mind you, but an important one.
How did I graduate in the top ten in my class in law school? I had some great mentors and used some fantastic study supplements. But I also really, really wanted to do well in law school. That strong desire was what propelled me to study hours and hours a day and do practice exam after practice exam every semester so I could get straight As. I had ganas.
How did I deadlift 600 pounds? I had some amazing coaching. That was vital. But I also really, really wanted to pull 600 lbs. That strong desire was what compelled me to rarely