By Steven Pressfield | Published: December 28, 2011
Everybody loves the vertical game. We all thrill to the deep ball, the long completion, the 55-yard bomb that breaks the game open. (Yes, I’ve been watching a lot of football over the Holidays.)
The problem is that, a lot of the time, the guys we’re playing against are as good or better than we are. Or they’re lucky, or they’re having a great day, or they’ve just studied our tendencies and know how to counter them. The defense won’t let us throw the deep ball. We’re dying to. We’re on fire to. But the bastards just won’t let us.
That’s when we’re not unwise to rein in our expectations, give up on what we wish we could get and settle for what we can get.
In writing terms (and I know this is true for dance, for painting, for film-making and on and on), there are days—and sometimes weeks—when Resistance is just too strong. For me, there are parts of a book that feel like knots in a plank of wood. They’re bears. They refuse to yield. I can surround them like a besieging army ringing a city—and I still can’t find a weak spot.
On those days, you have to take what the defense will give you.
There’s no shame in being realistic. On the football field, we close that part of the playbook that contains the deep routes and the 55-yard bombs. We turn to that section that has the short slants and the quick passes into the flat.
Remember, no defense can cover everything. If they’re shutting down our vertical game, it means they’re leaving some slack close to the line of scrimmage. Let’s take it.
The important thing is to keep advancing the ball and keep moving the chains. If we can get enough completions by dinking and dunking three yards and four yards, one of those may break out into the secondary; maybe another will blast through all the way.
The other thing I’ve found about those Heavy Resistance days is that, if you can hang in long enough, sometimes the defense will crack. Sometimes late in the fourth quarter, the opponents’ legs will give out. Suddenly you can go long. All at once the deep ball works.
Two key tenets for days when Resistance is really strong:
1. Take what you can get and stay patient.
The defense may crack late in the game.
2. Play for tomorrow.
Face to face with a ferocious defense, the danger is that we will crack. We can’t let that happen. Our role on tough-nut days is to maintain our composure and keep chipping away. We’re pros. We’re not amateurs. We have patience. We can handle adversity. Tomorrow the defense will give us more, and tomorrow we’ll take it.
There’s a third tenet that underlies the first two:
3. We’re in this for the long haul.
Our work is a practice, like one in martial arts or meditation. One bad day is nothing to us. Ten bad days is nothing. The amateur lets himself be discouraged by a tough day or a run of frustration. The pro sees the long term.
In the scheme of a year of work (or ten years, or forty) a day when we can’t gain yardage is just a speed bump. We’ll forget it by breakfast tomorrow and be back ready to hurl our bodies into the fray all over again.
That doesn’t mean quit. It doesn’t mean back off. It means play four quarters. Let the other team be the one to get complacent. Stay patient, keep probing for soft spots.
Take what the defense will give you.