Way back in training camp — long before the injuries that decimated Baltimore’s roster and the Joe Flacco-to-Jacoby Jones Hail Mary that saved their season — Ravens lineman Marshal Yanda had a simple message for his Ravens teammates: “embrace the grind.”

Yanda reiterated that message, as reported by ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio, as the Ravens prepared to face the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII earlier this month – a game they ultimately won thanks to a gritty goal-line stand.

That statement — embrace the grind — should resonate with any athlete, and any person working toward a goal for that matter. It’s the screen saver on my phone — and my playing days are over.

Working hard isn’t always fun. It’s rarely glamorous and easily overlooked, but hard work should certainly be embraced. Maybe not loved (I’ll be honest), but certainly embraced.
It should be included as something broader, which is one part of the definition.

Those 6 a.m. lifting sessions? Give them a mental hug and say, “I know you’ll make me better.” The shuttle runs on the football field, in the midst of the July heat? Another mental hug — they’re making you even sharper. The crazy additional workout on account of your teammate not being where he or she was supposed to be even though you were on time? Give that one a mental high five and keep it moving.

One thing you don’t have to question as you embrace your grind is that there will be obstacles, sacrifices and tough times, but don’t let that discourage you. Embrace those times because they’re coming, but the rewards await on the other side.

It’s a mental game, just like the majority of competitive athletics. There are more times than I care to count through my career that I dreaded whatever was ahead of me. I can remember postseason workouts that I would have sold my limbs to end. Coaches know there’s no reason to save your energy when the season is over, so they don’t. Instead, they focus on areas of weakness with a scrutinizing eye.

I loathed ball-handling drills, and my coaches knew that. If there was one I had to psych myself up for, it was one-on-one ball handling drills with my assistant coach. There were times I was near tears with frustration, but I pushed through it. I learned to embrace my grind.

You have to embrace the good, bad and ugly about your sport. If you think it’s always fun, then you’re probably just around for the camaraderie — and that’s fine. But it’s important to be honest with yourself.

I look back on my high school and college career fondly and will talk to anyone that is willing to listen, but when I say I spent nearly every Saturday morning in the gym with my dad working on my craft, I mean it. I wasn’t there taking pictures of my shoes, or having someone snap photos of me shooting to post on Instagram. I was embracing my grind, quietly, in the gym as the sun was coming up.

Whatever you sport, if you’re serious about success at the next level, you’ve probably already faced a fair share of obstacles and made sacrifices. Now is the time in your career to reflect on how you’ve handled them. Were they so burdensome that you threw a hissy fit? Or did you knock them out with a positive attitude? If you learn to embrace them now, you can lay the foundation to wrap your mind around the bigger obstacles that are sure to come at the next level.

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Monica McNutt was an All-Met basketball player at Holy Cross Academy who went on to star for the Georgetown women’s team. She will be offering advice to high school athletes who are looking to make the leap to college sports

Got a question for Monica, or an idea she can use for a future post? Leave it here in the comments, or email her at hss@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter at @__MCM__.


Taking advantage of all your resources (Jan. 30)