Things I Learned from a Lifetime of Sports, Part I

Have you seen this ad from Nike?

I LOVE this! And it got me thinking about some things I’ve learned from participating in a lot of different sports throughout my life. I think some of these are reflected in the video and some are just things that I have been able to use in other parts of my life. I have more, but I’ll save those for part II. (-:

So, what are some things I’ve learned from sports?

Talent is important, but without effort and heart, you will not succeed. I made more than one team in my life because I showed up every day, shut my mouth, and worked as hard as I could at whatever the coach demanded. Good coaches take note of who is working hard. So do good bosses. Just sayin’.

Winning really isn’t everything. It sounds trite but it is true. Losing sucks, don’t get me wrong, but you have to learn to deal with that suckage and figure out what to do to improve. More lessons are learned from losses than wins.

You don’t need a trophy. Really, can we just stop the whole trophy for showing up thing already? There is actually a lot of personal pride and internal motivation that comes from knowing you’ve worked your hardest and done your best. I won my first trophy playing volleyball when I was 14. Yes, it took me 14 years to get a trophy and I treasured it (and still have it somewhere around here). And, if a coach notices how well you are doing and says something to you about your play or your effort? That is so much better than any trophy that will collect dust on your shelf. Trust me.

There is no “I” in team. Another overused saying, but for a reason. Even in sports where you may compete individually (like track or swimming or gymnastics), you are still part of a team and your effort does matter. You need to know that you can rely on others and that they can count on you. Trust and accountability – two concepts that will get you far in life.

You are mentally tougher than you think. Working out hurts sometimes. Actually, it can hurt a lot of the time. But, if your heart is in it, you can push through and get to that finish line, whatever that might look like. And when you do push through, there is satisfaction and happiness (maybe from endorphins, but I’ll take it however it comes) waiting on the other side. Develop that mental toughness – another great tool to have in your life toolbox.

As I said, I have more that I’ll get to later. I would love to know some of the things you’ve learned – please share!

Stepping Off the Pitch

Spring, 1978

That spring I played my first soccer game. I was 8 and it was the first season for a girls’ soccer league in Bel Air, MD, where I lived at the time. I don’t recall much about it except that I scored once and played goalie a little bit, a position that I continued to play throughout my career. I do remember scoring the goal – I ran upfield and my eyes started watering and I couldn’t really see but I kicked the ball and it went in the net. Nothing spectacular, but, well, we were 8.

In the net my first season. I think I was praying that they wouldn't score!

In the net my first season. I think I was praying that they wouldn’t score!

Spring, 2015

Last night I played my last soccer game. 37 years and countless games later; I am hanging up my boots and retiring from the beautiful game. The reasons are three-fold, as I explained to my coach:

  • Less time available to play on weeknights, with teaching and my son’s later practice times;
  • Games taking a more physical toll on my admittedly aging body; and
  • Less enjoyment from playing. I am simply not having as much fun as I used to, likely due to #1 and 2 above.
Schooling my brother in the front yard.

Schooling my brother in the front yard

Shinguards not required.  And nice short shorts. Ah, the 80s...

    Shinguards not required. And nice short shorts. Ah, the 80s…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I started playing with our coach, Lou, when my son was 6 weeks old. He is now 13. He grew up on the sidelines, watching one or both of his parents run around like crazy people. He turned me into a true soccer mom – the mom who set her child up in his stroller to sleep while she played. The mom who passed her child off to his dad as they subbed on and off the field during a game. The mom who, as she ran down the field chasing the ball, yelled to the sidelines for her son to get off the top of the bleachers. Parenting from the field. Don’t think you’ll find a book on how to do that.

Our captain and I after my last game.

Our captain and I after my last game.

It’s funny – I used to define myself by the fact that I played soccer. It was something different than most other “adults” did (except, of course, all the other adults who also played soccer). It was my social life in my 20s when I played 4-5 times a week. Soccer kept me in shape. I traveled to play in tournaments to places like Vegas and… Johnstown, PA (ok, so Vegas was a bit more of a rush). I met so many cool and interesting people playing soccer. I met my husband playing soccer.

Playing in Vegas.

Playing in Vegas.

Today, I am starting to redefine myself without soccer. I am not sure yet what exactly will take its place, but I have some ideas. I certainly won’t sit still.

I am sure there will be times when I’ll miss playing. But I have so many great memories from my years on the pitch and I’ll always count myself lucky that I got to play the beautiful game for so many years.

And my enjoyment of the game won’t end, especially not this summer. Women’s World Cup, baby! Let’s go USA!!!!

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Specialization – An Evil Word?

I read a lot online about youth sports and all of the problems like helicopter parents (not just an issue in sports, by the way), irrational coaches, organizations with god complexes, and more. The one that keeps jumping at me, however, is the issue of young kids specializing too early in one sport.

The “complaint” is that kids are picking (or being pushed into, depending on what you read) one sport and then spending all year working at that sport, rather than playing other sports during the “off-season.” I use that term loosely because, in reality, there is no longer such a thing. Every sport is now offered year-round, with traditionally outdoor sports being conducted in indoor facilities during winter months and indoor sports just staying indoors. My son plays in ice rinks, which, in the dead of winter, can be miserable when the temperature is the same inside and out. However, in the summer, it is often a relief to head inside the cool facility to escape the blistering heat (the issue of clothing notwithstanding – I keep long pants, wool socks, and a jacket in my car all summer, but, then again, who doesn’t?).

If a player wants to, he or she can play the selected sport all year and never branch out or try other sports. As this trend has increased, so has the backlash against it. If you do a quick Internet search on “youth sports specialization” you will find a list of articles and blogs discussing the topic (see this MomsTeam article as an example, but there are many more).

I get it. I understand that different sports test different muscles, increase a child’s way of thinking about the game, and teach new skills. I have been a multi-sport athlete all of my life – soccer, basketball, some dabbling in softball, track, crew, soccer again – and I have learned a lot from participating in all of them. I also was never a top-level athlete, so I wasn’t really looking to “make it big” or spend all my time playing one sport.

Where I have my issue with this whole discussion is that it is most often addressed dogmatically (kids should not specialize and, if they do, it is the parents fault). I really dislike dogma, in any form, because I believe that there is almost always a gray area – two sides of an issue (or more), different ways to look at something. In this case, the other side of the issue of specialization is the child’s interests.

My son played soccer when he was 5 until about 8 years old. He wanted to play because my husband and I play and he wanted a uniform like we had (that was the initial reason he gave, at least). Around 8, he discovered ice-skating and fell in love with the idea of playing hockey. He was able to start playing at a roller hockey rink while taking ice lessons and he quickly gave up soccer and focused on hockey. He played hockey in the fall, winter, and spring at that point – he did not play any other sports again until he was 11, when he tried a season of lacrosse (while still playing spring hockey). That experiment was not a good one and he again focused solely on hockey (now adding summer ice time into the mix) for the next two years.

Look! It's not hockey.

Look! It’s not hockey.

He has now added lacrosse back into his spring season and is enjoying it this time, but he continues to play hockey year-round. Why? Because he LOVES it! He is happier on the ice than anywhere else and simply wants to be there. He plays on a spring hockey tournament team in addition to taking private lessons and he will have ice time again this summer. And that is where he wants to be. Is he specializing? I suppose so. But is it because of pressure to do so and a fear of falling behind and not making the top teams? Or because we (his parents) insist upon it for our own egos? No. And I don’t say that as a delusional parent – I would be happy to not spend the money on extra lessons and spring seasons.

It is because he wants to do it and goes into a form of “withdrawal” if he is away from the ice for too long. Seriously – we have small goals and hockey pads all over this house and if he is away from the rink for too long, he gets into those pads and starts playing around in the basement or his room.

So while I understand the arguments for multi-sports kids, I do chafe at the notion that every instance of specialization is fraught with negatives and obviously instigated by overzealous parents and/or coaches. Sometimes it is child-led and sometimes driven by a passion for the sport that can only be satisfied by playing that sport.

So play. For the love of the sport. The best reason ever.

Things that Make Me Crazy: The Teaching Edition

I have been teaching at the college level (university and community college) for over two years now and I’ve already started jotting down a list of things that, in my humble opinion, any aspiring college student should not say to his or her instructor. Ok, let’s be honest, these are things that make me nuts! As I repeatedly share these stories with my son, I am hopeful that he will not say these things, even in middle or high school. I also think that these are pretty universal and could apply to a job as well as school.

So, I present, five things you should not say to your instructor:

Sorry I wasn’t in class last week. Did I miss anything important?

No, I noticed you were out and decided not to teach anything new so that you would not fall behind. Really? If you choose to miss class, that is on you. But don’t imply that nothing important happens in class or assume that I’ll give you a personal lecture if you did miss something major. This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine.

I won’t be able to come to class next week. Is that okay?

Fine with me. If there are any penalties for missing class, they are outlined in the syllabus. Even if there are not points associated with attendance, there are likely going to be activities that will either have points assigned to them or will enhance your learning so that you do well on whatever assignment or test is coming up. So, missing class can be a problem and you want to keep it to a minimum and only for real emergencies. That being said, you are an adult and it is your choice if you come to class or not. Asking me if it is okay is irrelevant.

Do I need to buy the textbook?

Hmmm… is there a textbook assigned for the class? If yes, then buy it. New or used, I don’t care. For the entry-level classes I teach, we do use the book and rely on it quite heavily for content and assignments. If a book is optional, it should say that in the syllabus (repeated theme here – it’s in the syllabus!).

READ IT!

I know it is the last day of class but I just realized that I am only a few points away from an (insert A, B, or C here, depending on the circumstance). Is there anything I can do to get more points?

Unfortunately, this comes up more than I’d like. If your instructor has set up Blackboard (or whatever system your school uses) the correct way and has written out course assignments in the syllabus (read it!), you should always have a sense of where you stand in class. Taking a look once in awhile at your grades and noting your points (or missed assignments) is a good habit to get into. Don’t wait until the end of the semester to start looking at how you are doing – by then it is likely too late. Remember, the instructor also has deadlines and other work to do so allowing everyone to submit missed assignments at the last minute adds to that workload and makes it more difficult to meet grade submission deadlines. Now, you may think, “It’s just me and only two or three short assignments, what is the big deal?” No, it is not just you. To be a fair and just instructor, I need to give everyone the same opportunities. I think students fail to realize this. So, if I give you that chance, I need to give everyone the opportunity to turn in missed work. And that may add up to a lot of last minute assignments. The schedule is in the syllabus (read it!), as is the policy about late work.

Another note, I learned a great term from another instructor awhile back – there may be a chance for “extra” credit but there is not any “instead of” credit.

I had a lot of things going on over the past few weeks (the list of things I’ve heard here are endless) so I am sorry I missed class. What can I do to make up the work?

Now, I am as sympathetic as the next guy, but, let’s face it – sometimes s#$% happens in life. I get it. It has happened to me. But this is likely as good a time as any to learn how to deal with all that stuff in a mature and responsible manner. Communication is key – if you contact me and let me know what is going on, I am very likely able to work with you to modify due dates or whatever you need. I don’t need details, just let me know that things are nutty and you are struggling to balance it all. This communication is best done as soon as possible – don’t let a lot of time go by (I’ve had students disappear for 3 or 4 or 5 weeks and then come to me with their story – that’s too long). If too much time has passed, so too has your chance to make up all the work you’ve missed. Besides the late assignment policy in the syllabus (all together now – read it!), you also need to think about the length of a semester and the amount of work needing to be done, and consider the size of the hole you are digging for yourself. Yes, there are sometimes special cases that need to be considered, but those may end up as incompletes, which is another process in itself. Communicate with me, early and often. I can be quite accommodating, if I know what is going on.

Just think of it this way – if you had a job and some things happened and you didn’t show up for work for 3 or 4 weeks without a word to your boss, what do you think would happen? Yes, you’d likely lose your job. Part of the lessons you learn in school are how to manage real life. So consider class like your job and think about what may happen if you don’t show up.

I know there are many more things that could be added to this list. If you are a teacher or employer, do you have any other words of wisdom to share?

Streaking into 2015

No, I did not run naked down the glorious lawn at my beloved UVA or across our neighborhood, which would have probably resulted in me writing this from the warmth of a jail cell. I decided to take Runner’s World up on their challenge to start a running streak, which requires one to run at least one mile per day starting on Thanksgiving and ending on New Year’s Day. That is 36 days straight of running. Sounded like something I could do.

And I did. Today I ran a 5k to finish up the streak in style. I’d like to say it was easy, but that would be a lie. Even though I kept my daily mileage to about 2-3 miles per day (with a few one mile days thrown in just to make the day count), I did struggle some days to get it done. Now, I have had times in my past where I worked out 5-6 days a week, during track season or at the height of crew training, and my days were much harder than a one mile run, but (1) I was MUCH younger and (2) I still got a day off once in awhile. This streak proved to be a real challenge for me.

Some thoughts on my 36 days on the road:

Day 1: Thanksgiving day. Never a bad idea to run a few miles before eating a big meal. We didn’t travel this year so finding time to run was easier than it might have been.

Day 5: Had to try the treadmill during a nasty cold snap in the area. I truly, deeply, passionately hate the treadmill. Really. But we have one in our basement so downstairs I went. I guess the poor thing hadn’t been used in awhile (like, since last winter) and it is getting old (over 12 years now) so it was a little rusty. I ended up completing a fartlek run as the stupid machine kept speeding up and slowing down without warning. I got a good arm workout, however, as I kept my tense hands poised just above the handrails to grab on quickly and not get shot off the back as it sped up. Run complete!

Day 7: A tough day for scheduling the run. I teach at two different colleges and I had classes all day (from 8:00 am until 9:30 pm) without a break at home or near a place where I could clean up easily. Still, I managed with one of my one-mile days. I brought my sneakers and a change of shirt and became one of “those” people who goes out running in jeans. Fortunately, it was a cold day so I didn’t sweat too much and thus did not require significant “touch ups” to look presentable for my last class. Not that I am any sort of glamour queen, but…

Days 15-17: Hit the wall here. Legs felt heavy and I really wanted to not run. But I had promised myself that I would do this and so I did. I never really advertised my streak – it was something between me, myself, and I, just to see if I could do it through mainly internal motivation. I like to run alone and this running streak was something I wanted to do on my own. These few days were a test.

Day 18: Ugh.

Day 19: Got the confirmation email that we are in again for the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler in DC in April. Guess I know what I’ll be doing after this running streak ends. Running more.

Day 20: Probably the lowest point so far. Cold, rainy day, not much motivation, and absolutely NO way I could face our treadmill (have I noted how much I DESPISE that thing?). So, I put on my rain gear (I did buy this stuff for some reason) and hit the road. After a few minutes, I felt okay, except for the rain pelting my face and the hood of my jacket rubbing awkwardly against my face as I kept cinching it down to keep the rain out. Run complete.

Day 22: Legs back. Enjoying my runs again.

Day 27: Travelled to visit family up north for the holiday. Faithfully packed my gear because I knew that after a long drive home that day, I would not be able to make myself run. Got out in the misty drizzle and ran the only route I am familiar with around there. Found out they built a new soccer complex at the park. Guess it’s been awhile since I ran around there.

Day 32: Ran with our dog. Our little Chihuahua/terrier mutt. Did I mention it was raining and I had a post-holiday cold going at the same time? Another one mile run day. To her credit, she did keep up pretty well on her little legs.

Day 33: A good run kinda day. Still dealing with a chest thing but despite uneven breathing, I managed a decent run. Only 3 days left – I can see the light at the end of tunnel.

Day 36: TODAY! I ran the 5k with a friend and we did just fine. It was cold and a bit windy and the course had some tough gradual uphills, but we kept a decent pace and finished strong. Found out later that we ended up in second place for our age group! Gotta love small races.

So, what have I learned from doing this? One, I can finish what I commit to do, even if that commitment is simply an internal one. Two, running every day, even if only a mile or two, did counterbalance the holiday eating and kept off the pounds. Three, my body could not handle running every day if I did more mileage. I am prone to foot and knee problems that flare up when I up my mileage. They only slightly started to bother me by the end of this streak, but now that I have to increase mileage for the spring race, I will need days off and walking days to make it through injury-free. Four, while it is difficult some days to fit a run in, it is not impossible. Get up a little earlier, plan your day out in advance, accept that a run is going to happen and it does. No excuses.

Will I do this again? Sure. It really wasn’t horrible or beyond my abilities. I could do it again.

After I take a day or two off, that is.

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