Mindset of an Athlete

I’m taking an intro to sociology class from Princeton on CourseRa at the moment, and one of the assigned readings had an interesting quote. The article, “Getting In” by Malcolm Gladwell, was about admissions to college, and Ivy League admissions in particular. It has more than a couple of interesting facts and you can read it here if you are interested.

One of them was the justification colleges have for admitting good athletes. Being raised by a first-generation Chinese immigrant family, I’ve always thought about athlete admissions from just the financial standpoint: colleges want money, and college sports bring in lots and lots of money. The stereotypes about the way East Asians raise their children in the West are at least true for my family: academics are everything, sports is just running around in circles and kicking balls in this or that direction.

Only recently did I get into a sport (because of a story and a line), and the experiences have really illustrated to me how difficult cycling really is. I’ve talked before about how anything really has its own difficulties that you really can’t imagine until you start trying it out yourself, just to observe that the pros are just godly at it and you’re failing at the most “obvious” and “simple” of things. That’s why the pros are pros – “they make it look easy”. Sports in particular though are inherently much more difficult than some average problem which only requires the mind. Being an athlete, you need to engage your mind while your body is occupied, your reaction time must be both accurate and near-instant while your heart rate is up and your range of available motion is down… all while coordinating with your team in such a way that you follow orders from your captain, but also take individual initiative when necessary.

Cycling has also changed my attitude towards “giving up”. No longer can I simply think of people having advantages as “they’re just better than me”, or “they’re cheating, whatever”. Now, even if I must recognize that they have innate talent that I do not, if I want to do something, I desire to find a way to get myself a leg up – there is something I can do to make my situation better.

This blog and its themes would not have been possible had I not started participating in physically competitive activities.

“One of these characteristics can be thought of as drive – a strong desire to succeed and unswerving determination to reach a goal, whether it be winning the next game or closing a sale. Similarly, athletes tend to be more energetic than the average person, which translates into an ability to work hard over long periods of time – to meet, for example, the workload demands placed on young people by an investment bank in the throes of analyzing a transaction. In addition, athletes are more likely than others to be highly competitive, gregarious and confident of their ability to work well in groups (on teams).”

Athletes can be dumb jocks. That linebacker could really just be a frat boy who smokes all the time and uses everything selfishly while riding on his innate talents.

But a significant portion of the sporty group are not. They are actually just like you – they just choose to work harder.

If you have not heard, there are various online courses given by prestigious schools these days for free. CourseRa, which currently offers select classes from Cal, Princeton, Stanford, and University of Michigan, is only one of these sites.

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