Athletics is still often associated with the ‘jocks’ alone. This is a common misconception.
In real life, despite what all the movies try to make you believe, anyone can be an athlete if they want to, even the ‘nerds’. I’ve never come across a rule explicitly stating that you either have to be a jock or a nerd; personally, I think it’s best to try to achieve a balance between both. I was an enthusiastic participant in sports but I’ve won my fair share of quizzes too, and these are some of the major physical, mental, and emotional benefits being out on the field has given me over the years, all of which still help me navigate the pitfalls of daily life.
The physical benefits of being an athlete hardly needs an explanation; just like in most other physical activities, the more you sweat it out, the fitter you get. Your ability to move swiftly, as well as your overall dexterity, increases with the number of hours you put in at the track or field or pool, or doing just about any physical activity that gets your heart pumping.
Even after your college years, try to stick to a lifestyle that is at least moderately active and you’ll notice that your metabolism remains consistently active, so you won’t have to go on crazy diets to shed the extra pounds.
You’ll also notice that you don’t get winded as quickly as some. Your physical endurance will be more, so that you can trek better and cover more ground. And when you finally reach the top, you actually get to enjoy the view while still riding the high of the adrenaline rush you get from the exertion.
Let’s take a team sport as an example here. If you spend enough time on a field or a court, you might not even notice how quickly you make decisions when you are in the middle of a heated game. Each direction you choose to run in, every kick you make, every pass you manage successfully, is a direct result of your brain kicking into action, sometimes on pure instinct.
This instinct to make quick decisions under duress hones your mental faculties, helping you make better choices on and off the field. It can come in handy in other areas of your life as well, when you are faced with a tricky dilemma or the need to make a spur-of-the-moment decision as a leader.
Your overall mental health gets a boost as well, and not just from the endorphins that rush to your brain when you take to the field.
Athletes have been known to have higher self-esteem. The more your self-esteem, the more confidence you have to tackle hurdles. And the more hurdles you tackle on a green field, the higher are your chances of tackling the metaphorical hurdles in real life.
Rule your mind or it will rule you.
One of the most common struggles faced by our generation is that of balancing a healthy work-life schedule without becoming overwhelmed. And the answer to this is discipline, the key to a productive lifestyle after you leave the protection of childhood and enter the real world as an adult.
Whether you are a team tearing towards a common goal, or a lone wolf burning up a synthetic track, you need focus and discipline to be able to emerge victorious. So, discipline is a skill that is either drilled into you by relentless coaches or one that you pick up out of necessity.
After getting accustomed to strict drills and unholy hours as an athlete, you find it easier to be systematic and organized in life. You will be able to map out game-plans and stick to them without breaking a sweat.
In addition to disciplining your schedule, you also learn to discipline your mind, your body, your thoughts, and your emotions, giving you considerable advantages at work and at play.
The team spirit that is an essence of sports also consciously or subconsciously cultivate core values in us that will forever shape our characters. If you are a team player, then you are already capable of sharing, be it responsibilities or glory. You are capable of caring, about your teammates as well as victory. And you are capable of empathy, be it looking out for your teammates well-being or making sure there’s no man left behind. These are all positive character traits you pick up early on in life and retain throughout your life.
You also tend to see the brighter side of life more often because you subconsciously pick up on the universal message that there is always an end in sight. You may not even realize it, but your brain will be conditioned to believe that there is an end to pain, and that the struggle will make the relief that much sweeter.
Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.
She definitely got that right. Character is developed with sweat, grit, and at times, a little blood. Which brings us to a character trait that deserves a whole heading to itself: perseverance.
It’s the last leg of the 800-metre race. Your will to go on is really being tested.
You’re exhausted from the initial sprint. You’re kicking up dust, trying to keep your breathing even, pushing on ahead while adjusting your strides to conserve energy for the last bit of sprinting you know you’ll have to do.
As you remind yourself to keep your tongue from hanging out like a panting dog’s, you also remind yourself that it will be over soon and push harder.
You imagine your muscles expanding and contracting to propel you forward, you visualize the blood pounding in your ears; this is how Goku must feel when he’s going Super Saiyan.
You keep yourself from groaning out loud, and push, the cheers from the side lines spurring you on, mingled with anticipation of the relief you know will inevitably come when you cross the finish line and collapse mercifully near a glucose station.
You push yourself till that gold is yours.
All this happens in a matter of minutes, and it’s not entirely dependent on a person’s physical strength alone; mental strength also plays a big role.
You know there’s an end in sight and you have trained yourself to push yourself forward, employing every tactic available at your disposal. This knowledge of an inevitable end to suffering helps you cope better when the going gets tough.
The way you placate yourself with “It’s just a few more metres” comes in handy when faced with a daunting task off the track too. Your brain automatically learns to calm itself down, renew hope, and push forward, eager for a taste of the victory ribbon.
You simply find it hard to give up, knowing how far you’ve come and what’s ahead, and thus, you endure.
We will only make the 21st century an era of peace on the basis of inner peace.
Inner peace is what we all ultimately strive towards, a rare and elusive experience in this journey that is life. And we all try in our own ways to get to a stage where we are more at peace with ourselves and the universe.
So, how does inner peace relate to being an athlete?
A recent conversation with a friend made me realize that I may have been unknowingly practicing a crude form of Vipassana, a form of meditation that is endorsed by Yuval Harari, author of Sapiens and Homo Deus, books that are sought by millions who embark on a journey of enlightenment.
Vipassana is all about awareness of self, the discovery of the bonds between your physical body and your mind by exploring physical sensations. In short, it’s about paying attention to your being, something I find easier to do after an invigorating jog.
I started jogging somewhat consistently in college, and choose to cool down on the front porch instead of dripping a sweat trail to my bedroom. As I lay on my back with my eyes closed, first focusing on slowing my breathing from ragged to calm, I am more aware than ever of the countless cells that are pounding away to keep me alive, of the furious beating of my heart fighting for more oxygen, of the weight of my body weighing down the earth.
As my heartbeat returns to normal and I indulge in light stretching as my eyes open to a world that is new yet familiar, it is hard not to notice the beauty in dew drops, the vivid green in the leaves holding them from embracing the damp brownness of the soil. The very air seems fresher, and my lungs are grateful after the strain I subject them to when I try to hit more kilometres with each run.
These mornings are some of my most peaceful moments and memories.
Try to participate in a sport for as long as you are physically able, whether as part of a team or in an individual capacity. You may find it easier to train as a team, as team members help and encourage each other in an effort to make the team strong as a whole, or you can choose a sport that you enjoy by yourself.
This does not mean you should force a sport on a reluctant person. Just let them know the numerous benefits of being an athlete and leave the final choice to them.