Well, I lost badly in our game of Pro-League Hockey (8 – 5). Need to send my players back to practice, especially after three of my goals were against myself. My wife always yells at the Washington Cap’s when they pass across the goal. My mistake, when I have a hand on a forward and defense man, but none on my goalie. Now, the NHL players are back from the Olympics, and we have taken Linda’s family to our annual Providence Bruins AHL game. The NHL players have trained for years to achieve their level of play. The AHL players are wanting to demonstrate that they are ready to be called up to the Big Tent, when someone else is scratched for injuries or has a cold-spell. Practice, training, skill development. Years of these occur before the athlete steps on the ice, or field, or track.
Few top performing athletes start up on a whim one day in their adolescent or young adult years. Most high ranked athletes began developing their skills as children, possibly trying various sports, before settling on the one for which they will gain fame. Of course, hundreds of thousands of children pursue some level of sports, pee-wee soccer leagues, school teams, club teams, for every star athlete.
Our niece and nephew have been studying karate for a number of years now. She has advanced to black-belt preparation, while he is working on his brown belt. One evening this week, we attended their karate classes. Having seen a variety of martial arts over the years, but studying none (other than fencing in high school), I was interested in how the system worked. The teacher conducted three classes.
First was a mixed class of beginning to intermediate level students. Four higher level students assisted, including our niece, by guiding students through drills at their various levels. The second class was an intermediate and advanced level “weapons” class, which used a body length “bo” to run through a different series of drills. Finally, five advanced level students practiced sparring, wearing protective gear to practice specific kicks and punches, before engaging in spontaneous five-minutes bouts with different opponents in rotation.
The first class was a delightful range of controlled chaos. Had the instructor not been present, it would have just been chaos. But, he commanded the youth with attention and respect. The second class displayed various levels of body awareness (okay, some needed to practice right verse left, upper and lower body integration, but so do I), for posture, balance, and conscious movement. The third class took their years of drills to engage in contact. Except for some naturally talented athletes, most of us would need to pass through these stages of skill development before entering the game. I could see some parents ready to jump in after the class with a move or two for which they had not trained… or maybe I was reaching back to my fencing days to want to show some dazzling skills… or maybe I have watched too many Star Wars movies recently, hoping that the force would guide my light saber. Hmmm, best avoid Droid and Clone armies until I have improved my hockey skills some more.
Athletics is a combination of balance, motor control, and eye-hand coordination. But, moreover, as Olympic athletes professed, it is attitude and cognition. Sports psychologists counsel them in preparation for the race. Similarly, the karate instructor drilled the students not just in positions, but thought. Before strength came “a loud voice”, “a warrior’s face”, and “respect” for your competitor. Winning was nothing without graciousness and humility. The object was not to beat one’s opponent, but to learn from one more skilled than you, and to offer lessons to one less able. The teacher called on students to identify what else they needed to be ready for an upcoming competition. From elementary age students came “focus”, “determination”, “persistence”, “attention”. I am not sure that I could have conjured up those words when I was their age.
The hockey players skimming across the ice, while maybe not learning karate at some age, have been practicing their skills for years. Skate, turn, stop, pass, shoot, check. Speed, attention, focus, determination, persistence. Lessons we should all learn.
And, learning we do, whatever we do. In my group therapy sessions, I often baffle the group members who expect me to give them ten ways to cope their lives. Instead, I tell them that any response they give is coping. The question is not what is coping, but how well this works in a specific situation. The more that we try a technique, the more skilled we become at it. However, if we only practice a few techniques, we are likely to pull out a mis-matched technique for a novel situation.
If all that we have learned it to pass the puck, when some family situation arrises, we will pass the puck to someone else. If we only know how to defend the goal, we will get defensive. If we only know how to rush to check our opponent, we will drive everyone into the boards. Speed, attention, focus, determination, persistence.
One commercial, for some cable sports channel, comes to mind from the Olympics. In this commercial, various athletes and teams are winning. A guy in a recliner appears on the screen waving his arms and cheering his team to the goal. How much are we training ourselves to be spectators rather than athletes? Is winning mostly vicarious? What are we training ourselves for?
Speed, attention, focus, determination, persistence. Listen to the children.