Chapter Two Excerpt from The Quality of Effort

From Chapter Two, “Becoming an Athlete” (revised edition):What requires your attention in your athletic endeavors generally falls into four broad areas of concern:

  1. What and how you think, feel and believe—your individual view of yourself, your sport and the rest of the world.  We’ll call this worldview. 

2. The physical body you were born with and what you do with it—your behavior/ experience. 

3. Values, beliefs and traditions—the culture of the various groups that influence your life, whether or not you are aware of or agree with them.  While the people in your family, neighborhood, school and team(s) may be the most relevant to your athletic activities, these groups may include your town or city, religion, state, ethnicity and nation—even gangs, if they are active where you live.  

4. The physical environment—both the natural and human-made worlds, indoors and outdoors. While our primary concern here is your access to athletic facilities and equipment, this includes everything from playing fields and fitness centers to internet access and public transportation; from the structure of the league in which you compete to things we often take for granted like electricity and indoor plumbing.

You may have already noticed that these four areas are both distinct from and interrelated with each other.  Your individual worldview, cultural influences and local environment influence each other and your behavior.  For example, if your family (culture) is very athletic and competitive, your parents encourage you to play sports from an early age, and the town or city (environment) in which you live has a popular youth sports program and lots of fields and gyms, there’s a good chance that your worldview will value athletic competition, and you will play competitive sports (behavior). If you enjoy competition, your playing will reinforce your worldview, and you will help to continue and influence the culture that influenced your own formation.

Most of the rest of this chapter deals directly with the body—the physical aspects of athletic training—how you behave in your relationship with sport. Remember though, that the four areas of concern affect each other, and that worldview, culture and environment play a role in every behavior described below.

            Sport requires fitness, and while sport-specific needs vary, a fit athlete in any sport will have an advantage over one who is unfit.  The question, of course, arises, “Okay, but what does it mean, exactly, to be ‘fit’?”  We look at weight lifters and marathoners, golfers and soccer players, baseball players and triathletes, football players and swimmers, skateboarders and wrestlers, and we see a variety of types and levels of fitness.  Comparisons and contrasts are endless, and, for the most part, pointless.

A sport-appropriate balance of aerobic, anaerobic, flexibility, skill and concentration conditioning is the goal.  Different sports call on different tools at various times in a contest.  When two highly skilled golfers, who have mastered everything from tee to green, face the final round in a seventy-two-hole tournament, stamina will play a role in what happens, and both strength and endurance training will affect stamina.  When two aerobically gifted and trained marathoners enter the Olympic stadium shoulder to shoulder with some 600 meters to go, strength and/or speed training will play a role in what happens in each of those final strides, and if they’re still shoulder-to-shoulder 50 meters out, the runner who’s spent some time in focused meditation—who has mastered his or her mind—will have an advantage.

As a high school basketball prospect in the 1960s and 1970s, I knew nothing of the language of mastery, aerobics, anaerobics, or meditation.   I did have a reasonably honest perspective on my skills, especially my shooting ability, compared with my classmates.  In addition to practicing those skills, I believed I should be in better shape than anyone else—because I could control my conditioning.  Some players were going to beat me because they were more talented; I was determined that no one would ever beat me with less or equal talent and better conditioning.

            As we tire, especially if our conditioning is below par, performance deteriorates, and an untrained mind convinces us to take it easy.  We haven’t conditioned ourselves to compete with some discomfort, and we tell ourselves we’re “having a bad” quarter, inning, set, round, week, or season. And while it’s true that the best athletes in the world can experience what seem to be “inexplicable” slumps, the athlete with superior physical and mental conditioning, talented or not, has an edge late in a contest.  Select the sport of your choice and take a look at those athletes who are consistently respected as among the best: you will almost inevitably find talented, fit athletes who have conditioned themselves, both mentally and physically for their sport, and who are committed to mastery.

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Copyright © 1991, 2010, 2013, 2020 by Reggie Marra
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