Sports are an integral part of education. They are often seen as just an afterthought though. All work and no play makes Jack climb the beanstalk. Conventional wisdom may state that paying attention to sports results in students mixing up their studies and metaphors and make Jack a dull boy who would have been better off climbing the corporate ladder than the beanstalk.
Chinese tennis player Li Na’s coach recently made a statement that her deteriorating performance could be attributed to her lack of formal education. Quite a startling thing to say, if you’d ask me. What is the correlation between sports and education? How important or interdependent is one of the other? Does such an interdependence even exist?
Sports Minister, Ajay Maken, recently announced in his draft on national physical fitness program for school children that physical education will be made a compulsory subject in schools and that students would be graded as per their levels of fitness. One could argue that in order to become a professional sportsperson, there is no need to learn the lessons of history, mathematics, chemistry, the sciences or any other matter closely related to text books at all. What do these things have to do with winning an Olympic gold medal? However, for an Indian, making a profession out of sports (unless you’re a cricketer that is) is highly unrealistic. Everyone wants to have a back up plan. And that back up plan is history, mathematics, the sciences and all the other matter we find in those very text books.
One could also argue then that giving special focus to sports in schools would take away the child’s attention from his or her studies. The child will be distracted and tired and that would have a negative impact on his or her concentration levels and result in falling grades. This, however, is far from the truth, and brings us back to the start of the article. Remember Jack? What we tend to forget is that sports provide children with a skill set that is going to serve them for life. A well developed sports program focuses on the overall upliftment of the child, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.
Here’s the thing though. Even superstar athletes can gain from the classroom just as much as everyday kids gain out of it. Education is not just a backup plan. It’s what makes a sportsperson capable of making the most of his or her talent on and off the field.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in seeing with new eyes”
While the prevailing argument in favour of education over sports is that only a few make it to the very top in sports, it is precisely for those few that it’s important to be well educated. Acknowledging the above mentioned virtues of sports, if a sportsperson devotes all of his/her time, to the exclusion of all else, to the pursuit of perfection on field, that is not an ideal scenario for the athlete.
The case of Li Na seems outrageous, since she is a proven winner. But there are countless burnouts who skate by their talent in sports and don’t find the need to acquire the life skills and knowledge which will enable them to maximize their gifts. What a rigorous school program does is it hammers your head into shape for dealing with real life. Even though algebra may not have any practical use which a quarterback can imagine, neither do pushups or situps in game situations. Those are simply tools to train the athlete to be better prepared for excelling in the sport. In the same way, every time we think “Oh how will (a+b)2= a2 +2ab +b2 ever help me in life?”, we need to understand that such formulae are just tools to improve your mind. If you don’t end up becoming a engineer or in any profession where that can be useful, it will still serve its purpose in having sharpened the gray matter, which is what drives the body.
Education prepares athletes to live their lives off the field, and can have a very pivotal role on the field too.
Take the case of Allen Iverson. His name is synonymous with crossovers. The best handles the game has ever seen, hands down. It’s a little known fact, though, that he didn’t learn the crossover until he was in college, when a teammate taught it to him. He didn’t get into college without his talent on the court; even then he was a show to be reckoned with. But that couldn’t have lasted in the NBA on its own. He could get by on his physical talent against school opponents, but without the crossover it’s hard to imagine Allen having much success in the league.
Allen was wrongfully jailed as a teenager and had to take backup classes when he graduated. His high school coach Dennis Kozlowski turned him on to the book “Psychocybernetics” by Maxwell Maltz. Later the coach recalled that ”Allen took psychocybernetics to a new level”. Iverson would be speaking to him, looking up at him, while kneeling and tying his shoe. “See that,” Kozlowski said. “See how you didn’t have to look at yourself tying your shoe? See how you didn’t even have to think about it? I want you to play like you just tied your shoelaces – automatically. The way you do that is by having an image in your mind of what you do before you do it.”
Iverson doesn’t like to talk about how he does what he does on the basketball court. “I just do it,” he says. Partially, like any artist, he is wary of overanalyzing his gift. Terry Royster, Allen Iverson’s then bodyguard talks about it: “Let me tell you about Allen’s workouts. All the time I have been with him, I never seen him lift a weight or stand there and shoot jumper after jumper. Instead, we’ll be on our way to the game and he’ll be quiet as hell. Finally, he’ll say, ‘You know now I usually cross my man over and take it into the lane and pull up? Well, tonight I’m gonna cross him over and then take a step back and fade away. I’m gonna kill ‘em with it all night long.’ And damned if he didn’t do just that. See, that’s his workout: when he’s just sitting there, thinking. That’s him working on his game.”
One book about visualization and mental gymnastics turned a 6 foot bee into one with a killer sting. It let him adapt his game for the big leagues. No matter how good you are on the field, there’s always room for you to improve on and off of it through education.