One month before his death, obscure amateur violinist and one-time patent clerk Albert Einstein told his friend Elisabeth (who, at times and less intimately, was known as Her Highness, the Queen of Belgium), “The exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler.”
Over the past 30 years, Bruce Brown and Rob Miller of Proactive Coaching LLC have been conducting a survey of college athletes in order to better understand the experience of kids involved in sports. One of the questions Brown and Miller ask is, “What is your worst memory from playing youth and high school sports?” You might expect the answer to have something to do with a particularly painful loss or maybe grueling practices. But the main response is actually, “The ride home from games with my parents.”
When it comes to that magical place where science intersects deliciousness, there may not be a series of studies that have gotten more media attention than the “marshmallow studies”. As the results are often presented, preschool children who demonstrate the ability to put off eating one marshmallow now in order to receive two later, go on to do better in school, score higher on the SATs, have better health, and do better according to all sorts of other criteria we associate with success. These studies, the first of which dates back to the 1960s, have become very popular as evidence that self-discipline is the best predictor–and most important factor–of future success. And a failure to achieve means a lack of self-discipline.
At the 2013 Junior World Fencing Championships in Porec, Croatia, perennial favorite Russia found itself with an unusually low seed at the start of the Team Women’s Sabre event, due to surprisingly poor performances in the individual competition several days earlier by two of its members. This meant that Russia would have to first fence the extremely young and fairly unaccomplished Mexican team before they could challenge the higher seeded nations. It was assumed that the Russia-Mexico match would be so uninteresting–that Russia would so easily and quickly blow Mexico out–that it was almost entirely ignored by everyone in the venue. The broadcast cameras wouldn’t ever be turned toward it, preferring to instead capture the anticipated excitement of Ukraine vs China or Italy vs Poland. What the cameras missed, however, was amazing.
Preparing to be a champion isn’t limited to the effort you put in at the fencing club or in a gym. While mental preparation is often touted for its value, it’s important to recognize that creating and improving a champion mindset isn’t something limited to just the time set aside for visualization, meditation, and other exercises*. Champions are not only “champion-like” when they are at a competition. That mentality extends into their entire lives.
There are many ways to create exercises that are fun, dynamic, and engaging. The video below demonstrates how basic general fitness activities (in this case, jumping and catching) can be combined with fencing movements (here, lunging) to improve power, balance, and coordination without relying on the dull “footwork drills” that are so common in fencing training.
What do the West Point cadets who make it through their initial six week summer training–an intense, physically and emotionally grueling program known as “Beast Barracks”–and the finalists of the Scripps National Spelling Bee have in common? According to University of Pennsylvania Psychologist (and apparent John Wayne enthusiast) Angela Duckworth, the answer is “grit”
Success, like many things, starts in the mind. Similarly, anticipating or expecting defeat gives a fencer a “head start” on losing. So it is certainly appropriate that athletes spend time developing their psychological skills along with their sports skills.
The children of Montevideo, Uruguay, and Sao Paulo, Brazil, had been trying to deal with the fundamental problem of heavily crowded cities–a lack of space–when, in the 1930s, they each created something that would change the world of sports forever.
In 1965, Harvard professor of social psychology Robert Rosenthal and San Francisco elementary school principal Lenore Jacobson conducted an experiment. They gave the children in Jacobson’s school (the majority of whom were from lower-class households) a standardized IQ test, but rather than reveal what the test actually was, they told teachers that the test was The Harvard Test of Inflected Acquisition–an impressively titled, though entirely fabricated, exam which they claimed was able to predict which children were going to excel intellectually and which were not.