Communicating Concepts

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Long Term Athletic Success

What Defines Success?
People define success based on a wide variety of expectations. For example, a family that places an emphasis on acquiring an education, in preparation for a career, would place athletic achievements as a lower priority than qualifying to take advanced placement courses. This assumes that the family can afford the tuition and/or the child's grades qualifies them for scholarships and/or financial loans.

     The student athletes who needs financial assistance to attend college may view their athletic prowess as a means be being recruited to attend a college through a sports scholarship. Not all sports receive the same number and as high an amount as football, especially in a top tier Division 1 NCAA program.

     It is important to note that the desire to compete is just as strong in Division 2 and 3 NCAA programs and in those sports not governed by the NCAA. The individuals representing a school or the USA world and Olympic eligible sports play because they deeply love the sport. They play for pride, not for the prospects of lucrative professional contracts.

     Even the NCAA indicates that in over 4,000 student athletes, a very few will continue to participate in a sport professionally after college. Of those who desire to become a professional athlete in a major sport, such as football, basketball, and baseball, some may leave early to pursue their professional sport, fail to graduate because of low grades and/or transgressions on and off the athlete field. Far too many student athletes graduate with only minimal grades and credits; however, there are also exceptional athletes who play a prominent role in their sport and are on the Dean's list.  

     Note: School sports programs, under Title IX, must fund male and female sports equally. This has resulted in some minor sports for male athletes being under funded or discontinued. Athletes in sports that are not under the umbrella of the NCAA have national organizations that conduct competitions for selections to pick the members for world and Olympic eligible teams representing the USA. Each sport is governed by an international sport organization that establishes rules concerning who is an eligible athlete and what disqualifies them from competing.

     The prospects for success in minor sports varies depending on the sport and if the sport is a recognized by summer and winter Olympic events. Drug testing is universally required of all athletes who place in such events. Such testing occurs immediately after the completion of an event.

Predicting Success
     It is difficult to predict success of an individual or team in a single sport's season. It increasingly becomes more difficult as we attempt to extend the span for more than a year out.

     Accidents are a part of participating in unorganized and organized sports activities, including practices and actual competitions. Sometimes associated injuries occur that range from minor aches, pains, and body bruising requires backing off from practicing for a few days to recover with others potentially can cause season and career ending injuries.

     "Grit" is the quality found to be the most reliable in predicting future success!  Grit is described as the  ability to not let short-term barriers interfere with long-term goals. As you may be thinking, early talent identification undermines the very quality that produces top performers.

Backbone, chutzpah, fortitude, guts, fortitude, tenacity, determination,
perseverance are words that describe what separates brilliant slackers
from the simply talented who excel through a
passionate yet steady approach. 
                            Source Angela Duckworth on Grit.

     Duckworth’s research credits how we handle setbacks and failure as a predictor of how successful a person may become. Some individuals will in extreme cases become so discouraged that they quit while others view the problems as merely blips to overcome in the way to reaching their goal!

     Success requires inspiration and execution, combined with trial, error, and failures on the way to achieving success. Such an individual possesses an overall ability to combine creativity with a way to bring to market products that create and fill a market demand.

     It is hard to measure a person's potential for becoming a innovator such as the inventor of the Apple computer. However, its just as important for a blue sky thinker like Steve Jobs, to have the abilities of a creative problem solving innovator and who can face adversity as they continue to develop countless ways to reinvent the Apple business model.

     Apple Computers was cofounder by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Together they made a natural team inventing the first ready to purchase and use personal computer and off the shelf software.

Note: Steve Wozniak was the main designer on the Apple I and Apple II computers together with the business vision of Steve Jobs.  Ultimately their success depending on surrounding themselves with others who were inspired by and shared their vision for the personal computer for the non computer programer.

     As a positive non-cognitive trait, grit involves perseverance to accomplish a long term goal no matter what obstacles or challenges might interfere with or impede an individual's path to success. Grit has proven to be a better predictor for success than IQ or conscientiousness. - source PsychCentral

     Take the Grit Survey developed by Angela L. Duckworth, of the Seligman Research Alliance and accessible on the Authentic Happiness web site. (There is no charge to register and take the Test)

The Impact of Grit in Sports

Development Models
     Many athletic development models favors early specialization without consideration of psychological and physical readiness to develop the general coordination combined with the physical, emotional, and mental qualities for long term participation and competition. Exclusive commitment is demanded by most team coaches, rather than encouraging a love and passion for the sport in young athletes! 

Note: Some sport programs are part of the public school and college budgets. However, increasingly there are efforts, to charge fees for the athletes to participate, to balance
revenues and expenses.  Most schools have established "Booster" organization/foundations
to raise funds for school activities that are experiencing reduced financial support or are
in risk of being canceled.

Private sports programs are entirely funded by parents which can be a considerable
expense that strains a family's financial resources. In extreme cases the financial
pressure is transferred to the child which adds to their stress of practicing and competing.

Early Specialization of Young Athletes
     Smart practicing has largely been replaced by extending the length and number of work outs with the goal of strengthening and conditioning the athletes. These longer and more frequent workouts can result in burnout and “overuse” injuries that are increasingly being observed in young athletes. Such activities can have serious long term, accumulated effects displayed in brain and joint damage that cause permanent disabilities.

     The emphasis on early talent identification results in parents and coaches pressuring for athletes into early specialization. The stated goal of parents want their child to specialize in whatever sport they're best at is laudable. Unfortunately, parents may attempt to live through the potential athletic success of their child, even while using bribes or coercive tactics to ensure compliance by their child. It is very important to understand that early athletic success has little or no correlation to later athletic success.

     Young athletes should experience as much or as little involvement in physical team sports. Some will prefer sports in which they can participate in individual events. Competitions may be against other athletes, but there is no direct confrontation. Modern dance, tap, break dancing, ballet, and ballroom dance require a tremendous amount of physical skills and coordination and deserve as much respect for fitness development and competitiveness as any Olympic "sport".

     There are examples of some athletes demonstrating an early desire to participate in a sport and continuing to sustain this desire even into college; however, this not the norm, but is the exception. In the cases where early identification seems to work, the reason behind the success is because these athletes are enrolled in programs with the ideal environment of quality practices and better coaching, not because of some inherent talent of the individual.

      An excellent example of an individual's display of grit is in the arena of disabled sports and ParaOlympic Games.

      Athletes include a wide range of sports – archery, athletics, boccia, cycling, equestrian, 5-a-side and 7-a-side football , goalball, judo, power lifting, rowing, sailing, shooting, swimming, table tennis, volleyball (sitting), wheelchair basketball, wheelchair fencing, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair tennis.

      Six different disability groups are defined by the degree of function determined by the disability:

  • Amputation,
  • Cerebral Palsy,
  • Visual Impairment,
  • Spinal Cord Injuries,
  • Intellectual disability,
  • Others which do not fit into these above groups.

      Training programs, associated with conventional competitive sports, require some serious determination or grit to endure the entire planned schedule to strength the whole body, even as part of general fitness training program.  Remember - no pain, no gain!

      Some athletes have always sought to gain an advantage using an easier way, such as illegal drugs, blood doping, and genetic engineering to obtain an edge over their competitors.

Blood Doping in Sports | Enhancing Performance | Athletes ...  On the last day of the 2002 Winter Olympics, 3 cross-country skiers were booted out of the Games for blood doping.

Q&A on Blood Doping - World Anti-Doping Agency  Blood doping is the misuse of certain techniques and/or substances to increase one's red blood cell mass, which allows the body to transport more oxygen.

Blood doping - The Why Files The gory process of "blood doping" has been replaced by genetic engineering. Athletes simply inject EPO, which causes the body to make the cells

Suggested Reading:

  • PDF Grit: Perseverance and Passion   Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals. Angela L. Duckworth. University of Pennsylvania. Christopher Peterson. University of Michigan.


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The following internet links have been gleaned from personal communications
combined with information from public institutions and athletic organizations/
associations that have a web presence with information concerning team and
individual sports programs:
All materials are copy protected. 
The limited use of the materials for education purposes is allowed providing
credit is given for the source of the materials.

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