After publishing the post in which I stated the reasons why I am against organized or formal sport training, I’ve come across some articles that made me wonder. One such article claims that athletes are doing better in the workplace than non-athletes. Now I am not so sure if organized sport training is really that bad, but I still stand by the arguments I expressed in the previous article on that topic, but with some reservations.
Namely, formal sport training COULD in theory be a great thing, and for some people, who are relatively successful athletes, it is a predominately positive experience. But, I think that formal sport training is also spoiled by some factors such as: too competitive mentality, exclusive focus on results, and sometimes neglecting health aspects, general well-being and balance.
Now, first I will tell you about my personal experiences with sport and physical activity in general, and then I will discuss potential options for integrating physical activity in life, both inside, and outside the realm of formal sport training. My personal preference still lies outside that realm, but formal sport training can also be OK in certain cases, so I will discuss some of these options as well. The most important idea is that physical activity can and should always be an integral part of life, at any age (if possible, of course) and it should be fun! But the ways in which it’s possible to integrate it in life are very numerous and diverse, and the quality of the experience also varies wildly.
A short recollection of my experiences with formal sport training and other physical activity
Formal sport training
As a kid I wasn’t really talented for sports. I was quite clumsy . I was also a bit chubby. So my family realized that I needed to start training some sport to develop a bit physically, to lose some weight and get some physical skills. We (the whole family together) have chosen tennis, because it’s not a team sport, and I was really bad in team sports like soccer or basketball. I started training at the age of 11-12 (not sure exactly). The training sessions were not fun at all: they consisted in practicing shots, like the forehand, the backhand and the service over and over again, followed by collecting all the balls on the court (usually 50-100), putting them in the basket, and then sweeping the court with something like this:
Not fun 😦
In two years during which I practiced tennis I didn’t play a single match! And not just that, I didn’t even play a single game, formal or informal, neither with the couch nor with other kids. I really tried to practice well, I put a lot of effort in it, and I would also often ask the coach about the time we actually start playing and not just practicing shots or running around the court. Well, that time didn’t come. After around 2 years of frustration, I quit. The only good thing about that period is that I learned how to properly do the basic tennis shots, so if I ever try to actually play tennis, I will have a little less steep learning curve in comparison to those who never touched the racquet.
After the tennis, I started training swimming. This was a little more enjoyable experience, because at least, I was in the water, and the water was warm, so it’s kind of nice and relaxing. However, the trainings themselves were very boring. I already knew how to swim when I started training, so at least I skipped the introductory course. However, this didn’t prevent me from repetitive sessions of practicing the four basic strokes: freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly. But that’s not all. We also practiced isolated movements, such as legwork, like this:
Not fun 😦
There are more unappealing aspects about training swimming: first, most of the time during the training session you are watching either the floor of the swimming pool, or the ceiling (if you’re doing the backstroke); second you’re mostly alone and isolated, even if there are many other trainees, but the communication during the drills is practically impossible, because your ears are in the water, the sound doesn’t propagate nicely, and you’re busy doing your drill.
Also, progressively the training sessions were getting longer (up to two full hours, or even a few minutes more), and more frequent… eventually it was every workday evening starting at 8PM. In this phase the volume of training was already much higher than what most of the doctors would recommend. Two hours of intense aerobic activity, 5 days a week is not healthy. Yet this wasn’t enough for me to get some serious results, and out of frustration and lack of time (because I needed to study more in high school); after 2-3 years, I quit that as well.
There were also, economically speaking, negative externalities of the training process, that is negative consequences to other members of the family, and even to the environment. Namely, since the swimming pool was quite far away from home, someone from my family would drive me there each night… so there is the cost of gasoline consumption, the air pollution, etc… AND… sometimes they would stay there during the entire time of my training and wait for me for 2 hours… poor things. Of course they were bored to death. If they didn’t wait, they would have to do four drives in one evening: home-swimming pool, pool-home, home-pool, pool-home, which is not fun either.
The only positive result of the whole training process was that I learned proper swimming techniques. I didn’t lose much fat (swimming is bad for it because water makes you extremely hungry and I would eat a lot after each training), and I didn’t gain much muscle… for that you need to do some weight-training, and not swimming.
As you all can see now clearly, my experience with formal sport training was mostly negative. The sport clubs in which I trained failed to make training sessions fun. They focused on what is good for them: giving you drills and teaching you technique, and then increasingly overloading you with training volume in hope that one day you might become a pro-athlete which would bring them great benefits.
In such an atmosphere only the most talented kids benefit… they shine through their skills and results, they enjoy the attention, and by a positive feedback loop, they also become most dedicated and most hard-working and some of them do eventually become pro-athletes, but their number is low, even among the most talented kids. Eventually most quit, with various levels of frustration.
Now I will discuss my experience with informal physical activity.
Informal physical activity
Even though I am not talented for sports, I’ve always been active and I love moving in all sorts of ways. As a small child, from ages 5 to 12, I enjoyed snowy winters. I would go to the nearby hill with my friends and we would go up and downhill with sleds countless times, and meanwhile we would talk, joke, and have lots of fun. This was pure enjoyment, and activity-wise, it’s quite demanding as well, since you have to climb the hill dragging the sled many times.
This is fun 🙂
Then there were also games that were played during the whole year, such as playing tag or hide and seek. They were also fun and also involved quite a lot of running. Of course there was also playing soccer in the meadows or on school playground. All these games were played for fun, and they were fun indeed… and physically quite demanding. I was not so much into soccer or basketball, but when I learned to skate with roller skates, and inline skates, no one was happier than me. I would spend whole day outside, skating and having fun with friends. Then I got inline skates and tried all sorts of tricks with them. I still feel the frustration of not getting the silicon wheels at that time… 🙂 Though my gum-wheels were also quite decent. Roller skating also allowed me to learn ice skating very quickly.
After that I got my first bicycle… I learned to ride bicycle quite late, at the age of 13… but I loved it ever since. I explored the entire region around my city on my bicycle. I visited many nearby hills and villages, most often I would go with my friend Boris. We would ride and talk about all sorts of things, sometimes technology, sometimes philosophy, sometimes approaching girls, but always something interesting. Meanwhile, the number on our kilometer-counter was increasing. I still often ride bicycle and I consider it one of the most rewarding activities. It also burns tons of calories. We often rode quite quickly, simply because riding slowly would be too boring. 🙂
I also loved exploring the hills on the foot, and I am currently considering joining some mountaineering recreational club, as it would be fantastic to climb mountains and get in touch with nature in such a way.
Then there is the table tennis. It is maybe the only proper sport that I love. Never trained it, but always enjoyed playing it recreationally. Over time I gained skills and also developed strong rivalries with my best friends. The table can be rented for an hour, the price is OK, and it’s a great way to spend some time enjoying yourself, while being physically active at the same time.
Then again, there is “the fitness” – this mostly includes gym, that is weight-training and cardio, most often running. This is a bit more like formal sport training, but it’s better. It does require discipline, perseverance, planning and dedication in order to get some results, but there are some big differences, compared to sport training:
- you compete just against yourself, and you set your own personal goals
- you are focused on getting fitter and healthier, and not on becoming a pro or pleasing the coach
- you are your own coach, so you have to use your brain as well… you read online about training routines, you pay attention to nutrition as well, you are measuring your results… instead of just obeying the authority figure such as coach
- you listen to your own body and you know better when it’s enough
That being said, I can’t brag about being an ultra dedicated fitness buff, especially in the past it wasn’t the case, but it’s already been a year since I started exercising consistently, and I’ve had just a few breaks, mostly due to health (flu and such things) or having too many exams.
What all of this means for you?
No matter what’s your age, if your health permits it, you should include physical activity in your life. My preference is for informal, or semi-formal types of physical activity, which should preferably be fun and meaningful to you. Fun and enjoyment are extremely important elements of physical activity, for two reasons… one… for its own sake… and two, because it makes you much less likely to quit. Why would you ever quit something that you enjoy doing?
By semi-formal activities I mean those activities that have some structure, schedule, etc, but that are completely recreational and amateur, without any professional aspirations. Such activities are done for fun, because of love, or for health reasons. Some examples: making a deal with your friends to rent an indoor arena 2-3 times a week to play soccer and following that schedule. So it’s organized and scheduled, but you still do it with your friends and you do it just for fun. This is a perfect way to get consistent physical activity all the while having fun and socializing.
Recreational mountaineering and most gym and fitness arrangements also fit into this semi-formal category. This category is good because you do it for fun, and for your own reasons, yet there is still some discipline and consistency involved.
Purely informal activities like just riding bicycle in nature when the weather is food, or hiking, or skiing in the winter, or dancing are also great ways to get active. Everything is better than just sitting at home or in the office all the time. I also love simple walking. Walking is a great way to clear your mind, and while not being so demanding, is still quite a decent exercise. Aristotle preferred lecturing his disciples while walking as he believed that his mind functions better when he’s moving.
Generally whatever activity you chose, try to make a habit of it, remind yourself not to skip it. If you keep quitting every activity, it doesn’t mean that you’re lazy or undisciplined, it just means that you still haven’t found something that you enjoy, because when you truly enjoy something you don’t want to quit it. So keep exploring activities until you find something that you love.
Regarding kids, I think parents would have much better influence if they played together with kids and got physically active themselves in the process, rather than just driving kids to sport clubs, pools etc… and in the process they would also have much more fun themselves, as waiting for a long training session to end is NOT FUN.
Formal sport training is not something that I recommend, but it’s still an option for your kids. I would recommend it ONLY in case that your kid truly loves certain sport, and truly shows lots of talent for it. In such a case he/she might shine on training sessions and also gain some discipline, social skills, etc. that will be useful later in life as well. In case you do opt for formal sport, here is what I recommend:
Recommended sports: Team sports! (soccer, basketball, handball, etc.) They are fun, dynamic, they help develop many skills at the same time, and they are also good for socialization. However, not all kids like them… so don’t ever force your kid.
Still relatively OK: Individual sports that include opponents and skills: These include tennis, table tennis, martial arts, etc… Such sports can also be fun and are quite stimulating and develop many skills… in theory. They can also be very boring like it was the case with my tennis training. Try to find a club in which kids play as well, and not just practice moves all the time.
Avoid: Individual sports that don’t involve opponents or much skill, but instead focus on endurance, speed, strength… such as track and field and swimming. Such sports should best be avoided because they are generally NOT FUN, they are extremely repetitive, in most cases no skills are developed, and they are often so physically demanding, to the point of it becoming unhealthy. By definition they push the body to the limits, and this is not a healthy thing to do. If, in some crazy case you, or your kid chooses to pursue them (like I did when I trained swimming), I would recommend sprinting disciplines or technical disciplines, such as long jump, because they are more fun and more healthy. Long distance endurance events are really taxing to the heart and may not be healthy at all. Also running a marathon just for the sake of it might be a great personal challenge for some people, but health-wise, it’s a stupid thing to do.
I still recommend informal or semi-formal activities more then any kind of formal sport training.
So speaking of them, as kids grow older, they will prefer to play with friends instead of parents, but it would still be wise for parents to stay physically active themselves, not only because it’s a great example for kids (and good example is the best way to influence someone), but also for their own benefit. So, organizing time for soccer or table tennis, or hiking, dancing with friends and dedicating to it some time consistently, is a very good habit and the most important thing is to choose something you truly love.
If kids see that you are having great time enjoying physical activities it will bit be hard to influence them to copy you and be physically active themselves, in ways they love and they find fun.