My ECA was Track and Field. Specifically I was in the shot put event. I spent about 6 years of my youth practicing this thing. Every Mon, Wed, Fri after school, and Saturday morning were the training.
I resented belonging to this ECA, because the physical training was scarily taxing on me, the drills were boring and I could never figure out what went wrong with my throws. It consumed much of my time while my friends from basketball got to play matches and have fun.
There were a few lessons from my shot put days though:
1) True power comes from every part of one’s body.
In my first year, I kept trying to throw the metal ball with my arms and hands. Later on I learnt from my seniors and coaches that my WHOLE BODY must work in coordination to launch the shot put. Lower body strength is especially important.
How does it apply to studies?
Is excellence in studies only about IQ?
An intelligent student who fall sick often will not have mental clarity to reach his full potential. He may even fall sick or go into anxiety attack during exams.
A intelligent student without emotional maturity and self-control will get into mood swings all the time and cannot concentrate on his studies.
An intelligent student without a proper moral sense will not be grateful to the parents no matter how much he has been given, and will likely grow up feeling entitled.
An intelligent student who does not understand his higher purpose in learning, will not have the motivation to persevere through the entire schooling journey and will likely burn out before long.
All the examples I quoted here are trying to show that learning is never about the IQ only. There are many aspects that need to be developed to nurture a child to reach his full potential – just like how our whole body need to work together to launch a shot.
2) Athletics is a mind game.
The mind is very important in sports. It is at least as important as bodily exercise.
Without a strong will I wouldn’t go back week after week to the punishing training. There were many times when I wanted to quit but I didn’t.
During competitions, the ability to be unperturbed is also a critical deciding factor between winning and losing. I still remember that during our sports camp, my school hired a sports psychologist to train all of us in meditation techniques. Nowadays sports psychology is quite well known, but back in 1993-1994 it was pretty much a novelty.
I still remember my amusement when the psychologist tried to teach me how to breath and how to relax my muscles. I thought I was pretty gifted in sleeping and relaxing already!
How does it apply to studies?
Many parents thinks that to be good with studies, you just have to pay attention in class, revise your work, then practise, practise and practise. I think if your child do that, he has gotten perhaps 70% right. The other 30% is in his mindset.
Let’s imagine this: a child, deeply convinced that he is poor in maths, tries to listen to what teacher teaches in class, revises his homework everyday and practise consistently. While he is doing all these, he has a strong doubt that he will ever do well.
How much heart will he put into his work?
On the other hand, the same child, deeply convinced about the that his abilities and his brain can get better as he practises, does exactly the same thing. Will his effort produce far greater results?
3) True power comes from hours and hours of practices, invested over time.
I remembered asking seniors and coaches how to “try harder” to give winning throws. Their answers surprised me, because they told me that the harder I try to do better during competitions, the more I will be unnatural and do worse than my usual standard.
The only way, they said, is to train hard during normal days, when competition isn’t on. Our bodies doesn’t respond to our conscious mind’s command to “throw better”. They only remember what has been practiced over and over again. Or what we call “muscle memory”.
In other words, excellence is not a one time act but a habit.
How does this apply to studies?
We live in a culture of instant gratification. Everything is about quick fixes. There are gurus in almost every imaginable field who teach hacks and crash course that promise to compress years and years of hard work and practices into three-days-bootcamps or intensive revision classes.
While I love the idea of being able to learn something really fast, I doubt that these “immersive experiences” can replace good old hardwork.
Take maths for example. Some parents came to me and asked me to teach more “tricks and shortcuts”, believing that learning these will make help their children to score better.
Without good fundamentals, tips and tricks are pretty useless. With good fundamentals, tips and tricks are a booster, and may differentiate between a B or an A.
So I am going to deliver the bad news: there is no “get-rich-quick” equivalent in learning maths.
The day-to-day practices of maths sums serves a very important purpose, which is to delegate more and more calculation tasks to our subconscious mind. That frees up our conscious mind to think about other things. That is why the more practices one have, the more one can perform during exams. Read more about conscious and subconscious mind here.
4) There are loud and angry powers, and there are serene and quiet powers.
When I looked at my seniors and some strong shot putters from other schools, I saw mostly psyched up, ferocious athletes. Like the New Zealand All Blacks. In fact, I thought to look scary was part of the winning formula!
Unfortunately I was not such “warrior type”. My friends saw me as a gentle bear. When I threw my personal best in 1994, I was a nobody. I was not the hot favourite. I just wanted to do my job well, fulfill my duty as a team member and go home.
But amidst this serenity and quietness, I threw the best shot of my life. No ra-ra. No earth shattering bellows. No chest-thumping. The whole thing was so uneventful that I still wonder what contributed to my extraordinary performance.
How does that apply to studies?
The great mathematician Von Neumann and the great physicist Einstein worked together in the Manhattan Project, to develop the Atomic Bomb to help the Allies win the Second World War.
Von Neumann and Einstein were both extremely brilliant people, yet they are the polar opposite when it comes to solve problems. Legend had it that Von Neumann had the fastest mind of all. He would always be the first person to come out with the answers to some complex calculations. And he was never wrong.
Einstein, on the other hand, had the reputation of being slow. Yet his brilliance was in being able to think very, very deeply about problems. He famously said, “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer”. Today we all know that Einstein came up with the theory of special relativity.
Should we panic because our classmate always finishes faster than us? Or score higher than us? Or writes better essays than us?
Everyone is brilliant in different ways, even great minds like Von Neumann and Einstein.
5) Some throwers shine when compete against others. Some throwers do best by just focusing on perfecting their own throws.
Some of my respected seniors loved challenges. They would know all the names of their main rivals, and be always in the know of how they were performing. Then they would rise to the occasion, to give their rivals a good run for their money or to triumph over them. To me, they are real legends.
For me, I didn’t even bother to talk to the guys I met at the competitions. I did my personal best when I didn’t even aim to win but just to do my best.
How does that apply to studies?
Some of us are motivated by competition, some are not. Only we know best.
If we are not excited by competition, it is not a character flaw. I personally dislike the idea of working hard just to beat the other person, and slacking when I am ahead. I believe the whole point is to be better every day, with or without a competitor.
Some schools and some teachers like to put students against one another, for the sake of “healthy competition”. This excites some students who love the adrenaline rush in trying to outdo one another.
If you happen to be in this group, by all means ride on whatever competitions your school and your class offers. Even if there is none, you can create your own, like “I am going to beat so-and-so in the next common test.”
If you don’t find competing with others appealing, just focus on outdoing yourself. Focus on constant improvement. You will also go far.
6) Not all advices are for me.
I used to pay attention when my coach told my team mates about their mistakes, and then I tried to apply it to myself. My teenage logic was that good advice applies to everyone, so why not listen to ALL advice and improve faster?
End up I was dead wrong. My footwork might have been good already, but when I listened to advices which were meant for other people, I changed what had worked for me and messed up my own balance.
How does that apply to studies?
With the popularity of video sharing sites like YouTube and Vimeo, it is very easy for any learner to find video lessons of almost any topics online. These video lessons can be anything from how to clean your kitchen sink, to how to solve advanced calculus.
Video lessons are great if you are looking for straight forward solutions of “how to…”, for example, “how to submit my income tax”, “how to do a Zergling rush in Starcraft 2”.
The thing is, video lessons are not that great when it comes to complex things, like how to study better.
Each of us are different. We are born different, we grow up differently, we like different things, we see the world differently. We have different learning styles. It is hard for video lessons to cater to varied styles of learners.
When it comes to learning, it makes sense to get customised advices from experienced teachers, tutors and coaches. Following free advices on the internet might backfire, like how it backfired on me when I tried to follow advices which were meant for other people.
PS After years of hardwork, I won the B boys Shotput gold medal in the 1994 National Track and Field Meet. That was the highlight of my relationship with this sport.