Defining Who is an Athlete

I’ve been thinking about the amount of exercise needed to be healthy, let alone be considered an athlete.  The CDC gives us this guideline:

Adults need AT LEAST:

walking 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walking) every week and
weight training muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).
OR
jogging 1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity(i.e., jogging or running) every week and
icon of a person lifting weights muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).
OR
icon of a person walking icon of a person jogging An equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity and
icon of a person lifting weights muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).

For Even Greater Health Benefits

Older adults should increase their activity to:
jogging 5 hours (300 minutes) each week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity and
weight training muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).
OR
jogging 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) each week of vigrous-intensity aerobic activity and
weight training muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).
OR
walking jogging An equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensityaerobic activity and
muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).

 

So the minimum amount of aerobic activity to be healthy is the equivalent of 30 minutes a day for 5 days a week and on  the off days you should be lifting weights.  To be a bit better, double the amount or intensity of the aerobic activity.

I can tell you as a coach that it is very difficult in modern day society to find 300 minutes a week of aerobic and 2 lifting sessions.  And that is with the folks that are focused on training.

So why is this even an issue?  If we all walked or biked to work, we could make this time no problem.  If we all played with our kids instead of watched them play while sitting in a lawn chair we could have all kinds of “vigorous aerobic activity.” (We would also really understand why they can’t seem to run faster when we yell at them to in the last 5 minutes of a soccer game) But instead of playing sports with our kids, we have to run kids to sports after work, we have to drive to meetings, we have to go out for lunch, etc.  So instead of moving being part of our lives, it has become a scheduled activity.  It seems so odd.  Soon we won’t even have to use our measly muscles to move a steering wheel or push on the brake.

Sure it is natural to be lazy.  Mankind has strived to remove the stresses on our bodies from day one.  Of course if you get sick and you HAVE to hunt, farm or gather food then you are in trouble.  I understand that conserving energy is important for the mountain lion and if it could get deer meat delivered, it would most likely do so while watching a YouTube video of a lion hunting. So I get the evolution of our movement.  However, it seems we have engineered ourselves a life of that looks a lot more like death than life.

So what does this have to do with defining who is an athlete?  There are a lot of social adaption reasons for humans to create groups and seek belonging in those groups.  It happens in most social animals.  However, none of them has a social cast that is nerdy, athletic, musical, etc.  that us highly evolved humans seem to have created.  And I think the idea of defining who is an athlete (as well as most other definitions) is a load of BS.  EVERYONE (with the exception of those severely medically/physically constrained) has the ability to move and move in a way that creates a healthy and living spirit.  Humankind has created enough sports and games (According to the World Sports Encyclopedia (2003) there are 8,000 indigenous sports and sporting games) that everyone has a chance to participate in something.

Alright, there are a lot of options.  Most folks can do something.  So why aren’t they?  Is it all laziness?  Sure, I guess some of it is.  Maybe a lot of the reasons are due to laziness.  However, I believe part of this issue comes from the concept of “I’m not an athlete.”  Well, I beg to differ.  But I get why some folks feel this way.  There are a lot of input out in the world that seeks to define a person as something, coupled with the clique system created in so many social settings.  There is only so much anyone person can do about the “system”, however there is a lot parents can do about how their kids approach their lives early on and how they grow thinking of themselves.

Kids love to move.  Any parent knows, they NEED to move.  A lot.  So I believe all children start out thinking of themselves as athletes.  Sure, they don’t define themselves with labels, because they don’t think about it.  Moving is fun.  Chasing a ball or hitting one or bouncing one or catching one…pretty much anything with a ball is FUN.  Riding a bike and carving turns feels like flying.  So why does this all end at some point?

I wonder how much of this change occurs in middle school?  Is it even happening early?  This is the first time I have begun to hear my kids say things like “I am an athlete, so I wear shorts to school” or “I don’t know that guy, he is a (insert clique definition here).”  When I was a kid this all existed, however it seems that is was happening much later in life.  Now the organized sport world is pushing down into ELEMENTARY SCHOOL.  Teams are sorting out the athletes from the non-athletes when our kids should be more worried about learning to tie their shoes. (Of course velcro has made this activity even obsolete) There is now an even newer issue that compounds this challenge – club sports.  Any team sport that has gone the route of club sports is beginning to even more directly define our sports culture.  More and more kids are playing soccer, which is entirely a club focused sport.  So what does this mean?  It means your 8, 9 or 10 year old might be trying out for a team or a even to get into the league.  Yeah, 8 years old.  It means that someone might be telling your kid that he isn’t an athlete at age 8.

Now I am not a sports socialist.  I don’t think we all should get a trophy.  In fact, I really can’t stand the philosophy of we all win, all the time.  I think it discourages hard work and takes the competition out of competition.  I LOVE competition.  However, I don’t think that creating an elite squad of 8 years olds makes any sense at all.  The human genome has enough data now that if we want a hockey team of elite kindergarteners, we could just pin a label on our kids at birth and get rid of all this actual playing of the games.  Of course, this would immediately take out the factors of hard work, dedication, focus, desire, passion, luck and environment.  I am sure that Walter Payton, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali all would have been given the gold medal at birth. (I know these are old sports references, but if you are too young to know these folks then look them up and be better for it.)  Actually, I’m not too sure they would have tested the best of all in the land.  I’m not too sure that their weren’t more gifted athletes out there and that the athletes we know just didn’t out work the predestined, out desire them or out focus them.  I’m not too sure that other folks didn’t have the luck to be born in a country where a career in sports or not get injured or not get sick.  So what do we know about the potential of a kindergartner.  Very little.  And what we do know should not be what determines whether they are an athlete or not.

The point of youth sports is NOT to win amongst an elite group of your peers in tee ball.  I don’t think it is even really about the technical aspects.  Sure technicalities of a sport are critical to playing it well and to the idea of improving as an athlete, however is it really all about passing a soccer ball with the inside of your foot?  Of course not.  Youth sports are so much more than learning a jump shot.  It is about the fun of moving your body and feeling it all come together when you settle into that perfect swim stroke.  It is about the camaraderie created by the idea of working together toward a common goal and feeling the satisfaction of achieving as a team that no individual sport can replicate. (I love individual sports too, but team sports have a bit more to offer a younger kiddo in my opinion)  It is about embracing competition in face of all the fears that come with competition- losing, getting hurt, embarrassing yourself and not being “good enough”.

It is a ultimately about seeking out the challenge that is sport.  The challenge to try something new.  The challenge to risk it all.  The challenge to move the concept of pain a bit further away for the fleeting moment of glory.   The challenge of moving past defeat.  The challenge of humility while enjoying victory.  The challenge to become better than the day before.

These are the challenges that are critical in becoming a complete person in today’s world.  Not just a nerd or a jock or a rocker or whatever the terms are today.  And these are challenges that can’t be replicated in a video game or on a test in school.  Hanging by your fingernails on El Capitan is different than solving a nonlinear equation in math class.  Both are important.  BOTH.

So let’s not start telling our kids that it isn’t important.  Don’t let some league or coach define your child.  We must dismiss the idea that sports aren’t for them, that it is only the kids who run with 5% more efficiency or can jump a bit higher that can be a part of sport.  While we are at it, let’s not tell ourselves that either.  Get out there. Find something that moves you.  Moves your entire family.  And maybe we we won’t have to Strava our efforts or add up our numbers to get our 300 minutes a week.  Rather, we will be healthier and happier because our lives will look a lot like living and less like dying.  Let’s all be athletes.

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