Applying Power (in Life and in Sports)

More than half my life has been spent in Sports World.  And I can tell you, without reservation, that sports are indeed a metaphor for life.  Consider the concept of power.
Right now, I coach a power sport–dragon boating.  (Do an internet search on it if you aren’t familiar with it. . . . it’s pretty cool.)  Here’s a picture in case you want the general idea:
dragon boat

Dragon Boating

For our sport, we need to be sprinters, not marathoners.  We need to be strong and we need to have good technique; in that way, we can apply our power and move the boat.
All winter we train, lifting weights and practicing technique in an indoor paddle pool.  We coaches talk about the fundamentals of the stroke, starting at the bottom (this is called leg drive).  We are trying to show the proper way to translate the strength earned from weight training into power through the water.  Basically, the legs/lower body are way stronger than the arms, and so they supply the power to move the boat.  Even though it might seem counterintuitive, trying to paddle by pulling with the arms is nothing more than spinning your wheels.
Here’s a concrete example.  Members of my team are asked to do a fitness test on an erg (rowing machine).  We coaches need to measure each paddler’s strength, and therefore, their contribution to the boat.  Now, whether a paddler is racing or fitness testing, they are trying to generate a buttload of energy, or watts.  To do that, you need power (power = force x velocity).  Power makes watts.  (What are watts, exactly?  Long story short, it’s how we coaches can see if someone is literally pulling her weight.  For example, if you weigh 100 lbs and you get 100 watts, you have pulled your weight…… if you weigh 100 lbs but you get 75 watts, you are NOT pulling your weight……. and if you weigh 100 lbs and you get 175 watts, I want you on my team.)
Still with me?  I know, I don’t like math either.  But hang in there…… almost done.
OK, so think about times you’ve been on a bicycle.  Let’s say you were trying to go down a hill very fast.  If you were in the “granny gears” (the smaller rings), you probably just ended up “spinning your wheels.”  Your legs would be flying at a ridiculous cadence but you wouldn’t be going very fast.  BUT if you put the hammer down and shifted into the bigger gears, you could fly.  Your quads would be pushing hard, and your strength would translate into power and watts.
Same on the erg.  If you put the resistance damper on a lower setting (say, on 2) and yanked on the handle and pulled a really high stroke rate (that is, over 35 pulls per minute), you might not get such a good score.  But you’d sure be winded!  Now, try that erg with a decent amount of resistance (maybe 4 or 5 on the damper) and biiiiiiiiig hard pulls at a nice steady rate (a stroke rate of 25-30), and you’d rock out.
In both examples above (the bike and the erg), you need great, strong leg drive.  Velocity AND resistance matter.  Don’t be fooled by fast stroke rate alone.  A high stroke rate will FEEL like a big intense effort.  But in reality, you won’t have much resistance to create a lot of power.  Remember that power is velocity TIMES force.  Let me ‘splain.  No, there’s no time.  Let me sum up.  BIG GIANT LEG DRIVE MOVES THE BOAT BEST.  Make sense?  (I’m sorry if it doesn’t….. I’m trying to type this while watching the Olympics, and I keep getting distracted by Apolo Ohno……)
So how is all of this a metaphor for life?  Well, just like on the boat, using your “leg drive” (i.e. your stronger muscles, whether those be literal or metaphorical) and a proper technique will translate into more success.  Why put things into an easy gear and spin your wheels?  Why not rely on your strengths and make bigger strides?
Go forth and be powerful, everyone. . . .

Learning to Punt

I’ve recently had cause to reflect on my participation in sports. Turns out I’ve been competing in sports for over thirty years and coaching for twenty. I come from a sports-oriented family, so I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise. Once I even heard my gratdfather mentioned on a local sports radio show. The topic was “greatest clutch players.” An old-timer called in and nominated my gradfather, who had been a local champion handball player. The caller said that if money was on the line, no one could match my Pop Pop. 🙂

Anyway, in all that time, I think the number one lesson I’ve learned is that an athlete must be adaptable. And that adaptability can be a great asset in one’s everyday life.

To me, a true athlete is a well-rounded person. For example, I never understood when people only trained for a narrow portion of their sport (i.e. a swimmer who didn’t also weight train or a runner who didn’t also stretch). It’s easy to see WHY people don’t also weight train or stretch or what-have-you. Those things are hard and take more time. And sometimes life gets in the way of your workout plans and you just can’t fit it in.

In general, though, I think stretching and strengthening and running and whatevering all have to go together. Teaching your body (and your mind, for that matter) different skills gives you a bigger toolbox for sports and for life. When we have to practice our balance and our coordination and our agility, we discover our strengths and our weaknesses. And we teach ourselves how to focus and have discipline.

It’s a bit of cliche to say that sports are a metaphor for life, but that doesn’t make it any less true. In all those thirty years, I’ve run, paddled, lifted, yoga-ed, jumped, and swum. I’ve raced distances from 50 meters to 50 kilometers. I’ve competed in long jump and hurdles, and I’ve done marathons. I’ve taught aerobics, coached weekend warriors, and competed internationally. These things don’t make me any better than anyone else; I think they just mean I’m pretty experienced in adapting to different demands of life.

And so, when my four-year-old wakes up at 4:15 a.m. and tells me that he prefers to be called Hugo now, I can sigh a little, but realize that I’m perfectly capable of punting. My plans for the day will have to wait.