Posts tagged "fencing"


At present, I write here infrequently. You can find my current, regular blogging over at The Deliberate Owl.

Improbability and confidence

Scene: One of those big college gyms, set up with fencing strips from wall to wall. People everywhere, fencers shouting and scoring machines buzzing, referees struggling to be heard above the din. I'm about to start my next 5-point bout. "You've got this!" my teammate says. An optimistic pat on my shoulder accompanies the words.

Stop right there.

I don't "got this." I won't have "got this" until the score is 5-something in my favor. Sure, it may be improbable that I would lose the bout, given my opponent. My teammate was merely expressing confidence in my abilities (and I appreciate that). But the way the encouraging statement was phrased expressed an assured certainty that I personally cannot associate with future events. The outcome of a bout--the outcome of anything, really--is in no way fixed until it's over.

Maybe that's just semantics and a personal irritant. Expectations can, and do, go a long way toward fixing an outcome.

No harm in faking it

During a lesson with a coach last year, I was having a lot of trouble executing a particular action. He stopped the lesson. He looked me in the eye, and said, "Repeat after me: 'Hells yeah I can do this action!'"

His intent: Increased confidence. If you expect to succeed, your chances of success improve dramatically.

I repeated the phrase, as directed. I then had to repeat it several more times before I achieved the desired level of confidence in my tone. The action I was practicing worked better after that, though. I was a little more convinced I could do it.

Of course, just being more confident won't win a bout. Expecting to win--not doubting that you can win--still needs to be paired with good performance. If you think you'll beat your opponents because your opponents just isn't good enough to beat you, well, you still have to do your part and be good enough to beat them. Over-confidence sets you up for disappointment. The reverse is true, too: If you're convinced you'll fail, guess what, you probably will.

Another sports analogy Presentations!

We're not all athletes here, so I have another example! Have you ever had to stand up in front of a roomful of people and talk coherently and engagingly? Presentations: the bane of our existence.

One class, three folks and I were going to give a half hour presentation. The morning of, our professor asked us if we were ready. I told him, of course! It'll be great. "What if you stuff up?" he asked us. "What if your voice squeaks?" No, I said, it'd be fine. If my voice squeaks, my voice squeaks. I didn't let the possibility of anything other than "this will go fine" enter my mind. "Can't faze you, can I," he said.

Truth was, I could be fazed. Like many people, if I stopped to think about it, I'd forget what I was saying, talk too fast, stumble over words--I have experience with that. But in this case, I was remembering all those little bits of good advice I'd been given. Hells yeah, I could do this. Or my dad's advice: "Act like you're supposed to be there, and no one will question you." Act like you know what you're doing and everyone will think you do--including yourself.


Confidence is good. Over-confidence is bad. Go figure.


It's a matter of balance

Vassar's varsity athletes may soon receive academic credit for participating in their sports during the school year. This proposal has been in the works for nearly two years, and at long last, folks are voting to approve it. Or to not approve it, but the former seems more likely.

As a member of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee and as a long-time varsity athlete, you might say I have particular stake in the proposal. After all, I could get half a unit a semester for up to four semesters--a typical class is worth one unit, and a typical physical education course of any level is worth half a unit, with a maximum of two physical education units counting toward graduation requirements. It seems justified: Students can receive credit for participating in other extracurricular, faculty-supervised activities, such as the orchestra, the choir, and the repertory dance theatre, so why not varsity athletics?

My friend over at Carolyn Blogs agrees: from the above standpoint, sure, it seems fair to give credit to students. If you get credit for introductory P.E. classes, you should get credit for varsity athletics. But our school newspaper presents other arguments in favor, which Carolyn thinks are highly unjustified:

On top of everything, we must remember that varsity athletics present a considerable time commitment. It is rare to find another activity on campus—academic or extracurricular—that includes a comparable daily rigor and frequent overnight obligation. Varsity athletes regularly travel throughout the northeastern to participate in meets, games and tournaments, often gone from campus for an entire weekend at a time.

And you know what? Although it's certainly frustrating to travel to Boston for an all-day competition on the same weekend as a good friend's birthday party, a fascinating-sounding lecture, a dance party, and seventeen other campus events no one in their right mind would ever want to miss, I agree with Carolyn. The reason I participate in my sport is because I enjoy it. If I cared more about other activities, I'd do those instead. Simply being a huge time commitment is not a valid reason for awarding credit. Carolyn's supporting example, that higher level courses with more difficult and plentiful homework are worth the same amount of credit as introductory 100-level courses, drives this point home. And she's backed up by our school's system of awarding units instead of credit hours:

This system—which in its most basic form allots one unit of credit per semester course, regardless of difficulty, hours in class and subject matter­­­­—makes Vassar relatively unique in its credit system.

According to Registrar Dan Giannini, “The rationale behind such a system is to try to send the message that all courses are equal in worth and that one shouldn’t try to distinguish between courses based on time spent in or out of class.”

The reason time commitment is highlighted is because, according to the authors of the article, the faculty "must consider what it can do to mitigate possible academic pressures on these students." Um. No, I don't think the faculty has any obligation whatsoever. Students choose to be varsity athletes of their own accord. If they can't manage to balance their athletics and their coursework, then perhaps they should reconsider participating in a varsity sport in the first place. Athletes shouldn't get special privileges simply because they're athletes.

Personally, I like the fact that even though I dedicate huge chunks of time to my sport (more time than I dedicate to any single course, at least while in-season), I can still keep up with my classmates who are taking comparable course loads, minus the sport. Sacrifices must be made, sure: Dance party on Friday night, or overnight travel to a competition?

The question is, what's more important to me?

You learn stuff, too

The article continues:

While athletes will continue to be held to the College’s rigorous academic standards, the athletics credit could discourage a varsity athlete from unnecessarily taking on five academic credits while in their athletic season.

With the proposed varsity credit, the athlete seeking to assume five courses in his or her athletic season will be checked with an overload form, thus encouraging the student to think twice about assuming such a large academic and extracurricular load.

I'd like to be known that students who have trouble balancing tough course loads and time-consuming extracurriculars have always had the option of taking a lighter load or dropping an extracurricular. Adding the option of a varsity unit to the list doesn't make much of a difference. Students who aren't varsity athletes could add an easy P.E. course instead. Students who can balance their work and their sport will continue to do so. And let it be known, varsity athletes don't have to take a half unit for their sport... thus negating the need for an overload form if taking five courses.

Carolyn says, in response to the above quote, that "participating in sports is optional, and should always take second place to academics." True, mostly. Academics are officially what college is about. Academics are what get graded. Students' GPAs will, in part, determine what they are able to do with their lives. But academics are only one particular kind of knowledge. Carolyn's statement assumes that a student can learn more important things from academics than from participation on a sports team. Personally, though, some of the most important things I've learned about persistence, goal-setting, success and excellence, effort, teamwork, leadership.... these I've learned from my sport and my coaches. It's a different kind of knowledge than what one typically gains in an academic course, yes. But it's no less important. And that, I think, is the best reason for awarding credit for varsity athletics.


Another article from the Miscellaney News noting some faculty concerns about the proposal.

Edit 2:

See my follow up regarding the passing of the proposal.


You deserve a big hug

One of my fencing coaches told me today, "You're one of the people on the fencing team who deserves a big hug at the end of the season for your hard work."

I appreciated this comment. I appreciated it far more than I expected. What I appreciated was not the implicit compliment (nice as that is), but that someone had noticed the time, effort, and thought I put into the team and into improving my own fencing.

Back to ambition

If you take a look at my recent rambling on ambition, you'll find I think it's up to you to achieve what you want to achieve. You're the only person you'll have to blame if you're not satisfied with how you've lived your life, be it a sport that you'd like to excel at, a dream job you want to have, a novel you plan to write. The only person who can get you the places you want to go is you.

I call this drive and determination to do the work needed to do the things I want to do ambition. A friend of mine, though, noted that "ambition" often has negative connotations. It's associated with evil overlords and corporate weasels. And "work," that's associated with external imposition. It's something to be avoided. This comment made me think: Why do I approach work (and ambition) differently?

Fencing coaches give good advice

The most prominent influencing factor that came to mind was my first fencing coach, George Platt. He was a cheerful, positive man, and he explained the difference between achieving success and achieving excellence to all his fencers. Success, he said, is how good you are in relation to the rest of the world.

Success is job promotions and high salaries and winning medals in competitions. Excellence is how good you are in relation to how good you individually can be. Achieving excellence is being the best you can be, regardless of how good anyone else is. And that should be your goal: being the best you can be. Doing what you enjoy and putting effort into the things that are important to you.

Most of us, we'll never be The Best at anything. The hard part is not letting failure to achieve success dissuade us from continuing to pursue excellence. It's easy to be discouraged. It's easy to fall into the trap of "I work, but no one else does and no one appreciates it, so I'm going to stop." It's easy to lose motivation. So in a world increasingly full of lazy slackers, we need to acknowledge the people who do work hard, no matter what results they garner. That acknowledgment may be exactly what they need to keep going.