Monday, July 9, 2012

Sport: An Ideal Medium for Character Development

Todays guest post comes from Bogdan Knezvic of ESWIM. Bogdan was currently enrolled in the University of Calgary (CIS Rookie of the Year in 2010), majoring in Neuroscience and is a published scientist (Journal of Experimental Biology, primary author). Bogdan is the Serbian National Record Holder in the 200 and 400 IM and was selected to represent Serbia at 2012 European Championships, but declined due to conflicts with other meets. He has represented Canada at numerous international games (Junior Pan Pacs, Junior Worlds, and Senior Pan Pacs).  Please welcome Bogdan to our writting team.

Sport: An Ideal Medium for Character Development
Bogdan Knezevic (twitter: @bogdanknez )

“Sport does not develop character, it reveals it” is a quote most athletes have heard, yet not all agree with. I, myself, am more inclined to say that sport both develops AND reveals character- the two do not have to be mutually exclusive.

As a person decides to commit to a sport and to take on the role of the athlete, they are put to the test in multiple ways. The hard work that goes into training, the responsibility that you need to take for your actions and that you owe to the team begin to eat away at the outer ‘bubble’ of your person, and as you constantly push the boundaries of your comfort zone, the true core of your character will begin to reveal itself. The self-labelled (and the word ‘self’ is key here) ‘heroes’ of a team might begin to stand out, for example, or the quiet, yet highly skilled introverts might take you by surprise. Adversity pushes people to the edge, and it is precisely when they are at the edge that the few key things that make them who they are will begin to shine. Determination, relentlessness, and true grit are most easily observed when a person is asked to perform, and sports provide a medium for exactly that. A truly egotistical person, for instance, will be easy to spot in a team sport, as they will visibly be doing things for their own benefit rather than for the team’s. On the other hand, a truly determined and motivated person who, for instance, loses a swim race won’t let the loss hamper their training, and will manage to instead use it as fuel for working harder.

The discrepancy in the quote (from my experience) comes later on, as you begin to settle into the ‘groove’ of the sport (so to speak). Adaptability has always been a key evolutionary trait, and- although it sounds melodramatic- those who adapt, survive. The same is true in sports, and in order to be able to climb upwards within the realm of your sport, you must be able to adapt. Certain aspects of your character might need to be strengthened, while others dropped entirely. A few clear traits stand out: determination, optimism, responsibility all need to be constantly reinforced, and one needs to continually build up layer upon layer of these key traits to push to the top. Conversely, egotism (referring to true arrogance and not to be mistaken for confidence), pessimism, and laziness are all potential characteristic traits that need to be minimized in order to optimize performance. The self-styled ‘hero’ of the team from the paragraph above has two choices: keep putting the team at risk by refusing to respect team play (and evoke the anger of many teammates in the process), or develop character and slowly weed out this trait (perhaps changing the mindset and moulding the arrogance into confidence), allowing room for growth as both an athlete and a person.

When I began swimming for the first time, a few things were revealed to me within the first few years of the sport: I was competitive, hungry for success, determined, and goal oriented. These were aspects of my character that became clearly visible as training and competing chipped away at my psyche. The majority of my swimming career, however, has been a constant revaluation and tweaking of my character; I have continually worked on developing it, training it to deal with unique situations, and shaping it in ways that would optimize both my athletic and personal life. Swimming has taught me the importance of perseverance and optimism in one’s character, as well as given me a sense of what true professionalism means.

We are all living, breathing things, and as such, it is my opinion that we must treat our essence the same and not allow it to become static. Sport- to me- is a great way to discover your true character and reveal it those around you, and an even better way of moulding it and allowing it to positively expand in all directions.