On feeling left out

Nobody likes to feel left out. Nobody likes to feel like they’re not part of the “in” crowd.

In student-athletes I see this most commonly expressed when a team takes vans to a competition (or by dividing themselves into sections on a bus). Inevitably there is a “fun” van to be in and a “not-so-fun” van to be in. The people in the “not-so-fun” van feel like they’re not part of the “in” crowd, invoking a feeling of helplessness:

“I must either conform to the expectations of the ‘in’ crowd or feel isolated.” But there is a better way: feel grateful. Yes, feel grateful.

This passage from an article in The New York Times by Northeastern University’s David DeSteno explains what I mean:

“But study after study has shown that those who are seen as grateful, warm and justifiably confident draw others to them. Because these emotions automatically make us less selfish, they help ensure we can form relationships with people who will be there to support us when we need it.”

So write down what you’re grateful for every day, even if you don’t feel like it. Soon you’ll actually start to feel grateful. Soon you’ll exude more warm emotions, naturally drawing people to you.

The irony is that once you feel grateful for what you have you no longer care about being part of the “in” crowd. You realize there was never any such thing.


Why early morning practices suck

The teenage brain is biologically predisposed to fall asleep around 3 a.m. and arise at 11 a.m. So it naturally sucks when you’re forced to wake up at a time when you’re designed to fall asleep.

According to sleep expert Dr. James Maas, it’s probably better to cut out early morning practices entirely:

“We’ve been trying to educate coaches in all different sports, but they’re pretty skeptical. But listen to this: In every case where we’ve convinced a coach to cut out early-morning practices, the team’s performance has improved dramatically. We now know that something happens in your brain after six or seven hours of continuous sleep that improves motor-skill performance. There are things called sleep spindles that enhance muscle memory. So if a coach schedules practices that shorten sleep, there’s no way the team will improve. In fact, early-morning practices are far worse than not practicing at all. It’s best to delay practicing until at least 10 or 11 a.m.” (Sleep to Win!: Secrets to Unlocking your Athletic Excellence in Every Sport, p. 10).

That part about sleep spindles is particularly important. After 6.5 hours of sleep the brain starts secreting calcium into the brain’s motor cortex to solidify muscle memory. So that new shot you’re working on, your swimming technique, or your running mechanics all get imprinted in the brain after 6.5 hours of sleep the following night.

Got less than 6.5 hours of sleep after a practice? You might as well have skipped.

Chronic sleep-deprivation has more dire risks though: hypertension, heart attack, stroke, Type II diabetes, weight gain, and cancer.

You can bring this article to your coach and see if she’s convinced, but regardless of what time you practice there are concrete steps you can take to make sure you’re not suffering through early morning practices:

* Get 9.25 hours of sleep each night, which is how much the body needs before age 26. If you’re practicing at 6 a.m. that means you’re in bed by 8:30 p.m. Yes, 8:30 p.m. Do not tell me you don’t have time to sleep; I’d rather you admit that you’re undervaluing your well-being and/or have poor time management skills.

* Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time each morning, within reason. You’ll train your biological clock to be tired at the same time each night.

* Get one continuous block of sleep rather than several chunks. Again, muscle memory isn’t imprinted until 6.5 hours of shut-eye.

Complaining about your teammates

Six years ago I was a full-time volunteer living in a house with a handful of other volunteers. We worked together, played together, ate together, and even slept in the same rooms. Loneliness was never a problem, but getting on each others’ last nerves was.

One day I complained about my roommate to a trusted mentor. He listened patiently, then responded with. . . nothing. He was completely silent, deflecting my complaints and trying to change the subject.

I’ve come to realize that he was deflecting because he didn’t care about my complaints. Indeed, nobody cares about your complaints except for the people who really, really like you. Most people don’t like you enough to listen to you complain.

My mentor’s silence could have meant several thing:

“Shut up. I don’t care.”

“Why are you telling me? Have you talked to your roommate?”

“You might as well drop it. You’re making yourself miserable.”

Regardless, it’s worth remembering this idea from Humans of New York founder Brandon Stanton:

“Be very careful with the moral high ground. It helps to resolve conflict when you realize that everyone has different moral codes, and very few people intentionally make immoral decisions. Chase Jarvis once told me: ‘Everyone wants to see themselves as a good person.’ No matter how egregious the crime, the criminal usually has a reason for viewing it as morally acceptable.”

Before and after pictures

Very often when I look at a before and after picture I think to myself, “I’m not sure which person I’m supposed to find more desirable.”

I could tell you which person I find more desirable, but it’s not always the after picture.

I could tell you which person I find more desirable, but it might change if I spent a few months getting to know that person.

I could tell you which person I find more desirable, but that might change once I know more about myself.

Yes, based on pictures I can generally tell who’s good at pull-ups or who might be able to out-run a hyena. But desirability? No, that’s entirely individual.

I’m in Florida today

I’m in Florida today with our swimming and diving teams. They come here for their yearly training trip: ten days of two-a-day practices that leave them too exhausted to do anything besides eat and sleep. I’m here to administer their weight training.

Of course, when you tell people you’re going to Florida for ten days they say things like, “Lucky you,” and “Enjoy your vacation.”

Truthfully, I’d be just as excited to go with them to Antarctica, or down the road with them to Brocton. “With them,” is the whole point. A trip without them wouldn’t be worth going on because these are the people that give my life meaning.

Seth Godin put it well in his book, Tribes:

“It’s four a.m. and I can’t sleep. So I’m sitting in the lobby of a hotel in Jamaica, checking my e-mail.

A couple walks by, obviously on their way to bed, having pushed the idea of vacation a little too hard. The woman looks over to me and, in a harsh whisper a little quieter than a yell, says to her friend, “Isn’t that sad? That guy comes here on vacation and he’s stuck checking his e-mail. He can’t even enjoy his two weeks off.”

I think the real question–the one they probably wouldn’t want to answer–was, “Isn’t it sad that we have a job where we spend two weeks avoiding the stuff we have to do fifty weeks a year?”

Does the Bills game matter?

Last week, Buffalo News columnist Rod Watson wrote an inflaming article titled, “Playoff game? Please don’t tell me any more about it“. With provoking language, he made the case that Bills fans are too excited about today’s game in Jacksonville:

“We can’t possibly be so psychologically pathetic that having a football team make the playoffs for the first time in 18 seasons becomes the most important thing in town.”


Watson does make interesting points, citing psychology experts’ opinions on “superfandom:”

  • The professor said watching someone play triggers mirror neurons that make the fan feel almost as if he is the doer through a “vicarious sense of success.” . . . “They even become more optimistic about their own life when ‘their’ team wins and gloomy about their personal future when ‘their’ team loses.
  • San Francisco-based analyst Samantha Smithstein noted that superfandom could be a coping strategy “to escape an issue that’s difficult to face.”
  • And Eric Simons, author of “The Secret Lives of Sports Fans,” cautioned in a 2015 Washington Post op-ed about changes going on inside a fan’s head: “It is not an obnoxious affectation when a devotee uses the word ‘we;’ it’s a literal confusion in the brain about what is ‘me’ and what is ‘the team,’ ” he wrote.

“Superfandom” isn’t a problem in and of itself, but when the only thing that excites people out of bed in the morning is a football game, well, yes, that might be a problem.

The quote most worth pondering from Watson’s article was tucked away at the bottom, long after irate Bills fans stopped reading:

“Of course making the playoffs is a plus; all I’m asking for is a little perspective.”

I, for one, bought a cable cord yesterday so I could watch the game.

Go Bills!