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Is there room for a new definition of Athlete?

Updated: May 2, 2019

I have often wondered what makes people consider themselves part of that special group of people called "athletes."  Usually it's some sort of external identification, such as being picked for the high school basketball team.  But as years pass, coaching stops and as the years of parental influence & rides to practice fade into yesteryear, the playing field can level somewhat.  It is at this point, that the effort and consistency of training is placed squarely on the individual.  And it also the time that most people come to see me.  It's ironic that those old highschool players have not given up their "athlete" membership even though they haven't picked up a ball in over 10 years.  On the other side, I hear frequent patient comments that "I'm not very athletic" even though they are very active in exercise routines. Strange...

Someone once told me that unless you are at a certain performance level, you aren't an athlete.  In other words, unless you are able to win a contest against someone else, you aren't an athlete.  This person happened to be a former football star, but kept his "athlete" membership card even though he stopped working out.

I have a very inclusive definition of athleticism.  I believe an athlete is someone who challenges him/herself physically- systematically & repetitively for the goal of improving their performance.  This means the obese runner is an athlete, the bodybuilding weight trainer is an athlete, a golfer is an athlete, a bowler is an athlete.  The former football star WAS an athlete but is not one now if he doesn't challenge himself anymore.  Being an athlete isn't a lifetime membership card you are given once, but a membership that must be continually renewed.  It's not based on type of sport, or your physical look, even your current physical ability.  It's just based on the fact that you create effort to rise to a physical challenge & that you are consistent in that effort.

It's this attitude of "in or out" that is a barrier to fitness for a lot of people.  At the very minimum, it is the "noise" that people hear in their head as they are trying something new physically.  And that "noise" can be very distracting, sometimes to the point of making the person stop.  I've seen it often in my patients- it's the feeling that you have to already be "fit" in order to try anything physical, or that you have to do it right & look good doing it the first time.  In short, it's this "in or out" mentality that causes people to lose confidence in their ability to challenge themselves physically.  And in self-fulfilling prophesy, their performance suffers.

I try to urge people of all ages and abilities to push this thinking out of their head and regain confidence in their bodies.  Every body has the capacity to improve in strength, endurance and agility if challenged.  You may not look good the first time you try something new, but with practice and focused effort, everyone gets better. It's that persistence through initial awkwardness that is the true gift of an athlete. And the best part is, everyone has this gift- it's just waiting to be used.

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