What Sport Should You Do?

There are all sorts of “tests” you can take to help you understand which sport it is that is ideal for you. I stumbled across some of these “tests”several weeks ago while researching another topic. For fun, I gave a number of them a go to see how the results stacked.

It turned out that they were all pretty good and mostly fun. The simple “tests” did a good job of putting me into sports disciplines.

Cycling was always near the top. One “test” indicated I’d be good at triathlons. A few of them suggested boxing or tae kwon do. Archery came out a winner on one “test” and among the top 3 or 4 sport in others.

There was a theme for most of these questionnaire exams. Some were specific to Olympic sports and others more general. In the more general exams football came up as a top choice for me a time or two.

This is what I found surprising, the “tests” did a pretty good job of identifying sports where I have played.

I did play football in high school and was a starter. I’d had some serious scouting meetings with coaching advice to follow during summer between my junior and senior year in order to get a college ride. I failed to follow that advice and instead began racing bicycles.

The cycling turned out to be a good choice and even though I didn’t get a sports scholarship to college; over time I earned other awards that paid for nearly 100% of my schooling (which was a bundle considering I earned two doctorates and a masters degree – kind of like Dr. Sheldon Cooper).

Circa 1986

Cycling eventually gave way to duathlon. A duathlon is like a triathlon without the swimming and having more running. Duathlon worked out pretty good and earned me a spot on the USA Team to the World Championship Long Course Duathlon.

ITU World Championship, Long Course Duathlon – 2007

Duathlon migrated to triathlon and I even made it to the Ironman World Championship on Kona.

Ironman World Championship – 2008

Those online sport “tests” were pretty cool. I’d even done tae kwon do for several years earning a brown belt before cycling sucked all the time away I had for training. (One day I’d like to go back and complete that path.)

Of the sports selected for me archery is the most frustrating. Some folks say archery is 90% mental and 10% physical. I once heard a top coach, in jest, say archery is 10% mental and 90% trying not to quit.

Certainly, archery remains the single sport where I have yet to achieve the degree of expertise I thought I’d have by now. Archery is vastly different from the other sports where I had success. The gap in talent transfer is huge compared moving from cycling to duathlon.

Transferring from cycling to duathlon was easy. Moving to triathlon was harder because swimming required learning a new skill with a wider talent transfer gap than that of riding to riding.

Always come out of the water under your own power (My triathlon rule #1*)

Archery on the other hand just doesn’t fit the mold. The athletic skills needed to perform well in archery aren’t associated with sports that move fast. (Although, the conditioning needed to move fast can be beneficial in archery)

Archery is, however, one of the sports that online “testing” suggested my body type, conditioning, training, and brain should excel.

Did anybody see where my arrow went?

If you’ve got some time to kill go online and search for “Which Sport is Best for Me” or some variation of that query. It might be fun to see where you fit. Don’t be disappointed to learn you’re better suited for gymnastics or track and field other than archery.

Footnotes:

  • Coach Lain’s 3 Cardinal Rules for Triathlon
    • 1 – Get out of the water under your own power
    • 2 – Don’t crash on your bike
    • 3 – Don’t be last on the run
  • I’ll also note my wife, Brenda a professional Yoga instructor, took a few of the online “tests” to find her ideal sport.  It was unanimously archery.
    • “Is this as far back as it goes?” (50 pound draw weight)

What It Takes to Make an Olympic Team

A long time friend of mine asked me what it takes to make an Olympic Team. From experience, not in archery, I know what it takes to earn a spot on a World Championship Team. (USA Team World Championships, 2007, Long Course Duathlon.) The Olympics are another matter.

In the late 1970’s and up 1980 I dreamed of a spot on the Olympic.  I certainly gave it a try. I trained with a number of athletes that did make the Olympic Team.  On some days I was better than them, on most days I wasn’t. They weren’t physically superior to me, but they had something I didn’t. They were a different breed.

Participating in a Charity Event wearing my USA Team “Kit”. The hat is wrong, it is a South Carolina hat someone had given me.

My friend with the question is not an athlete. He’s a University Professor and Chair of the Department of Cardiopulmonary Science where he works. He’s a smart person. We’ve been friends for about 30 years. Together, we published many research papers (once I was smart, too.)

His question was a relay. He’d been asked by another smart guy, “What does it take to make an Olympic Team?”. The question eventually landed in my email. It is a tough question to answer by email. It’s a sorrowful question for me having blown so many great cycling opportunities. Being basically honest, I can say, if I had to do it all over again, I’d blow it all again. If I only had today’s brain in yesterday’s body, only then might things have changed.

I have, however, spent years studying athletes and athletics. So, at least from a sports science perspective I have some pearls of information to address my brainy friends.

Earning a spot on an Olympic team is not easy and neither is an explanation of how it is done. First, there’s the athlete. Those elites are simply not like the rest of us. Without writing a dissertation (one of those was enough for me) here’s an abridged description.

A short composite of the athlete is: years of practice, mental discipline and genetics. Genetics is easy to see: Tall people do well in rowing and basketball for example. Actually, rowing is one of the most genetic specific sports. Tall lightweight people with a huge VO2(max) do well in rowing. Gymnasts are at the other end of the spectrum. Small people have a greater capacity to rotate on an axis than larger people.

The process is expensive, which I didn’t mention up front (It just occurred to me). The price to train and compete excludes many people from the Olympic track. An athlete must compete at USOC Olympic trials and camps. The Olympic hopeful has to show up at National and World Championships. The travel alone is costly.  In many cases, earning a spot on an Olympic team is significantly self-funded exceptions being professionals.

Olympic level equipment is outlandishly pricey. At the elite level equipment does make a difference. The IOC has a rule at anyone is able to purchase that equipment used by athletes in the Olympics. So, if you’ve got the resources you too can have Olympic caliber gear.

Let’s say, for example, anyone can purchase a custom-made track (Velodrome) bicycle such as used by the British cycling team. The price is around $90,000. Most people are better off just training more often. The expensive bike, for an elite, will provide marginal gains. A marginal gain might mean a 0.5% increase in speed. Add enough of those small gains and it can mean the difference between a Gold and Silver medal.

There’s around $360,000 worth of bicycles in the picture

There is also a strategy to earning medals. Combat sports, like marital arts and boxing, have the greatest number of classes (light weight, to heavy weight) and the medals available are the greatest in number. So, countries often focus on finding fighters to train.

Finally, there is a political element to making a team. Chris McCormack, probably the greatest triathlete to have every competed, never made the Olympic Team for his country. He and the Olympic committee for his country, Australia, were frequently at odds. The members of the Olympic squads from Australia were never in his league.

Taiwan’s Tan Ya-ting celebrates after winning the bronze medal match at the women’s team archery competition at the Sambadrome venue during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

In archery making an Olympic Team means, for now, shooting a recurve bow. If your dream is Olympic Gold in archery then a compound bow is currently not the ticket. But, archery has a great variance over the phenotypes that can compete and do well in an Olympics. It also means a lot of practice. By a lot, consider shooting 250 to 300 or even 400 arrows a day six days a week.

Making an Olympic Team is a tremendous achievement. It is certainly not for everyone. But, for those that earn a spot on the team it is a monumental. If making an Olympic Team is your dream, pick a venue that most matches your body type and where there are the greatest odds of success.  If you’re six feet five inches tall, gymnastics isn’t a good match. Be able to focus entirely on your sport of choice. Realize, you can’t make the team without traveling. And, it won’t be inexpensive. Finally, good timing and a bit of luck won’t hurt.