Monday, March 28, 2011

The (F)AD Scale of Athleticism

What is an athlete? How do you rate athleticism? They (we?) come in many shapes and sizes - from professional football players, collegiate competitors, local-circuit cyclists, amateur triathletes. But what actually makes an athlete an athlete? I think there are two (or three) main variables. Find out more in today's rambling episode of, "Things Andrew thinks about while he's out for a long run."

I think all athletes can be measured on a three-dimensional scale. On one axis is what I'll call Drive, but you can call it whatever you like: focus, determination, competitive spirit, etc.

On the other is Ability, a measure of a person's natural physical aptitude. You can probably break ability down into a bunch of smaller, sport-specific measurements - hand-eye coordination, VO2 max, 40-yard-dash time or whatever - but I'm just going to lump them all into one score for the sake of simplicity.

The final dimension is Fitness, and that refers to, well, just how in shape a person is.

Fitness is definitely the most variable of the three, so it might actually be easier to think about it athleticism in two dimensions (Drive vs. Ability) in a lot of cases. Ability is probably the least variable. I'm lumping natural proficiency  into this, and viewing it as sort of a person's "upper-bound." Maybe I should call it Potential Ability? But I think Drive is definitely the link between Ability and Fitness, and I think that's where some smart decision-making can come into play -- can an unmotivated person turn into a motivated person? Definitely.

I also think you can have a zero in Drive (and as a result, maybe a zero in Fitness, too) but I don't think anyone is born with a zero in Ability. Everyone has Ability. Not everyone has motivation.

Anyway, you wind up with some athletes who are just gifted. They don't have to work too hard at what they do - they're just good. They're naturally fit - born to be athletes. These folks could be better - but they're not motivated. Exampe: Manny Ramirez. (Side note: I don't want to get into a PED-discussion, so let's just take this at face value.)

On the flip side, you've got athletes who might not have such a high natural aptitude for their sport, but they might make up for it with Drive. They work hard, they practice hard, and maybe that can give them an edge. Example: uhh... the Jamaican bobsled team? (These guys are hard to find because I think they're often overshadowed by flashier, more "natural" athletes.)

Of course, there are athletes who probably score 10's in both Ability and Drive. Michael Phelps comes to mind, or Michael Jordan. The best of the best. I think where you fall on that graph can pretty accurately describes your "Athleticism." Again, maybe I should call the two-dimensional graph "Potential Athleticism" and the three-dimensional graph (factoring in Fitness at-the-time) "Current Athleticism."

So... what does it all mean? Honestly, I have no idea. I can hardly believe you read that whole thing. I'm jealous of people who have tons of Ability; my strength is my motivation, and I'd kill for a pair of Sneakers of Athletic Prowess +3. On a slightly inspirational note, I think do those people - or just about anyone who lacks motivation - can definitely take control of that dimension and excel, regardless of natural ability. People always tell me, "Oh, no way, I could never do an Ironman." Truth is, you could. Anyone can -- you just have to decide you want to.

On the bright side, you now know how my brain rambles while I'm pounding pavement or pushing pedals.