Watch me get down and do my thing, baby.
Between attending classes every day, training every day, doing homework, maintaining important relationships, and keeping up with other personal business, most hurdlers don’t have much time to spend leisurely, but when you do have time, it is important to find hobbies that are productive and in some way educational in your growth as a hurdler. I prefer to have my athletes choose leisure activities that have some relevance to hurdling, that require skills that can help them in their hurdling. Skills that a hurdler needs would include the ability to concentrate while under duress, the ability to maintain mental focus when the body is fatigued, the ability to persevere and use the intellect in order to solve problems, the willingness to take risks, and the capacity to be self-reliant when a situation demands self-reliance.
An activity that I enjoy, and that many hurdlers I’ve known over the years enjoy, is bowling. The similarities between hurdling and bowling are numerous, which makes bowling a good method by which to mentally prepare for a hurdle race, in addition to being a fun way to hang out and relax with teammates. The ten frames in a bowling match mirror the ten hurdles in a hurdle race. Also, both bowling and hurdling require very specific biomechanical movements. Hypothetically, if you can bowl a strike one time, you should be able to bowl a strike ten times, just like if you can clear one hurdle in perfect rhythm, you should be able to clear all ten hurdles in perfect rhythm. But we all know that a perfect bowling match is a rarity, and that a perfect hurdle race has never been run. Over the course of ten frames, and over the course of ten hurdles, the mind grows tired of concentrating, of trying to repeat the exact same motion over and over again. Because of the mind’s fatigue, physical errors occur. So, in both activities, the better you can maintain mental focus, the less physical mistakes you will make. In both cases, when you do make mistakes, when things do start going wrong, reacting emotionally will only exacerbate the problems. So it is important to take an intellectual approach, to figure out where the mechanical mistake in your technique may be, and to ultimately correct it. Correcting it may require experimentation and risk-taking, as the means you use to correct your mistake might only make it worse, or it might even create a new one. So bowling, like hurdling, forces you to step outside your comfort zone, to act without fear, to try things that might not work. Those who are afraid of embarrassment will never take the risks necessary to improve their mechanics. Finally, in both activities, once you get into a rhythm, it’s all about internalizing the feeling, trusting your muscle memory, and letting things flow without the chatter of the conscious mind getting in the way.
Besides bowling, I feel that any kind of puzzle solving is useful as a leisure time activity for hurdlers. Jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, and the like are the types of fun endeavors that keep the mind alert, always searching for answers, for new ways to come up with solutions. I enjoy doing jigsaw puzzles in particular because I always feel when I first start one that there is no way I’ll be able to put all the pieces together. Similarly, in a hurdle race, there’s always a feeling before settling into the starting blocks that clearing all ten hurdles and crossing the finish line before anyone else does is a monumental task. Jigsaw puzzles force you to focus on one piece at a time, of forgetting about the big picture and focusing on the details, which is exactly what a hurdler must do, both in practice and in a race. By focusing on the hurdle in front of you, the seemingly impossible task of smoothly negotiating all ten barriers becomes manageable. What I like most about puzzles is that you know there is a solution; you just have to figure out what it is. And if you keep on trying, if you persevere through the pangs of frustration and self-doubt, you will find the solution. When it comes to overcoming problems in hurdling technique, the same mindset must be at work. If your trail leg is not coming around quickly enough, for instance, you know that there’s a way to fix the technical flaw, but if you’re not willing to fight through the frustration and self-doubt, you’ll never discover what it is.
Although I’m old school, I’m quite aware that many kids today are infatuated with the high-tech video games out there that have become a primary form of home entertainment. Having grown up in the days of Frogger and Donkey Kong, I’m not a big fan of video games, but I can see the usefulness that of some of these fast-paced games may have for a hurdler. Anything that requires you to think on your feet, to react instinctively, can be useful for a hurdler, as hurdling is all about reacting on your feet and making a myriad of subtle adjustments on the fly. My problem with a lot of those games is that they don’t require a whole lot of thought, and you can’t reach your potential as a hurdler if you don’t get in the habit, and stay in the habit, of detaching emotionally and using your mind to solve problems.
Really, no leisure activity will help you with your hurdling if you’re not thinking to yourself, while you’re doing it, “This can help me with my hurdling.” The whole point is to live your life in such a way that everything you do has some type of connection and direct relevance to everything else you do. These days, we tend to compartmentalize our lives, not realizing how the various aspects of our lives all tie together and inter-relate. I know I probably sound like a super-nerd talking about jigsaw puzzles and crossword puzzles, but hey, those are my things. You find yours, do them when you have time, and never forget, while you’re doing them, that in addition to enjoying yourself and relieving some stress, you’re also making yourself a better hurdler. Because after all, you are a hurdler first.
© 2005 Steve McGill