Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Sports Training and Arts Training

When I picked up my son after soccer practice yesterday, he was, as I expected, hot and tired. He hadn't played soccer all summer and had gone running only occasionally, and on his first day of practice he'd been doing drills in 90-degree heat. But after gulping down a bottle of Moxie, he said that, in fact, he felt in better shape than he ever had before and that his touch on the soccer ball was surer. Why? Because he'd spent his summer dancing and doing physical theater exercises. Not only was he stronger, but he felt more confident inside his body.

This makes complete sense, of course, but I daresay few high school sports coaches would consider integrating artistic techniques into their training regimens. I take that back: maybe a few coaches of girls' sports might try it.

Once in a while I'll hear a story about a professional football player who takes dance classes, or a major-league manager who makes everyone on the team do yoga. But who needs body confidence more than a gaggle of awkward, rapidly growing, self-conscious teenagers--boys as well as girls? Shouting at a boy to "Be tough! Power on through!" doesn't teach him much about living inside his own skin.

I have never been an athlete. As a young person, I hated playing all sports and felt like a freak on every team. I dreaded gym class and was horribly self-conscious about my clumsiness and my appearance. Simultaneously, however,  I was studying the violin at a fairly high level--learning physical control and breathing techniques; honing my stamina; absorbing lessons about the elegance of performance, about the link between relaxation and concentration, about how to exist in the moment, about how to take the leap.

No violin teacher ever suggested that playing a sport might intersect usefully with my violin studies. The implication was "Don't waste your time. What if you break your fingers? Just practice more." No coach ever considered that my musical training might intersect usefully with any other kind of bodily training. The implication was "You're an athlete, or you're nothing."

I know things are different today. The passage of Title 9 has made an enormous difference in extracurricular life. Now that girls must have equal access to high school sports, high school sports have have adjusted to "girlishness" . . . at least in girls' sports. And I think arts programs have certainly come to terms with athletics, partly because they've had to adjust in order to maintain administrative commitment to their curricula but also because teachers truly do recognize the overlaps among different kinds of performance skills.

Nonetheless, dance training for varsity boys still seems fairly unlikely. I can already hear the sniggers and complaints.

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