For the record, as a college student, I would have hated classes with interactive engagement. Largely, this is because I wrestled in college. During the wrestling season, which was basically September through March when you include pre-season, all I could manage was to show up to class and take notes, and maybe squeeze in an hour or two of homework before crashing into bed. Had I been asked to interact with other human beings in class, I probably would have punched someone in the face at least once a week. Ask my college roommate: a starving, exhausted, physically and mentally abused college wrestler does not enjoy the company of others. He does not enjoy talking, thinking, socializing, and he especially doe not like being touched–most forms of touching during the wrestling season are violent.
My days usually went like this. Wake up at 6:00 am, take pain meds, go run somewhere between 4-6 miles. Come back home and eat an orange. Go to class for a few hours. Take pain meds. Eat a bowl of cereal. Hit the weights. Have a power nap. Grueling practice for 2-3 hours. Take pain meds. Eat another orange and another bowl of cereal. Spend an hour doing quantum mechanics homework. Spend an hour doing electricity and magnetism homework. Go to bed. Wake up in the middle of the night from pain and take pain meds. Go back to sleep.
I should expand upon what being in class meant. Being in class meant I was a zombie, intellectually functioning just enough to listen, observe, and write. For me, class served as an exhaustively detailed syllabus, telling me important information that I would need to learn later. While I never missed lecture (unless we were traveling for wrestling, or I was having surgery due to wrestling), I never once attended a TA-led recitation, a review session, or a professor’s office hours. In lecture, I could be a zombie. The risk of having to interact with someone was far too great in these more intimate settings, plus, I really really didn’t want to learn in class; I just wanted to receive my detailed syllabus and go back home. Home was where pain meds, food, and a bed was. I could learn on my own time, when I wasn’t immediately starving, exhausted, or in pain.
Partly here I exaggerate, but not that much, especially in the real depths of the wrestling season, where you are practicing twice a day, traveling every weekend, and sustaining life with a meager 3-4% body fat. It’s not just the physical toll. The wrestling season requires the maintenance of a particular mental state. That mental state includes an immense commitment to the idea that wrestling is the only important thing going on, that pain and suffering is rewarding, an ability to ignore feelings such as hunger and thirst, and a readiness to attack and destroy in a ruthless unemotional way.
I don’t know why I’m sharing this story. I don’t know what the moral is. It’s just what was on my mind this morning.
Doesn’t this also say something about how D1 (and in many cases D3) athletics have gotten totally out of hand? I assume you’ve also seen Taylor Branch’s The Shame of College Sports. I think in many ways, athletics teach more valuable lessons that what is going on in a number of classrooms, but not when it reaches the level of corruption described by Branch, or the daily regimen of pain meds, starvation, and sacrifice you seem to had to endure. Of course, I’m not sure how one would go about rebalancing these things. You made a choice to sacrifice for something you truly enjoyed and found rewarding.
Yeah, it’s funny how its only ridiculous in retrospect. In the moment, the sacrifice is all that is meaningful. Plus, you are surrounded by people making the same sacrifices, so it seems very normal. I didn’t start to think “this is not worth it” until my senior year, when I was too mentally and physically battered to survive the season well. There’s a big part of me that still thinks,”That’s just what wrestling is,”… it’s about being unbalanced. It’s about finding the limits of yourself physically and mentally, and you can only find that place by being overly committed in that direction.
And so, yes, Div I, especially the big-money sports are a whole different thing. Corruption and exploitation follows money, and there is way way too much money in these amateur sports. Like you, I don’t know what the solution is.
It was the same for those of us doing dance, especially ballet. No big-money sport. But tough in its own way. I do know this, no teacher (of any subject) ever pretended to understand the strain.
Is this is just a tradeoff for achieving a very high level of excellence? Certainly if you’re really going to get good at wrestling, or dance, you’re going to to need to make some sacrifices—I wonder if we do a good job of explaining this to students earlier on the path (when you’re being recruited as a D1 athlete, or thinking about applying to a conservatory).
And of course, if you decide to pursue physics at an elite level as well, you make similar sacrifices, I suppose.
This makes me think about my decision not to major or even minor in music. I was doing my physics/math stuff hardcore and I’d go play my t-bone for a couple hours a day. Concerts were usually fun, but I noticed my music major buddies getting stressed out about them. At the time their stress turned me off from minoring/majoring in music, thinking I was just going to let music be my fun daily release from stress. In retrospect, especially now that I’m playing in a jazz band again, I realize how much I could have learned if I’d taken the lessons more seriously and actually registered for some theory classes.
Part of the solution might be to let athletes skip the pretense of being students during the season. Sleep would probably have been more valuable to you than the most detailed syllabus possible. You might even have been able to skip a few doses of pain meds…