Sunday, December 13, 2009


Most coaches are going to tell you they love to work with intelligent athletes, but most athletes will tell you that the competitors they fear most would flunk a CAT scan in search of brain activity.  Why the seeming discrepancy?

Well, in the case of the coach, I think it comes down to a simple matter of communication.  Who would you rather spend a 22-hour bus ride to Florida with?  Egbert who brought the complete boxed set of “Arrested Development” with him and wants to analyze the influence of “Monty Python” on that TV show’s writing?  Or Dortmund who’s been reading the same comic book for the last 275 miles – upside down? 

Intelligent athletes are usually a dream to work with in practice situations.  Maybe they ask a lot of questions but as long as you can drum up a reasonable answer, they’ll buy in and work hard.  Toss in a research journal article with graphs to back up your answer, and they’ll work even harder.

But, as most coaches know, when it comes to competition, that’s where things get a little dicey.  Egbert might have a sky-high IQ which is useful in the classroom but does him no dang good in a race.  In races, it’s AIQ – Athletic Intelligence Quotient – that counts and a lot of very intelligent athletes don’t have a very high one.

In college, I’ll admit that I was an athlete with a solidly average AIQ.  But I knew enough to know that the competitors who had trouble blinking both eyes at the same time were the ones I should take most seriously.  And I studied them zealously, hoping to figure out what was different – besides the blinking thing.  I can’t say as that I ever did figure it out.  Some things you’re just born with – or without, as the case may be.

You see someone like Egbert – or me -- gets to the starting blocks.  His brain has been rifling through the 3,578,913 different scenarios he has calculated could unfold during the upcoming race.  He’s scanning his mental hard drive for his competitors’ previous best times.  There’s a penny on the bottom of lane 5 and it’s really, really bugging him.  He steps up to the blocks and the race is already over because, bottom line, Egbert’s brain doesn’t have an off switch.

Dortmund, on the other hand, steps up to the blocks.  He doesn’t have an off switch either, but that’s because he also doesn’t have an on switch.  Or at least no one’s ever found one.  Dortmund can’t spell the word “scenario,” let alone envision one.  And the only way he’d notice his competitors is if they walked up in high heels and blew him air kisses.  All you do with Dortmund is tell him to go as fast as he can and, chances are, he will.  Dortmund’s AIQ is through the roof. 

Thankfully Mr. Coach, like most coaches, has learned how to work with the full spectrum of AIQs.  You distract the Egberts with shiny mental objects (i.e., math equations) and you enjoy the Dortmunds for what they are. 

And if anyone ever figures out exactly what that is, please tell me.

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