Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Health and fitness.

I had a bad day last Tuesday, spending most of the time asleep on the couch and hardly eating, but since then each day has been an improvement on the one before; so much so that I was able to join my wife on a trip to the supermarket and to go to church of Sunday for the first time in two months. We have been able to watch the service on the Internet, but it isn't quite the same as actually being there.

I'm getting closer to my fighting weight. I tipped the scales this morning at 180 pounds. Before I got ill this time I was 200 pounds and when I left hospital I was 177. However, when I compare my thigh muscles with those of my elder son who recently cycled from Brighton to London for charity, I can see where the weight has gone from.

All my children are to some extent athletic. My older daughter was Dorset Champion for gymnastics floor exercises, and my younger daughter Bournemouth champion at long jump. My older son was Dorset triple jump champion and Bournemouth 100 metres champion. His record for the triple jump stood for 17 years before it was beaten. My younger son was Bournemouth 200 metres champion and represented Dorset at both cricket and Rugby. He still plays cricket and soccer to a good standard, is top of the works leader board at golf, and enjoys surfing, snowboarding and cycling as hobbies.

You might say that we are a sporty family. Where does it come from? My father played cricket at county second XI level and my father-in-law boxed a bit. My own sporting prowess was curtailed by a late puberty. At 15 I was the second smallest boy of my year at school. Although, I had been quite a fast runner at 10 and 11, by the time I thought to enter school sports I got my timing wrong. There were always boys who were faster than I was in the sprints, but when a boy who was definitely much slower than I won the under-14s hurdles, I thought I had found my event. The problem that I had not realised was that he was three weeks younger than I. In those days the cut off for athletic events was March 31st, so by being born on March 12th I was one of the oldest in my year, while he, being born on April 7th, was one of the youngest in his.

The following year I entered the hurdles myself. I still had not had my growth spurt. The height of the hurdles astonished me. They were about a foot higher than when he had won. Of course, I fell at the first and suffered the ignominy of the headmaster rushing over and disentangling me from the broken hurdle (they were constructed by the woodworking class and looked like proper sheep hurdles rather than the ones you see nowadays in Track and Field. Thus ended my athletic career.

After puberty I did feature in the school first XI for both cricket and football, but aged 17 I snapped my anterior cruciate and had to give up all thoughts of a career in professional sport!

I have been reading a book called Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. He makes a similar point about the month you are born in affecting sporting success. A survey of Canadian Ice Hockey players shows that the most successful players are born in the winter months: January, February and March. The simple explanation for this is that the cut-off date for age-class hockey is January 1st. so that those who are older in their year at the age of 10, say, have an enormous physical advantage over those born in December. At this age boys get selected for representative teams and thus benefit from the extra coaching and practice that they receive, so that the age bias becomes set in stone.

This same effect is seen in soccer in the UK, where it is always the bigger boys that get selected for representative teams. I remember a couple of lads in my class who were selected for the English under-15 squad. they were large boys who had an early puberty and could kick a football a long way (these were the days of heavy leather boots and heavy leather balls that got water-sodden when it rained).

Although this was a grammar school with high academic achievement, neither lad was a star in the classroom. Neither progressed in professional sport and one became a hod-carrier and the other left school after becoming a father at the age of 16.

The book is a fascinating read and I may quote from it again. After last week finding that statistics perform better than experts, you won't be surprised to find that succes is related less to ability than to happenstance.

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