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Sport Psychology: Hunger in the Classroom

By Doug Jowdy, Ph.D.
Sport Psychologist
Former Team Psychologist for U.S. Speed Skating

In the last post I wrote about the “art of hunger” on the field. The story of the captain of our ice hockey team in college described how he literally would starve himself prior to games. This is the way Charlie got hungry to rise to the challenge of competition. And to compete in a way where he would “leave it on the ice.” After all, is this not what both you and your coaches want – for you to leave it on the field. In other words, play to win versus playing not to lose. I know this is another topic or subject for a book, but I am going to switch gears because I don’t want to get too far afield from the topic at hand. And the topic at hand has to do with having hunger in the classroom.

My writing about the classroom is based upon my belief that there is no better place to learn about life than through sport. The reasons for this belief run wide and deep, but to make a long story short here is the main reason. In both life and sport we are being asked to perform – especially in the classroom or on the job. (Hopefully, you are not feeling the need to perform in your relationships.) But when it comes to the classroom, the level of competition is increasing just as it is on the field. Getting into college is getting more and more difficult. I have worked with many high school student-athletes who have perfect grades and close to perfect scores on the ACT and SAT and do not get into the college of their choice. So performing in the classroom is getting more and more important to get into relatively good schools. And just as hunger is a requirement on the field, it is required in the classroom.

The excuses I hear that crush hunger (aka motivation) in the classroom are many. People are bored, not challenged, stressed because of the challenge, don’t like the teacher or the class doesn’t matter. I get it. I lost my motivation in my high school physics class because I just could not get it. It was my senior year and I didn’t think it mattered. My hunger was slim to none and I failed the course. Yep, president of the honor society failed a class. It was a bit of a blow to my ego, but I learned lessons that have served me the rest of my life. And one of those lessons is that regardless of the outcome (score or grade), if I remain hungry then it is a psychological victory. Not that the score or grades don’t matter, but it is a sign of character to keep fighting even if you are losing 35 – 3 in a football game, and there is 1:32 left on the clock. Fight to the end.

So as the school year starts, think about your level of hunger in the classroom. Consider your hunger a manifestation of who you are and what you are made of. Think about your hunger as not just being in your best interest, but that will inspire others. If you have a math class you think will be boring or too hard, mentally prepare yourself for it. Meet with your teacher early on and ask for tips on how to best take notes, study and be prepared for tests. Yes, attack the class head on because this will allow you to break through self-limiting beliefs you have. Beliefs like, “I am horrible at writing.” Well, take that English class as an opportunity to smash that belief. Because learning to smash these limiting beliefs in the classroom will transfer over to sport. And vice versa. Get excited about school and your classes approaching them with the same intensity you do your sport.

Be in touch if you would like to learn more about sport psychology and enhancing your performance on or off the field.

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