image: Heriberto Herrera
I have taken an introvert/extrovert quiz a few times and I always land in the middle, which I believe makes me an ambivert. I could say I’m an extrovert with introvert tendencies and prefers the company of introverts. I can easily transition from socializing at a big party to getting lost in my own thoughts while writing for my blog. But there is one aspect of my life where I know exactly where I stand: I am an introverted athlete. This realization opened up my eyes to my athletic potential and I wish I learned this a lot sooner in life.
The very first sport I can remember learning was basketball. It was my dad’s sport and like any good parent, it was the one he wanted to teach his kids. I enjoyed learning the mechanics of the sport like dribbling and practicing flicking my wrist while shooting. In fact, that’s what I remember about most of my childhood sports – I liked practicing movements and fine tuning them. But when it came to playing an actual game, whether it was basketball, volleyball or even tennis, I froze. I dreaded games and even scrimmages at the end of practice. The one thing I was constantly told was to “be more aggressive”. But that kind of aggression just didn’t come natural to me. I hated having to yell “Open!” or call for the ball. The constant action on the basketball court did not excite me and actually left me drained. At the time, I just figured sports wasn’t for me and I wasn’t very athletic.
image: Kurt Krejny
When I got to college, I discovered rowing. I liked the physical exertion and absolutely loved the being on the quiet water. The only person talking was the coxswain and that was the only voice I needed to listen to. I had my seat, my specific job, and concentrated on my stroke and how it blended with everyone else’s. To this day, I can still remember the feeling when everyone on the boat was completely balanced and you slice effortlessly through the water – it’s fantastic. During races, I finally discovered aggression I was missing in high school. My team had to beat the other boat, but there was no stealing of balls or scoring points. You simply had to push with your team to win.
I also started running in college and something just clicked. I loved the mental connection and going for a run gave me a chance to clear my head of the day’s happenings. Once I started racing, I was hooked. Unlike the crowds in the bleachers during a high school basketball game, the crowds along a race course did not bother me. I actually liked it and was energized by them. I finally found my niche.
image: Tim & Annette
After recently hearing Susan Cain’s TED talk and reading excerpts from her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking I learned more about introversion and realized that was me – when it came to sports. Are you or could one of your children be an introverted athlete?
Here are some typical introvert characteristics and how I think they apply to my athletic side:
1) Interacting with lots of people drains your energy. Introverts expend lots of energy when they socialize where extroverts are energized by interaction.
Translation: This probably explains my anxiety over yelling for the ball or calling different plays and why I felt drained, physically and mentally, after games. I do however enjoy running alongside someone even if we are not talking. We can each be doing our own thing, but still be together.
2) You enjoy solitude. Introverts are often mistaken as anti-social. But they actually enjoy being around other people if they don’t have to participate the entire time and can have some alone time afterward to recharge. My experience with my beloved introverts is that we can spend time together in quietness and to them, it’s very special.
Translation: I can now see why I was drawn to rowing. It was a way for me to have my “solitude” but still be on a team. I enjoyed knowing my individual contribution helped the team, even though we never exchanged a ball or words.
3) You find too much stimulation to be distracting and unnerving. While extroverts enjoy hectic situations which prevent them from becoming bored, introverts find these situations to be chaotic and they end up feeling overwhelmed. Introverts like to be in their head a lot. They like to concentrate and focus on one thing at a time.
Translation: Many things are happening at once on a basketball court and left me feeling somewhat frazzled. I was uneasy because I couldn’t concentrate. But when running or rowing, I can concentrate on the things that are under my control. When swimming in a race, even though there may be people swimming over top of me, I can focus on my own breath and form. That provides a sense of relief for me even in a chaotic environment.
4) You prefer to observe new activities before participating. Introverts are observers. I’ve read that an introverted child may enjoy watching kids on the playground for a long time before actually joining in. It’s not necessarily that they are shy, but they want to see how things unfold and understand the dynamics before stepping in.
Translation: In sports like basketball, volleyball and soccer (ones that I did not enjoy or excel in), the game is changing at a fast pace. You are constantly reacting to what the other team is doing. Introverts don’t have that chance to sit back and observe because it’s a new situation every time. Personally, this is why endurance sports like swimming and running are for me. For my next triathlon, I already know what the course is and could drive it beforehand if I wanted to. Endurance sports are repetitive like that – it’s a set distance and the athlete can concentrate on his motor skills and master the things he has control over.
5) You tend to keep your emotions private. Introverts are often described as thoughtful, reserved and private individuals. They don’t feel the need to share their feelings with everyone and are often self-motivators.
Translation: I was never into the yelling out encouraging things to my teammates, probably because I’m not motivated by it either. I did it to be a team player, but having people cheer for me actually makes me even more nervous. When I’m doing something like running or yoga, I can be stoic. There is no cheering needed. I am a self-motivator. I have enough going on in my head telling me to go faster. I enjoy that kind of concentration.
According to Teach PE, introverts tend to be drawn to sports which require:
- Intricate skills
- Low arousal levels
- Individual performances
For me, the sport of choice ended up being running. I also enjoy yoga, cycling and swimming. I discovered this late in life. I spent far too long trying to fit in a mold where I didn’t belong. I see some of my same characteristics in one of my children. I could see how anxious he felt before a soccer game, but it seems he’s enjoying the slower pace of tee ball. He also seems interested when I talk about running or the next race I am doing. I think he would do well in endurance sports and of course I would love it if he ends up with the same interests – what parent wouldn’t?
However I won’t limit him to specific sports because I think I know what his personality is. Maybe he will end up being an introvert drawn to extrovert sports. Everyone is different. But I will keep my experience in mind and guide him towards the activities that bring out the best in him. That’s all any parent could hope for.
What about you?
Do you think your child possesses certain qualities that will translate well in a sport?
Are you an introvert or an extrovert and how has that impacted your career or hobby choices?2