73 stories

An end-of-year reflection

1 Share
Estimated Reading Time: 42s.

As we approach the new year, here is one of the best reflections I’ve found for considering the year that has past, and the one ahead. Keep it in mind as you consider what to accomplish next year, and where you want to spend your time, attention, and energy:

Imagine two worlds.

The first world has you in it.

The second world doesn’t.

What is the difference between these two worlds?

A friend of mine introduced me to this idea. It came from a philosophy professor of his.

Personally, this reflection got me thinking beyond money and status. I started thinking about how I make other people feel, and how I can make a difference.

It’s a simple idea, but one that gets you thinking deeply about why you do what you do.

Looking ahead, how can you maximize the difference between these two worlds?

The post An end-of-year reflection appeared first on A Life of Productivity.

Read the whole story
33 days ago
Share this story

Review: Turing Tumble

1 Share

Designer: Paul & Alyssa Boswell
Artist: Jiaoyang Li
Publisher: Turing Tumble
Category: Puzzle, Programming
Players: 1+
Price: $69.95 turingtumble.com

Turing Tumble is an amazing STEM toy, which teaches computer logic and programming. It presents a challenge that is engaging for any age group.


Turing Tumble is like nothing I have ever seen before. I have been playing logic and puzzle games since I was a little kid, but none have ever amazed, baffled, and hooked me the way this one has. Turing Tumble lets you build working computers using nothing but plastic gadgets and marbles.

Read that again. It’s not an exaggeration or metaphor.

Yes, Turing Tumble allows players to create real, honest-to-goodness computers that can count, perform math functions, and do basic logic—among other things—all with no electricity required. Sounds crazy, right? I could sit here and try to explain how it works, but you really just need to see it for yourself. Here is a video from their Kickstarter:

The premise is simple: make the analog computer generate a certain sequence of marbles. Each puzzle gives a particular setup, a list of available parts that can be added to the board, and a required output. Here is an example of one of the earlier puzzles:

To start, the player first builds the illustrated setup—an incomplete machine. She must then use the available pieces (in this case, two green ramps and five orange crossovers) to complete the system such that it creates an alternating sequence of blue and red marbles. Here is how the finished product will look/work:

This particular puzzle is fairly simple—since they are meant to be done in order, the earlier ones serve merely to help players get started. After that, however, the difficulty scales up quite a bit. The game periodically introduces new components that necessitate entirely different ways of thinking. One key rule is that marbles can never “free-fall,” that is, they must always be transferred directly from one component to the next.

Inside the box are a ton of cool gizmos, a sturdy, upright board, and a thick, spiral-bound book containing over fifty challenges. These puzzles are interspersed among a cool, comic-book story, which really helps to establish a theme. The insert is thoughtfully manufactured, with a spot to hold everything. All in all, Turing Tumble feels like a high-quality item, both in production value and play experience.

Basically, Turing Tumble is what would happen if you put a scientific calculator, a computer engineering textbook, and Plinko from “The Price is Right” in a blender and made a smoothie. (That has to be the weirdest sentence I’ve ever written.)

As an amateur programmer myself, I am amazed by how perfectly this game abstracts the actual functionality of a computer into a tangible, visual format. Turing Tumble can do all kinds of real-life computer operations, such as inputting/outputting information, forwarding, switching, and stopping. For the last two years, I have been learning to code in Python, and this game allows me to see physical manifestations of concepts like if/else statements, breaks, loops, and more. The red and blue marbles themselves can easily be thought of as binary 0’s and 1’s, such that the output is an actual, numerical value. It is not an overstatement to say that, if the board was infinitely large, Turing Tumble could do any computation an electronic computer could.

Solving these puzzles truly requires players to think like programmers—perhaps the highest praise I can offer is that playing Turing Tumble has actually made me a better programmer, personally. If you have ever done any coding, you will understand both the frustration of getting stuck on a multi-layered problem, and also the accomplished feeling of solving it, error-free. Turing Tumble‘s puzzles give these same sensations, and let me tell you, that “eureka” moment feels awesome.

Just like in real coding, this game allows players to periodically test-run a program, to see if things will go awry. (And, just like in real coding, they inevitably will.) It is then up to players to diagnose and address the problems. Even when a program works, the challenge doesn’t have to end there. Players might consider if it can be done differently or more efficiently. For example, one of the puzzles allows players to use any number of green ramp pieces. My initial solution used 28 of the 30 provided, and, though it produced the desired output, the more I studied the board, the more I realized I could make it “better.” By moving parts around and optimizing the routes, I was able to whittle it down to only 22 ramps, ostensibly removing 6 unnecessary “lines of code.”

The gameplay itself is entirely addictive. I live about 10 minutes from where I work, and in the short time that I have had this game, I have gone home on every single lunch break to play it. There were a few days when I didn’t eat lunch at all, because I was so engrossed in these marbles and gears that I just forgot to. Much like a video game that has players saying, “just one more level” until 3 AM, Turing Tumble will have players mesmerized for hours.

I don’t even know if Turing Tumble can be classified as a “game,” but if so, it may be the best game I’ve played in 2018. I am awestruck by what it does, how it works, and the way it makes me think. The goal of any “edutainment” product should be to present complex principles in a fun, engaging, and digestible manner, but many such products simply come across as childish or pandering. Turing Tumble respects players’ intelligence, and pushes them to use their minds in new ways. It is challenging, rewarding, frustrating, educational, and just really, really fun. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

A review copy was provided by Turing Tumble.

The post Review: Turing Tumble appeared first on Geeks Under Grace.

Read the whole story
40 days ago
Share this story

The Harm That Data Do

1 Share
Paying attention to how algorithmic systems impact marginalized people worldwide is key to a just and equitable future

-- Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

Read the whole story
86 days ago
Share this story

The 7 Habits: Sharpen the Saw

1 Share

Welcome back to our monthly series that summarizes, expands, and riffs on each of the seven habits laid out in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.

Every now and then I get into funks where I feel tired, depressed, unmotivated, and pissy. On days when I’m in a funk, I’ll try to will myself to work through pure mental grit. I’ll flog my brain and body with caffeine. I’ll set Pomodoro timers and tell myself, “Just work for 15 minutes.” I’ll try all the tricks I’ve learned over the years on how to be productive.

But it never works.

In fact, I often feel crappier. I start bitching and moaning about all the stupid things and people in the world that are bugging the tar out of me.

At this point in my spiral downwards, Kate will tell me: “You should probably go take a nap. Or go for a walk outside. Or go get a massage.”

“But I don’t have time to do something like that!” I retort. “I’ve got so much to do!”

To which she invariably replies: “Well, you’re not getting anything done while you’re in your funk. You’ve just spent an hour stewing in your chair. Take care of your funk first, and then you can get back to work. By taking some time away from work in the short-term, you’ll actually be more productive in the long-term.”

She’s right, of course.

And re-reading the last chapter of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People only drove Kate’s point home even deeper for me. Habit 7 is “Sharpen the Saw,” and today we take a look at what that means, how to do it, and how taking intentional timeouts can greatly improve your performance in the game of life.

What Does It Mean to Sharpen the Saw?

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” —Abraham Lincoln

Covey begins his chapter on Habit 7 with a story that perfectly encapsulates my face-punching cycle of being in a funk, but not doing anything about it because I thought I was too busy to step away from work:

Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.

“What are you doing?” you ask.

“Can’t you see?” comes the impatient reply. “I’m sawing down this tree.”

“You look exhausted!” you exclaim. “How long have you been at it?”

“Over five hours,” he returns, “and I’m beat! This is hard work.”

“Well, why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?” you inquire. “I’m sure it would go a lot faster.”

“I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,” the man says emphatically. “I’m too busy sawing!”

For Covey, Sharpening the Saw is about taking the time to renew and refresh the four dimensions of our natures — physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional — so that we’re more effective in our life’s work. It’s about regularly investing in ourselves so that we can reap dividends on a continual basis. It means  working smarter, not harder. Sharpening the Saw is what 21st-century lifestyle bloggers would call “self-care,” and while that term has become overused and annoying, there’s really something to it.

Like the guy trying to fell a tree with a dull saw, you might think you don’t have time to take care of yourself. I get it. That’s how I feel when I’m in the depths of one of my funks.

But the reality is you don’t have time NOT to take care of yourself.

By taking 30 minutes to an hour a day to sharpen your metaphorical saw, you’ll be able to get more done during the rest of your waking hours, and avoid wasting time with unproductive rumination, self-flagellation, angst, fatigue, and even a descent into outright depression; I know if I flog myself too hard, for too long, and let my stress levels get too high, that can trigger the symptoms of “the black dog.” And if you want to talk about unproductive, depression sure is!

While investing time in “self-care” may seemingly curtail your productivity in the short-term, it will greatly enhance it in the long-term, as you won’t ultimately be sidelined by physical sickness, mental collapse, and just plain exhaustion.

Besides allowing you to get more done, regularly making time to take care of yourself also increases your sense of agency and effectiveness.

YOU decide what you do to sharpen your saw. It’s up to YOU to make sure you do those things. As you successfully take action on honing the unique blade of your life, you show yourself that you’re an autonomous being. What’s more, you increase your competency. As you increase your competency, you increase the influence you can have on the world outside of yourself.

So again, you really don’t have time NOT to sharpen the saw. An excuse to not sharpen the saw is an excuse for failure, burnout, and mediocrity.

The 4 Dimensions of Your Life to Sharpen: Physical, Spiritual, Mental, Social/Emotional

Covey says that when it comes to our personal lives, we should focus on four domains: physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional.

All of these dimensions are interconnected. If we feel good physically, we have mental clarity and better control of our emotions. If our social life is good, we’ll have more motivation and energy to take care of ourselves physically. And because these human domains are interconnected, it allows us to synergize them which will enable you to do more in less time (more on that below).

Not only are all the domains of life interconnected, but though the listed action steps below may impact the specific domain under which they’re categorized most directly, they’ll often influence your other domains as well; e.g., exercise can improve, and can be intentionally used to improve, not only your physical life, but your mental, emotional, and even your spiritual life too.

1. Physical

Sharpening the blade of physicality ensures your body has the strength and vigor it needs to take on life’s demands. If you’re tired and sick all the time, you’re not going to be very productive, no matter how much you work.

So make taking care of your body a priority in your life. At a minimum focus on:

  1. Exercising
  2. Eating right
  3. Getting enough sleep each night

Those three things can go a long, long way in keeping you physically sharp, so begin there and make them non-negotiables.  

Once you’ve got a handle on those three areas, start exploring other ways to hone the blade of physicality: naps, saunas, cold showers, massages, reducing caffeine consumption, etc. Experiment with different “protocols” and see what makes you feel your best.

I want to reiterate that this stuff doesn’t have to take much time. If all you have is 30 minutes a day to work out, then do 30 minutes of bodyweight exercises. If you have a lunch break, take a 20-minute power nap. Don’t think you have to spend a lot of time on this stuff to get significant benefit from it.

2. Spiritual

The spiritual domain generates your sense of purpose in life. It’s the core of who you are and why you do what you do. Failure to sharpen this blade can leave you feeling cynical, listless, and burned out.

It’s easy to neglect our spiritual life because it’s, well, spiritual. Concrete day-to-day stuff takes up so much of our attention that the more ethereal strands of spirituality just get pushed aside. But eventually, the neglect catches up to you. It happens when you’re lying in bed scrolling through Instagram wondering “What am I doing with my life?” or when you lose your job or find out a family member has cancer. Those are the moments when having a sense of purpose, a solid foundation of values, comes in handy. Spirituality can ultimately be just as “practical” as any other area of your life.

Keeping your spirit in shape is very much like keeping your body in shape; just like you can’t expect to jump into a marathon without any training, if you want your spiritual blade to be honed whenever you need it, you need to commit to sharpening it each day.

How do you train your soul? Through habits and spiritual disciplines like:

I really like the sentiment expressed by Martin Luther: “I have so much to do today, I’ll need to spend another hour on my knees.” While you don’t necessarily need to spend a whole hour sharpening your spiritual blade, taking a little time to do so each day can help magnify your capacity for work, and lead to a more purpose-driven, fulfilling life overall.

3. Mental

For most workers in the modern economy, the job they do is largely “mind work.” It constantly dulls their mental saw, so that doing more mental work in their leisure time — even in the form of “sharpening” — hardly seems like it will be refreshing. They just want to turn their mind off altogether, by surfing the internet or watching TV. But as Winston Churchill wisely observed, rejuvenation can be found in a change to one’s activity, rather than the cessation of it:

“Change is the master key. A man can wear out a particular part of his mind by continually using it and tiring it . . . the tired parts of the mind can be rested and strengthened, not merely by rest, but by using other parts. It is not enough merely to switch off the lights which play upon the main and ordinary field of interest; a new field of interest must be illuminated . . . It is only when new cells are called into activity . . . that relief, repose, refreshment are afforded.”

This is to say that the best way to rejuvenate your dulled-down mind is not to turn it off, but to give it something different to think about than what it usually grinds through at work. Not only will this fresh mental fare stimulate unused parts of your brain, it can give you insights and ideas that can loop back into your professional success.

Below are a few suggestions on how you can fuel your brain’s recovery and sharpen the mental blade:

4. Social/Emotional

We are social animals. While it’s true some of us are introverts, even introverts benefit from rubbing shoulders with other human beings. Several studies have found socializing can help reduce stress and curb depressive feelings. What’s more, interacting with other human minds is a way to learn new ideas and refine our own. Socializing synergizes with sharpening our mental blade.

A few suggestions on sharpening the social saw:

Though Covey lumps together the emotional domain with the social domain, I think they can be treated separately; emotional balance is so important, it ought to be a distinct area of focus and awareness, for when your emotional life is in order, everything else in life seems to hum along, even when there are hiccups.

Here a few suggestions on sharpening your emotional blade:

How to Find Time to Sharpen the Saw

Most people know what they need to do to take care of themselves. The trick is to actually do it! Below are a few suggestions that I’ve successfully implemented in my life to ensure I sharpen my saw on a regular basis:

Make Sharpening the Saw a “Big Rock.” We talked about Big Rocks in our article on putting first things first. A big rock is an item that you put in your calendar first. You then schedule everything else around that item. For most people, self-care isn’t a Big Rock. They only do it if they have time. Here’s the rub: if you don’t make sharpening the saw a priority in your life, it will never happen.

So as you plan your week, block out time for your sharpening the saw activities as part of your Big Rock calendaring. And then here’s the trick: don’t compromise on it. If a conflicting activity comes up during your week (that’s not a life-threatening emergency), just say “Sorry, I already have plans for that time. Does another time work?”

You have to protect your sharpening the saw time. And if you ever start to feel guilty or bad that you’re saying “No” to people so you can focus on “me time,” remind yourself that your “me time” will allow you to be more effective in the things to which you’ve already said “Yes.”

What can you via negativa out of your life? If you feel like you absolutely have no time for sharpening the saw, maybe it’s time to look at your life to see what you can “via negativa” out of it. What can you stop doing that will free up more time for yourself? Maybe you’re wasting too much time on the internet or your smartphone? Maybe you’re watching too much TV? Maybe you’ve got some obligations that aren’t serving your goals?  Find those things and eliminate them or at least reduce the amount of time you spend on them. Live simply.

Start small. In The 7 Habits, Covey recommends you spend an hour a day on sharpening the saw activities. If you don’t have an hour, do what you can. If you only have 10 minutes, use that. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good!

Synergize! Take a lesson from Habit 6 and find ways to synergize your sharpening the saw activities. For example, you can combine renewing your mental and physical capacities by listening to a podcast (shameless plug: subscribe to ours!) while you’re running. You can combine mental and social/emotional renewal by attending a community lecture with a buddy.

When life gets hard, sharpen the saw. When the friction in your life moves from healthy to debilitating, and things just feel crappy, sharpen the saw. Instead of trying to plow through the resistance, take an hour to decompress so you can come back at it with renewed energy. I’ve gotten better about taking time to sharpen the saw whenever I get in a funk. Instead of saying “I don’t have time to take care of myself!” I take a nap, or go for a walk outside, or meditate, or go to the sauna (though I work out in my garage, I joined a $10-a-month gym just for this purpose; it’s been money well spent for me). Even taking 30 minutes to do those things is enough to get me out of my funk and get me back in the saddle. Action always beats bitching about how terrible everything is.

7 Habits Series Wrap-Up

I hope you enjoyed reading this exploration of Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People as much I enjoyed writing it. Re-reading this classic personal development book provided some new insights for myself, but more importantly, reminded me of principles that I need to work on implementing in my life to a greater extent.

If you haven’t read The 7 Habits, I highly recommend you pick up a copy for your personal library. If you’ve read it already, re-read it. You’ll be surprised by how much you’ll learn about how to be more effective in every area of your life.

Read the Whole Series

  1. Be Proactive, Not Reactive
  2. Begin With the End in Mind
  3. Put First Things First
  4. Think Win/Win
  5. Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
  6. Synergy (Beyond the Eye-Rolling Buzzword)
  7. Sharpen the Saw

The post The 7 Habits: Sharpen the Saw appeared first on The Art of Manliness.

Read the whole story
90 days ago
Share this story

When AI Misjudgment Is Not an Accident

1 Share
Intentional bias is another way artificial intelligence could hurt us

-- Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

Read the whole story
92 days ago
Share this story

Why Every Young Man Should Play a Team Sport

1 Share

Some of my best memories from my childhood and teenage years involve my participation in team sports. I played baseball and basketball during elementary and middle school, and football all through high school.

The funny thing is, the scenes that stick out to me the most from these experiences aren’t specific plays or key moments in a game (though I do have a few special memories of this type). Rather, I mainly think about the camaraderie and sense of belonging that being on a team gave me as a kid. I remember yukking it up with my teammates in the dugout and on the sidelines. I remember the long drives home on a school bus where I talked with teammates about the game and life. I remember receiving encouragement when I fell short of my potential as well as providing encouragement to a teammate when he needed it. I remember compliments from coaches that still hearten me today. I remember what it was like to depend on others and to be depended on. I remember what it was like to lead and be led.

Participating in team sports taught me the importance of showing up, giving my all, and embracing interdependency — it taught me that working together with other guys towards a common goal is paradoxically the best way to become a fully formed individual. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, it taught me a lot about what it means to be a man.

Unfortunately, fewer boys are experiencing the joys and lessons that come from team sports. Over just the last five years, the number of youth playing them has dropped almost 10% (and it’s not because of safety concerns over tackle football — baseball and basketball have seen even bigger declines).

This is a real shame.

Participating in team sports should be considered a true essential in a young man’s development.

Today we’ll make an argument for why.

Why Every Young Man Should Play a Team Sport 

Participating in sports of any kind is obviously beneficial from a health and weight standpoint; in a country that continues to struggle with obesity and youth are more inactive than ever, sports provide a vital dose of physical activity.

But participating in team sports also has a particular benefit to young men: it’s one of the few, likely only, chances for a young man in the modern world to be part of an all-male “gang” in pursuit of a physical goal.

As laid out by authors like Lionel Tiger in Men in Groups and Jack Donovan in The Way of Men, the gang has been the fundamental unit of the male sex since primordial times. Bands of men would work together to hunt and to battle, and much of what underlies the core of masculinity grew out of this group dynamic.

The modern athletic team remains one of the last bastions of the male gang ethos, and if a boy doesn’t participate in one, he’ll likely never experience it, unless he later joins the military. School is coed, clubs are coed, the workplace is coed. All-male Bible studies or fraternities can capture some of the culture and spirit of men’s groups, but because they are not centered around a strenuous, physical activity — like the hunting and fighting squads of old — they do not and cannot impart the full scope of this social unit’s energies.

Thus, a young man who does not participate in a team sport will miss out on ever understanding a large component of the masculine experience. Full stop.

In particular, he will miss out on experiencing the following dynamics:

Us vs. Them. Males have a tendency to break themselves into in-groups and out-groups, and to feel proud of the group to which they belong. The male team bonds over being different — and better — than other teams. It feels it has a distinct culture — its own traditions, inside jokes, and values — which set it apart from other crews.

It’s argued there is too much of this “us vs. them” ethos in the present age, and there certainly can be in domains in which the superiority of each side is a subjective matter of philosophical debate, with no way to decide an ultimate “winner,” and the disparate groups must not only compete, but cooperate.

But in team sports, where there is a concrete mechanism, in the form of contests, in which superiority can be objectively determined, and the different sides meet solely for the purpose of competition, the excesses of in-group/out-group rivalries are not only kept in check, they serve as healthy sources of identity and belonging.

Intra-/Inter-Competition. A member of a team experiences two sources of motivation: the desire to be the best on his own squad, and the desire to beat external opponents. He wants to be a starter, to make varsity; at the same time, he wants to beat his cross-town rivals when it’s time for a meet or game. These dynamics work in tandem to bring out the best in a young man — both in his athletic potential and in his respect for others.

While two players of the same team might compete fiercely for a starting position, they ultimately have to keep their conflict in check; they have to yearn to be on top with all their heart, and yet be able to step back when beat out by a teammate, accepting what’s best for the team as a whole.

An athlete is also motivated by trying to outdo the players of another team. But here too he maintains a healthy respect for his competitor. The rules of the game and the code of sportsmanship demand such. A competing team provides something for boys to push back against together. If they win, they have a chance to learn how to be magnanimous in victory; if they lose, they learn how to be gracious in defeat.

Status Up/Status Down. This year my son Gus joined a flag football team. Before the first practice, he said confidently: “I bet I’m one of the best players on the team.” When the practice got underway, the boys played a game where Gus kept getting his flag ripped off. He became so frustrated and dejected that he started to cry. It was one of those moments where as a dad you’re seriously worried about your kid’s resilience, and questioning how you raised him.

But in subsequent practices, there have been no more tears. Gus accepted where he is on the team’s totem pole of ability. He learned he could have fun even if he wasn’t the best player. Simply being part of the team made up for not being the top dog.

The paradoxical thing about participating in team sports is that it both checks a young man’s status and elevates it. The concrete, real-time feedback it provides brings self-assessed measures of worth — which can become inflated when gauged in the abstract — down to earth. But at the same time, belonging to the team raises your sense of status — gives you a sense of identity and belonging and value. Together, these forces provide young men with a healthy, balanced sense of self.

Cooperation. There’s an idea out there that women tend to be better at cooperation than men. But scientific research has found that’s simply not true: in mixed-sex situations, men and women cooperate equally well, and in same-sex situations, men actually cooperate better with other men, than women do with other women, and men are more willing to cooperate with men of lower status than women are with females of lower rank.

These findings are really not so surprising when you realize men have been cooperating with each other in all-male hunting and fighting gangs for millennia.

The arena of team sports allows boys to activate and develop this primordial proclivity.

Being on a team requires a boy to learn that to win, he’s got to put the team ahead of himself. That means passing it to an open player on the court instead of trying to force a shot, or running a pass assignment perfectly even if the QB doesn’t throw the ball to you.

Success in life depends on learning how to cooperate with others; team sports give boys a chance to hone that skill in every practice and every game.

Mentorship. It’s often said that it takes a village to raise a child, and a set of vital figures in that village are non-familial mentors. Grown-ups outside the home can reach boys in ways parents just can’t; young men listen to them in ways they don’t listen to their own folks.

Coaches often play the role of these invaluable mentors.

My high school football coaches had a huge influence on me as a young man. My offensive line coach would invite us into his home to watch film. Sure, we were prepping for the next game, but I got to see, firsthand, a positive example of a family man. Another coach would bring each player into his office at the end of each season and discuss life goals. Getting that sort of attention from a grown man that’s not your dad is manna for a young man’s soul. 

My son’s coach has the boys take a knee at the end of practice before imparting lessons on things like discipline and hard work. He even went over how to properly shake hands. I do this kind of stuff already with Gus, but it was sure nice to have another man reinforce the importance of it. 

Camaraderie. Male camaraderie is a special energy, a unique dynamic. It comes from men being able to take teasing without being insulted, and give and take criticism and feedback without being offended. It comes from learning to pull their weight and being committed to not letting the team down. From having a sense of honor.

Research has shown that males bond when working together to defeat a common foe or tackle a difficult challenge. A shared code, a shared purpose, builds bonds.

Being in the “trenches” with other guys on a sports team thus fosters close friendships both on and off the field. Like I said before, some of my best memories of sports were just hanging out with my buddies on the team. The game was the glue that brought us together.

Shared physical hardship. Camaraderie is particularly developed when men not only share in a common purpose, but in physical effort. Studies have shown that strong ties are built when you exercise with others in a group, and the more intense the exercise, the greater the connection. Further, doing synchronous movements with others improves each individual’s performance. There’s just something about doing hard, physical things as a team that brings people together, and brings out their best.

This effect isn’t just good for a boy’s performance and sense of belonging — it sets him up to have a healthy relationship to “voluntary suffering” for the rest of his life. A young man growing up in the modern suburbs may have no other chance to experience physical “hardship,” and to learn that he’s not only able to push through the pain and strain, but that there’s a certain satisfaction, even pleasure, in doing so. The brain connects physical effort not just with physiological pleasure, but the pleasures of moving as one with a team. Later in life, this association between exercise and enjoyment remains.

In contrast, men who do not participate in sports growing up, and try to get into fitness later in life, often experience the pain of exertion as foreign and unpleasurable. They seem to have a harder time getting into the groove of regular workouts compared to those who viscerally associate pushing themselves physically with some of the best times of their lives.

Getting Your Son Into Team Sports

For some parents, getting their sons involved in team sports is natural — they consider it an automatic, practically default part of childhood.

Other parents have concerns about doing so, especially as their boys become adolescents, which are mainly centered on 3 issues:

First, they don’t want their sons to become one-sided jocks. They want their boys to be exposed and interested in more cultural or intellectual stuff. But it needn’t be an either/or thing; many great men in history developed both their mind and their body. Gus does flag football and takes piano lessons, and Kate and I will expect both our children to do one artistic/musical activity and one athletic activity throughout their school years. We value the formation of “the whole man.”

But this brings up another common concern: a resistance to “forcing” one’s children to do a sport. Interestingly, this concern only seems to apply to athletics. Parents make their kids go to school and do their homework, even if they don’t enjoy it, and they make their children do piano lessons, even if they complain. But, making kids do a sport somehow seems to be a more onerous and inappropriate expectation. I don’t think it is though. You “force” kids to do all kinds of things that you think are for their ultimate future betterment — from going to church to going to the doctor. Once they’re 18, after having been exposed to a variety of interests, they’ll have the next 60+ years to decide entirely for themselves how they’ll spend their time.

This second concern is heightened, however, by a third one, where parents feel especially bad about expecting a child to do a sport if the child doesn’t seem athletically disposed. They’re bookish, or sensitive, or uncoordinated.

There are a couple things to keep in mind with this perceived issue, though.

Parents can interpret a child’s seeming disposition as permanent — as his unalterable destiny. He seems sensitive, so they treat him with kid gloves, and keep him out of sports, and this simply turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy. A boy is not exposed to sports, so unsurprisingly, he has no interest in sports. The effect is often compounded by the fact that a less physically oriented and/or intellectual child often comes from less physically oriented and/or intellectual parents; Dad never played a sport, so he doesn’t play catch with his son, and his son thus doesn’t show much inclination to playing with balls. Dad is also more comfortable raising a son who has the same interests and disposition as he does, so he steers his son to the same path.

The reality is that just because a boy is cerebral and/or less physically inclined early on, doesn’t mean he was “meant to be” that way. Gus was very timid and sensitive when he was little, but exposure to sports gave him a lot of confidence and brought out a whole different side of him that otherwise would have remained unrealized and undeveloped. Looking at his personality as a two-year-old, you never would have known how much he loves flag football as a seven-year-old. If Theodore Roosevelt’s father had decided Teddy was just a bookish, sickly boy, and hadn’t challenged him to “build his body,” he never would have grown into the physical-activity-loving, energetic dynamo that he became. Don’t decide early on “that’s just the way he is.”

Also, a wide variety of team sports exist; from lacrosse to cross-country, there’s something that can fit nearly every boy’s personality. When kids are young, they don’t know what they like yet, so expose them to different activities and see what they’re drawn to.

No one would say that if a grown man is nerdy, or bookish, or sensitive, then exercise is optional in his life and isn’t absolutely crucial for his physical and mental health. All men, of every kind, need physical activity. Likewise, no one should think athletics are optional for young men, either. When it comes to the team-oriented variety, they’re not only essential for their health, but for their masculine spirit as well.

The post Why Every Young Man Should Play a Team Sport appeared first on The Art of Manliness.

Read the whole story
97 days ago
Share this story
Next Page of Stories