The Sport/Health Paradox

Picture this.

A wide receiver cathes a football. He is heading down the field with would-be tacklers hot on his heels. If he scores the touchdown, the game is over and his team wins. If he doesn’t cross the goal line, his team is defeated and their season is over.

As he is running, there is a slight burning sensation in the back of his left leg. He continues to run, and the burning turns into an aching pain – which turns into a shooting pain down the entire left side of his body. With every step, it feels like his hamstrings are going to tear from their origins.

So what is a player to do?

I think most people would say that injuries and pain are just a part of sports, and in a sense I agree with that. If anyone is pushing themselves to be at the top of their game and play at an extreme level, there are going to be aches, pains, bruises etc. that just come with participating in a sport. That’s the nature of the beast – the potential for damage.

So back to our player for SCENARIO 1

If he crosses the end line and scores, but tears his hamstrings in the process, he is a hero nonetheless. Sure, he can’t walk on his own and needs to be carried off the field, but he accomplished what he set out to do and should be awarded as a top notch performer. The fact that he sacrificed himself to win for the team – he could be heralded as the performer of the year.

Hold that thought for a second, as we’ll get back to it….


The wide receiver realizes his leg is going to experience some major damage if he keeps up the pace and intensity he is currently operating at, so he lays off a bit. Unfortunately, the opposing team has caught up to him and tackled him before he reaches the end line. Game over. Other team wins.

But his hamstrings are still attached.

So we have two scenarios, both with outcomes that have positives and negatives associated with them. Here is the question…

Which scenario was the healthier one?

For the sake of this discussion, let’s keep mental health out of this post and focus solely on the physical aspects. I bring up these 2 scenarios because many times the thought is that sports = health. If you play sports your are healthy, or if you play a sport you will get healthy. From Scenario 1 above, I’d say playing the sport was detrimental to his health. Muscle tore from bone…that isn’t healthy.

If we look at the reports coming from media outlets such as ESPN and other sports programming, we see the impact that sports can have on a player’s health in the long term. Broken bones, torn ligaments, sprain, strains, concussions…they all have a negative impact on a person’s physical health both short and long term.

Many times when I am consulting with people, they bring up a sport that they are using to be/get healthy. The conversation may go something like this:

Me: What is your main goal?

Them: To get healthy

Me: What do you feel will get you to your goal?

Them: Well, I want to add some strength training into my routine because I get in cardio by playing tennis two times a week and basketball two times a week. But I’m not sure if I can add in the strength training because my knees hurt, and my back is tight, and (add your favorite injury here).

Me: Is it possible that the sports you are playing are contributing to your aches and pains?

Them: I suppose so. I never thought of that…

I can’t blame them for not having thought of that, because the majority of the time people are told sports = health. I can tell you that the majority of my injuries over the years (and believe me, I’ve had my share) have come from sports I played throughout my life. Not from progressive resistance training, not from a structured aerobic program, not yoga. They came from the hours and hours spent on the field (soccer) and on the courts (tennis and basketball).

My last post discussed my interaction with some hard gravel during rec softball. You can read it here if you missed it.

Now don’t get me wrong – there are many positive things about sports. Whether it is learning about sacrificing self for the team, character building, perseverance, the importance of practice…the list can go on and on. I’m not here to bash sports, as I love them.

My point is this: Playing sports is not the same as being healthy. Many times, we sacrifice health for the sport.

The player in Scenario 2 may not have scored the touchdown, but he just may have saved himself a lot of pain by focusing on his long term health and not short term glory.

The glory will fade. Your health lasts a lifetime.


ADHD, Impulsivity, and Ouch Moments

According to Hallowell and Ratey’s book Driven to Distraction, a symptom of ADHD can be impulsivity – or not a planned course of action. Certain things are conducted as the result of an impulse, and therefore are done “without thinking.”


I like many people tend to think of the negatives associated with impulsivity, although there are times when impulsivity can be a positive thing. Many creative endeavors may have begun with an impulsive thought or action and turned into something wonderful. In the field of Psychology, we hear about the benefits of functionally impulsive individuals and how they can quickly take advantage of unexpected opportunities, think on their feet, and are mentally agile.

Then there is the dysfunctional impulsive. According to Adrian Furnham, Ph.D., “These people say whatever comes into their heads without thinking first.  They make appointments without checking they can honour them.  They buy things before considering whether they can afford them.  They jump in, just do it before considering difficulties, implications, pros and cons.”


And it is this last bit that I can relate to…

Last summer I was playing rec softball. I had not played for a long time, but was asked by some friends and decided why not. Although my skills in the sport are average, they needed someone who could at least get in front of a ball when fielding and take something resembling a swing when hitting. Check both boxes.

Fast forward to a warm summer evening. I hit a double and am on second base. I’m feeling good. The next batter hits a line drive past the second baseman, and I am on my way to third. At first I thought, “I’ll make it no problem.” But then I hear and see my teammates emploring me to get there fast as the ball was quickly on it’s way from the outfield.

This is where things get a little blurry in my mind. I remember sprinting toward third base. I remember seeing the third baseman reach out his glove to catch the oncoming ball. I remember beginning to slide into third base like it was game 7 of the World Series, and everything depended on me getting there safe.

What I forgot was I really didn’t care if we won or lost. What I forgot was me being out there to have some fun, do something different, and play a sport I hadn’t played in a while.

What I forgot was that I had shorts on, and the infield was not so much a soft dirt pad but a hard layer of gravel. Add to that fact I really had no business sliding because of my utter lack of skill in this area, and I was looking at a painful situation. I heard a collective gasp from pretty much everyone participating or watching, and I knew I had made a mistake. I looked down, and saw the beads of blood begin to pop up on my skin.

As the game progressed, my leg began to hurt a bit more, and bleed a bit more. I went home after our second game (of course we had a double-header, and I couldn’t back out!), and tried to tend to my new wound. Let’s just say showering wasn’t fun. The next few weeks (yes, weeks) weren’t fun either as sleepless nights and a trip to urgent care led to a life a little less active for a while.


This brings me to my point of impulsivity. When looking back on the scene, I couldn’t understand what it was that led me to think sliding on gravel with shorts on was a good idea. That is the point…I didn’t think. I had thought about a lot of other things throughout the game, but when that moment came it was as if all rational thought escaped my brain and I had to slide no matter what.

I had created planned courses of action in almost every other situation. Heck, I may have even thought about what to do right before that line drive to the outfield was hit and I was leaving for third base. But in that instant everything went to instinct, and my instinct was wrong. I paid the price, and still have the proof of what impulsivity can do in the form of a scar.

So what did I learn? With impulsivity, there isn’t always a reason why. Or sometimes it’s the most illogical reason and we do it anyway. What else did I learn? That as a personal trainer, when I discuss with my clients that many times sports and health are NOT the same thing, I have experienced just that.

Tune in next time for that topic.