Category Archives: Pshycology

I Can’t or I Won’t


Children are drawn to sports like geeks to the newest iPhone; they can’t help themselves. Even the shy ones, the overweight ones, the ones who are all elbows and thumbs, the ones who hate sweat, all still possess the restless energy that yearns to run and shriek and jump. And when you can run and shriek and jump with friends, it’s even better. Sports channels that energy, gives it focus. Rather than aimlessly running around on the playground, everyone has a place and a job to do, with defined rules and understandable goals. It’s sandbox sharing on a grand scale, as each member of the team learns to support everyone else.  When you capture that emotion in a photograph, that is when you have become a real sports photographer.

“But my child is more of a scholastic,” parents may worry. “I just can’t see her running around in the mud.” Maybe not, but sport is not just for the natural athlete. The bookworm not only can, but should, get out there, too. Parents focused on getting their child into Harvard would do well to remember that schools look at more than academics. The coveted Rhodes Scholarship, which has launched so many careers in business, politics, science, and statesmanship, goes only to college students who not only score high academically, but are athletes as well. Cecil Rhodes knew that a well-rounded individual is one who has learned on the sports field many crucial life lessons that books alone cannot teach.

What lessons? What does playing baseball have to offer that a good chess club cannot? You mean, aside from vigorous physical activity to tone up the body, strengthen the heart, and get our increasingly sedentary children out of their chairs?

The chess match requires mental discipline, knowledge of the game, strategic thinking, and a desire to win. A race, a tennis match, a football game, a skating routine, all require mental focus, physical stamina, the ability to “read” the opposition, and the willpower to keep going hard enough, fast enough, and long enough to at least finish, if not win. Showing up for the chess match or for the local Key Club project demonstrates responsibility, but acquiring willpower of the type required for sports is a matter of self-discipline, of physical effort, of step-by-step progress that can be measured and appreciated: “Today I ran an extra quarter mile. Next time I’ll try for another.” Every day that a child sticks to a training routine builds a habit of self-discipline that produces not only heightened self-esteem, but the confidence that comes with achieving a goal. That feeling and those habits instill, at very deep levels, the knowledge that “I can!”

Barack Obama famously used “Yes, we can” to win the White House. It is probably not a coincidence that the 44th president is an accomplished basketball player who played on his high school team and enjoys pickup games whenever he can find one. For him, it was not organized league sports that taught him the most valuable lessons, but those impromptu games against a variety of players who cared only about how well you could play, not who or what you were. Sports has the power to reduce life to its essentials, erasing differences in skin color, national origin, social background, and other artificial barriers. It comes down to “show me what you got,” a game any child can play.

And what if your child doesn’t “have it”? So what? Does that mean he can’t improve? Should she trudge home in defeat, convinced she can never fit in because she can’t sink that basket or beat that girl to the finish line? It is not the quitters we admire, but the people who take defeat as a challenge to do better.  These lessons and memories are what can be captured in a photograph and which helps these lessons to be remembered.

Can’t or won’t—sports helps us discover how to turn “I don’t want to” into “Look what I did!”

Lessons From the Playing Field

Understanding Sports lessons will make you a better sports photographer

“Doctors and scientists said that breaking the four-minute mile was impossible, that one would die in the attempt. Thus, when I got up from the track after collapsing at the finish line, I figured I was dead.”

Roger Bannister, the first man to run the mile under four minutes, knew better than to let other people squash his dreams.

All parents hope their children will grow up with the sort of courage and determination it takes to buck the conventional wisdom and do something great in life. They want their children to be successful, to be able to meet what life throws at them, to be good citizens. Brave, kind, and clever aren’t bad traits, either, and of course, they want them to be people others look up to. How do we accomplish that when, increasingly, parents have to fight their way through a maze of social networks, iPods, video games, texting, and the coolest new thing at the mall just to find out what their kids had for lunch? How do they plug these complicated children of the technological age into values that can’t be absorbed from a widget on their cell phones?

Nothing in the parenting how-to manuals or all the civics classes ever taught can quite measure up to the lessons children learn through participation in sports. Your ability to capture some of that emotion, those lessons and memories on camera are critical.  Quite aside from the physical benefits of a fitter, healthier body, the intangible lessons learned resonate lifelong: self-discipline, respect for authority, an understanding of the importance of rules, how to set and achieve goals, how to work with others . . . the list goes on. Best of all, it produces young people with an appreciation for more than what’s on the TV or the iPod. They learn, firsthand, how to deal with frustrations and challenges instead of from a scripted drama on a DVD; they learn camaraderie face-to-face with flesh-and-blood friends instead of strangers on FaceBook; and they learn the difference between just thinking about achievement and actually, well, achieving it.

While over 30 million American children are enrolled in sports programs of various types, for many parents, “sports” can be an intimidating word, conjuring up visions of rough and tumble games, injuries, and their child melting under the pressure of trying to hit the championship-winning run with the entire world watching. Yet what a thrill it is when a child actually hits that ball, scores the run, and experiences the never-to-be-forgotten joy of meeting a difficult challenge. What confidence and staying power come from persevering through the aches and pains of getting in shape and learning that a little sweat won’t kill you after all? What better way to learn that holding back is the sure road to disappointment? It is all too true that those who never try, never do anything worth remembering.

If there is one overriding lesson to be learned from taking part in sports, it is that it offers a mirror into ourselves. It is the world in miniature, full of every challenge life can offer, from dealing with physical pain to dealing with heartbreak. It teaches us how to lead as well as how to follow, how to think clearly when things are moving fast, how to set a goal and how to achieve it. It allows us to succeed and teaches us how to fail, and it gives us perspective. Michael Jordan says of his disappointments: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Success in sports is measured in milestones, not medals. It shows up in every incandescent grin over a softball clutched in a grubby fist, in every wobbly single axel landed perfectly, in every “I can do it!” delivered with steely dignity to a hovering parent. It appears in scraped knees, torn jerseys, tears of disappointment and tears of joy. It resounds in the cacophony of an alarm clock at a horrible hour, the thwock of a perfect connection of bat against ball, the hoarse, excited screams of parents cheering their child across the finish line, dead last. It comes from, simply, finishing what you start.  And that is the most lasting lesson of all.

Your ability to capture those emotions and those moment on camera are important for creating memories that last a life time.  Not that the camera will ingrain that character trait into the athlete, but the memory of those moments both good and bad help to make those life long lessons memorable. 

Photographing Leaders On and Off the Field


Look for the leader both on and off the field as you develop photo opportunities.  Whether an athlete chooses to play a team sport, or takes on the more personal challenge of an individual score, there is a very good chance that at some point an opportunity to lead the way will present itself. That may be in pioneering a new football play or skating move, or it may mean serving as team captain or president of the local track club. It may mean mentoring a younger child or serving as an assistant coach. Far from simply “leading” by scoring the most points or setting a record, this kind of leadership lasts. It requires an added depth of responsibility as well as instills a deeper sense of pride. Being chosen to lead an association of equals is an affirmation of how much has been learned, how much the child now has to give back to the sport, and how much trust has been earned from his or her peers. 

Most people don’t really set out to be leaders. They grow into it, as with everything else. When a child first joins in the playground game, it is as an outsider, an unknown quantity. Look into their faces, and you can see pretty much the same thoughts running through every head. Can she play? Is he a bully? Can we trust that kid with the ball?

The first game pretty much answers those questions: relative skills get sorted out and personalities get assessed, just as when an adult walks into a new workplace. Over time, natural leaders will rise, the ones who speak up and suggest new strategies, who instinctively head off fights, who rally flagging spirits. These are the obvious marks of leadership, but there is another kind as well, instilled in a much more subtle way.

Participating in any endeavor takes a certain amount of courage, from joining the chess team to extreme skateboarding. “Crash and burn” isn’t always a physical thing; a humiliating loss in chess stings just as much, even though it doesn’t break bones. For the shy newcomer or the prickly kid who is terrified of being laughed at, every mistake feels like someone has turned all the spotlights right on them. The answer is not to soothe and cuddle, but to tell them to look around. When you watch the best athletes in the club miss a jump, fall over their feet, or fluff an easy layup, the notion that you must be perfect starts to seem sort of silly. When you see the champs pick themselves up, laugh it off, and try again, it can make a powerful impression. Imitating that behavior can become force of habit—and pretty soon, the new kids are looking at you like you’re a god. What a boost to the self-confidence!

Vince Lombardi said, "Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile." The day-by-day progress in sports is made over weeks, months, years, so gradually that when we stop to look back, we can hardly believe how far we’ve come. That one-time new kid on the playground is suddenly the one teaching the little kids how to hold the ball.

By finding a following the leaders you will find the essence of the team emotion and the spirit that unites the team both of which will create photo opportunities no only of the leader but those around them.

Tapping the Power Inside


Can you capture the character of adversity and the power of the mind over the physical body in your sports photos.  Conventional wisdom tells us that character is built through adversity. When faced with life or death, people tend to quickly discover either their worst or their best traits. Sports allows a less drastic means of finding out whether we are winners or whiners. Better yet—it provides us continuous opportunities to change from one to the other. One-on-one with that alarm clock demanding we get up and go work out, we can either roll over and pretend not to hear it, or get up and claim a small victory. Having turned that small victory into that extra quarter mile today, we arrive at work or school smiling and a little fitter, a little stronger, a little more confident in our own power to control and change our lives—all by ourselves!

Any success in sports comes down in large measure to the self-discipline of the individual. That does not mean just sticking to a workout program, or working hard to improve game skills. Establishing a routine can build life-long habits of eating better and exercising; children who must get themselves up to work out before school, or get from Point A to Point B in time for the practice or game, learn responsibility as well. Disappointing the whole team because you were late is a powerful lesson in consequences, one that will stick even longer because it was self-taught. Self-discipline also encompasses learning to let teammates work in their own way, even if you don’t agree with it; or refraining from going out of your assigned zone to chase the ball. How many times have we seen a point lost because a zealous player interfered with someone who was actually getting the job done? Sticking to the job is the mark of the professional; it can be learned in fifth grade hockey as easily as at your first paid employment.

The relationship between success at sports and success in life has long been proven. The notion that sports and academics are somehow for separate “types” of people is a stereotype that puts up artificial social barriers. All children have the urge to run and play, yet when some start to display superior running, jumping, or throwing abilities, others may want to hang back, sparing themselves the humiliation of losing. Or, just as damaging, they tell themselves they’re above all that silliness; that sports, and those other kids who focus their energies on making baskets instead of grades, are a waste of their time. Of course, the sports-minded kids think the “brains” are snooty, and both sides miss the mark.

Any coach can tell you that half the victory is achieved in the mind; races are as much about strategy as about pure athletic effort. “Work smarter, not harder,” applies equally to the playing field as to the work place. That toned body is important, but being able to spot the pattern in an opponent’s game might give your bookworm an edge over a fitter or more naturally talented player. The sheer diversity of champions should teach us all that victory is not as much about native ability as it is about determination.

Consider Olympic gold medal wrestler Rulon Gardner. The youngest of nine children, he continually lost at games and wrestling matches to his older brothers. "In high school, I didn’t get the chance to wrestle varsity until my senior year because I had an older brother who was better than me,” he says. He was told he wasn’t good enough to wrestle at the international level. He was gently discouraged from college because it was thought he wouldn’t make it through. He did, in fact, graduate from college. Though wrestling against more talented opponents, his determination got him onto the United States wrestling squad. His dedication to fitness training left his “better” adversaries panting and defeated. When told he would face a world champion who had not lost a match in 13 years, Rulon studied every detail of his opponent’s career—and produced the “Miracle on the Mat” at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. No one thought he could win. No one except Rulon, who simply refused to give up.  Is he extraordinary? Perhaps. But sports gave him a venue to prove himself to be more than what people assumed he was.

Understanding this character and emotion that is created with sports will encourage you to take close ups of athletes faces.  There are moments during half-time, at the end of competitions or lulls in the action or even during the action where you will want to zoom in just on the athletes face to capture that imagery.  These will become some of your most beloved and remembered sports photos.