Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Learning from past works of art

                I made a point to try to spend my time more wisely in the New Year.  To start, I am getting back to reading things for enjoyment.  Not to say I don’t love reading work related material, but I wanted to get back to the culture of actually reading for pleasure.  Many of you may not know this, but when I began my university career I was an English major.   This may give you a sense as to why I talk and write gooder than others in my industry.  I thought I would share some of my favorite pieces of art that have helped not only made me sound like I know what I am talking about, but that have some connection to what we do as coaches.  Here is a list of some of my favorite recommendations (keep in mind there are many more!) and a very brief explanation as to why:


1.       The Count of Monte Christo by Alexandre Dumas.  I have read the abridged version twice this year as the original is freaking long, but it is worth the read.  An amazing tale of hope, revenge and forgiveness written in the most impeccable detail. 

2.       The Art of War by Sun Tzu.  Although this book is about military tactics, we can draw a lot of similarities to the athletes and teams that we coach in terms of strategy, direction and leadership.  If you are tired of using cheesy quotes about working hard and others not etc... Take a look at some of the beauties in this book and see how they may fit into those you are working with.  My personal favorite is “let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt”.

3.       The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi.  It’s kind of like The Lord of the Rings because they both have “rings” in the title (not at all).  Although this was written in the 1600’s, there are some great parallels in preparation, focus, dealing with conflict and opposition.   Like any book, things do not need to be taken too literally as it is now uncool to wield two swords while working.

4.       Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.   Admittedly, I read this in my English 11 class because it was the shortest book out of the choices we had been given.  This is the book that sparked my interest in English as a potential major in University.  As a side bar, my love of this book is not because of my likeness in stature or love of petting puppies to Lennie.  It is an amazing tale of two friends with a goal that comes to a tragic end.  Unlike real life Hollywood stories, not all endings are happy and not all dreams will be fulfilled, no matter how hard you work on them.

5.       Paradise Lost By John Milton.  I am not a very religious person, so I interpret it as making the best out of being sent to Hell. “The mind is its own place, and in it self can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.  What matter where, if I be still the same?”  This was the book that made me realize it was tough to write a 30 page paper on 30 lines of it while training 30 hours a week; hence the switch to Exercise Science. 


1.       “Stopping By The Woods On A Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost.  The use of imagery and symbolism is clear to any reader in my opinion.  As a coach, we teach our athletes the importance of imagery and “mental reps” on a daily basis.  The clarity of this poem is a great example of the mental picture our athletes should be seeing in their heads when they are working on their own visualization.  The final stanza is engrained in my head and has been a favorite of mine since I first read it.   If you are an English dork like me, let me know what you think the number 8 has to do with this poem!

·         “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep”

2.       “If” by Rudyard Kipling.   If you were once like me and thought that alcohol was the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems, you need to take a gander at this beauty.  Be humble, balance your life and use common sense when you read this…

3.       “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas.   I work with all populations.  Some of which take a lot of convincing as to the importance of exercise in life.  Life is a fight, even more so when we age and this poem gives a great account of the importance of this. 

4.       “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley.  Invictus is Latin for “unconquerable” or “undefeated”.  We must look within ourselves for strength.   The mind is a powerful tool and can be shaped to conquer many things.

5.       “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley.  It seems to me that my industry is plagued by egos and so called “gurus”.  Like Ozymandias, they will all rise to so called greatness, plateau and eventually fall but instead of leaving a decaying statue of themselves, it will be a stack of shitty books with their cheesy picture of them holding an apple on the cover. 

Here’s the thing that is cool, some of these literary works were penned over 300 years ago.  Keep that in mind as you read them and you will soon figure out how they are still applicable to what is happening today.  The beauty of all of this is that we can all interpret things a little differently regardless of the author’s intention.  With our interpretations comes creativity; something that seems to be lacking for many of us today.  Many of the current books we read and movies or shows we watch are regurgitating information that has been written years before.  Life has become very formulaic for some which has taken away the need to be creative.  When you read these pieces, the answer is not always clear.  We are forced to think and interpret what we believe the meaning to be.  I encourage you to start reading things that may be outside of your comfort zone!  We are in the business of dealing with people on a regular basis and there is no concrete formula that will help you deal with all populations.  The more you can read about people in history, the more you realize how history does in fact repeat itself.   As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me at joe@level10fitness.com

Yours in Strength,

Joe McCullum

Director of High Performance Training and Staff Development

Level 10 Fitness



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