An Athletic Ethos
Issue   |   Wed, 04/16/2014 - 00:58

The ice is my battlefield. The “A” on my jersey is a symbol of honor and heritage. By wearing the “A”, I accept the responsibility of my sport. I will never quit. I will persevere and thrive on adversity. I expect to lead and be led. In the absence of orders I will take charge, lead my teammates and accomplish the mission. I lead by example in all situations. My team expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than my enemies. If knocked down, I will get back up, every time. I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to play for my teammates and to accomplish our mission. I am never out of the fight.

As a member of the Amherst men’s ice hockey team, that is the ethos I honor every day. It is meant to characterize the spirit of the Amherst hockey culture by displaying our beliefs — the ethos provides us with an identity.

During the early weeks of the season, Rob Stevenson ’07, a former Amherst hockey captain, met with our team and helped us the formulate a personalized team identity. Stevenson represented our country by serving in the military upon graduating from Amherst and understands what it takes to be part of a brotherhood. During his time on the battlefield, he developed many important mental and physical skills that have helped him succeed and, ultimately, keep him alive.

However, what he learned in war traverses into areas outside of battle, more specifically, into athletic contest. The grueling tests the men and women of the military must complete are well-documented and among the most grueling known to man, but nothing less is expected from them as they represent and protect our nation. Similarly, athletes must force themselves to the brink both mentally and physically, in order to prepare and train their bodies for competition.

At a certain point during a game, fatigue disorients and creates internal conversations between the mind and body. Athletes have the option of complying with their body’s request for rest, or powering through the pain.

“Few people truly know the physical limits of the human body,” Stevenson remarked. “As your physical threshold of performance continues to reach new limits, your definition of ‘tired’ becomes anew and a ‘switch’ is developed.”

Once that “switch” is created, an athlete will find themselves one step ahead of others, especially towards the end of games. The “switch” is not something that one can develop overnight but is an essential mental tool for anyone participating in athletic contest.

“If that moment comes when you are confronted with your definition of ‘tired’, and it’s the first time you’re forcing yourself to push through,” Stevenson said, “it will be your last.”

Part of increasing mental capacity for sport stems from constant visualization.

“By repeatedly visualizing a future task, athletes trick their brain into thinking it has already been there before. This is not to say visualization alone allows an athlete to accomplish a goal — a certain symbiosis must exist between physical repetition and mental preparation. Such a combination is paramount,” Stevenson remarked. “While I was in the military, I would visualize all aspects of the situation — the sights, the sounds, the smells, the feelings, the tastes. The more times you experience something, the more times you use your memory muscle, the more second-nature that action becomes and hence you develop increased muscle memory.”

By participating in such visualization exercises, an athlete is prepared for any scenario, which is key during times of physical exhaustion. According to Stevenson, once the body appears to have no ability to continue, mental strength and preparation can convince the body there is more left to give.

After physical and mental preparation, the final step, according to Stevenson, is putting egos aside. You play on the same squad, on the same field, for the same coaches, and for the same school, thus should see yourself as equal with your fellow teammates.

“Each person has to hold themselves accountable and expect to be held accountable by others,” Stevenson said. “Brotherhoods and sisterhoods are the bedrock of successful units.”

As the team gels together, an identity is obtained — one that must constantly be maintained.Even though Amherst athletes do not elude bullets or operate state of the art weaponry, their mental fortitude and preparatory methods should, in many ways, resemble those of a United States soldier. Physical and mental strength will keep you alive on your given athletic field. Whether it be on the court, field or ice, it is your duty as an athlete to fight for your teammates. By training yourself and giving absolute devotion to the game, you become the player your teammates know they can rely on. Winners have the right chemistry of all mental and physical elements. Develop an ethos and live by it. Athletes must have a willingness to admit wrongs and a tireless effort to ensure those wrongs are never repeated. As Rob Stevenson says, “Let your commitment to and your passion for your cause be limitless and show no mercy to those who get in your way.”