Haas School of Business & Track and Field

On the lineup for Haas’ Homecoming Weekend Schedule of Events was Professor Stephen Etter’s lecture. His talk in Anderson Auditorium was titled, “Students or Athletes, Can You Be Both.”

As a Student-Athlete studying at Haas and a Heptathlete on the women’s track and field team, I found this talk particularly interesting. Around the same time as Homecoming weekend, my track and field coach, Nick Newman, MS, published an article called  “Developing the Multi-Event Athlete.” My thoughts about Professor Etter’s talk coupled with my opinions on this article, helped me develop this post.

I think it is particularly relevant in a number of ways: Firstly, it reinforces the point that Professor Etter made as part of his talk- that it is possible to be a Student-Athlete at Haas. Secondly, it gives you, the reader, a unique glance into the world of Track and Field from a psychological standpoint. Thirdly, I believe it is valuable in the sense that it will encourage you to look more deeply into the purposes of your extracurricular activities. We all have passions that help inform and contribute to our business education. My hope is that by reading a bit about mine in this article, you will consider the places in your life that help inform and guide your business school education.

So before I begin, I’ll start with a bit of background. The multi events in track and field include the decathlon, heptathlon, and pentathlon. Each of these events include some combination of sprinting, hurdling, jumping, and throwing (along with a few others). As with any athletic endeavor, there is an entire science dedicated to the psychology behind the sport. But, the nature of the multi-events requires a unique approach to training. As such, my coach Nick Newman, MS recently published an article that includes a fascinating section titled, “Recommendations for Psychological Preparation.”As I was reading it, my mind immediately drew parallels between the psychological preparation for a multi-event and my studies at Haas.

Here is the link to that article for your reference: Developing the Multi-Event Athlete

Coach Newman’s first assertion was that, “Psychological adaptability- the ability to re-evaluate, re-focus, and re-energize almost instantaneously- is an essential attribute of a multi-event athlete”

During open event competitions, often coaches will intentionally enter athletes in closely scheduled events to test and develop this quality of re-focusing. During my sophomore year season, I ran the 100 meter hurdles almost immediately before throwing the javelin. The finish line of this event was directly next to the throwing runway. As soon as I cleared the last hurdle and crossed the finish line, I kept a jogging pace, checked into javelin, changed spikes, and threw my first attempt in less than 90 seconds. This ability to shift mindset and focus at a high level is not dissimilar to the way in which entrepreneurs  must re-focus attention when attempting to raise initial capital. In NPR’s edition of “How I Built This” featuring Sara Blakely, the creator of Spanx, this skill of re-focusing direction is highlighted. When Blakely was pitching her idea to the buying offices of Neiman Marcus, she recognized that her chances were waning. After that realization and in an instant, she refocused her attention and adapted to her audience. She asked Neiman Marcus’ female representative to accompany her to the bathroom so that she could physically show her how Spanx worked. This immediate and vital refocusing of energy at a high level paid off. She convinced her audience and was allowed to initially introduce her products in seven stores.

“Intentionally frustrating sessions can be useful.”

Coach Newman will often set up hurdle practice to include random hurdle heights and spacing. He will train us using suboptimal sessions and purposely provide limited coaching feedback. This method forces athletes to adapt and not merely rely on physical ability.

Recently, during one of my hurdle practices, Coach Newman intentionally set the hurdles at a sub-optimal length and spacing. Without much consideration I attempted to run this set of hurdles as I had done all the others. My rhythm and timing was drastically off. I dodged the hurdle and did not successfully complete the set. Being in the frame of mind that I was, I looked at my coach with frustration. No athlete wants to dodge a hurdle, especially in hurdle practice. He looked back and said simply, “It’s okay, I wanted to see what you would do.”

It was not until after I read his article that I understood that he was testing me, not only physically but mentally and strategically. We readjusted the hurdles. I readjusted my approach pattern and successfully completed the next set. As I write this article, my mind is filled with examples from my Haas education that directly relate to this experience. Consider Krystal Thomas’ UGBA 100 class. During the first “memo” assignment, we were given a set of instructions. We turned in the assignment. Even if we followed the instructions to a tee, we received feedback that included markdowns. As class rep for this class, I noticed a large part of the feedback was rooted in student frustration. Because we weren’t given enough instruction, we couldn’t get the ideal grades. Professor Thomas explained her reasoning. In the real world, we aren’t given step by step instructions. Just like the sub-optimal hurdle spacing, our professors are intentionally challenging and frustrating us. They want us to help craft our own instructions and re-adjust our thought-patterns.

Athletes should be ready to implement proven, personal coping strategies. Creating a culture of self-reflection … helps manifest this.”

After returning from a semester abroad, Coach Newman and I had a meeting. We discussed my “why”- that is, the reasoning behind why I wanted to pursue training for the heptathlon. He provided me with honest feedback and we set a path to move forward. I believe that this process of self reflection should be implemented regularly. Whether you are considering applying to Haas, beginning a job, taking a class, or planning your next career step, it is vital to self reflect and define your personal “why.”   

While Coach Newman’s article included a number of other fascinating points, these three connected most strongly with my studies at Haas. I would encourage you to consider the ways in which your extracurriculars help inform and improve your work as a business student.

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