WILDCAT WEDNESDAY – Five things I did all wrong during my five years (redshirt year included) as a student-athlete at Northwestern University (1990-95):
- I tried to lift like a football player. One spring and summer, we were told that we had to increase our bench press, squat and maybe a third exercise, otherwise known as a complete waste of time. We were put on a plan written by the football trainer. I worked like I was an NFL hopeful on that bench press, and I did it all right. I think I bumped my press up by maybe 10 lbs. I know for sure it did not make me stronger and it didn’t help my boobs at all. Trish Babcock, the strongest player on our team, I think increased her bench – maybe a set of three presses – from 105 lbs to 125 lbs. No one else did the bench press seriously or cared, and now it makes total sense. The form of a bench press messes up your jumpshot. Plus I don’t even know who it serves. Offensive linemen, perhaps? Guys who want to look good with their shirt off? Military push-ups (narrow ones that keep your elbows in and strengthen your tri-ceps) beat the bench press every day of the week.
We did not know then what we know now about lifting weights. The truth is that it’s completely overrated for basketball players. What we needed was mobility, body-weight exercises, core, plyometrics, all under the guidance of someone who understands functional training for basketball players. I also think cross-training (aka CrossFit), with yoga, boxing, pilates, and underwater running is outstanding for the mind, body and soul. So is a regular dose of mental training – something that is only taught IF you have a problem. And I’d like to return to Trish Babcock, who was constantly working on keeping her weight on during college. Photos on FB show that CrossFit is serving her very well, and it looks like it is a far better use of her time than whatever plan we were on 20 years ago.
- I tried to gain weight. I ate pasta and tuna fish one whole summer because my coaches told me that I needed to be able to hang with the heavier 3 guards in the league (Katie Smith being one of them that probably had me by a very athletic and strong 20 lbs.) The following season, I didn’t feel like myself. I ate pasta four hours before games because we were supposed to, and I literally passed out in my room before the game. Then I woke up and went to shoot-around early. I burped up tomato and garlic breath for most of the game.
A few players on the team lobbied for training table. (The strange part is that at least one of them – if not two – had eating disorders where they counted calories, and left off-season scrimmages to go ride the Stairmaster so they could burn more calories, so they could drink more beer that night.) We received training table rights during the season. In exchange, the administration took our meal stipend away, which bothered those who fought for the table with the football players because they liked pocketing as much of that $10 per meal as possible. Honestly I thought it was great that we got to eat after practice. Who wants to cook after 2-3 hours of classes, 5-6 hours at the stadium and another 2-3 hours of homework that night? Problem is no one at training table taught us how to eat properly because 90 percent did not know what we know today. My senior year, I randomly switched to fish in pre-game meals. I dropped 7-8 lbs, and I felt great. I led the team in every statistical category (including turnovers) – so it was a ton of work out there during a mediocre season. Yet I felt much better come game-time because I gave up the pasta that was making me sick. The whole calorie-counting for athletes is just absurd, and no one came at us jumping up and down saying this is all wrong, because we did not have the nutritionists back then that athletic programs have today. Now I know how important it is to fuel the body and brain with good fats, proteins, veggies, and more good fats. I feel better in my 40’s then I did in my 20’s because of changes in my diet.
- I didn’t go watch enough of the other non-revenue sports. I went to a few baseball games because the baseball team always practiced after our games on Friday nights so they were all there watching and cheering at our games. I wish that I’d swapped out a few men’s basketball and football games for wrestling, tennis, field hockey and soccer. It would not have been only because we’re all in the non-revenue boat together. It would have been because of the rankings and talent of the teams and athletes in those less-glorified and, at the time, less- publicized sports at NU.
- I should have visited other events on campus. This includes, but it not limited to: fireside chats, plays, musicals, guest speakers. The level of talent coming out of the drama and communications departments at NU has always been impressive. Granted basketball and academics took up too many hours in-season, but in the off-season, all I had to do was say no to a few of the uneventful off-campus parties or frat parties to go see an event of much higher value.
- I should have had more fun off-campus, too. I was a Big Sister (for six years) in Evanston, and I wandered around Chicago often to chase down stories that inspired me. Maybe cutting back a few hours of training each week could have worked. Better yet – training smarter and finishing it in less time would have been far more beneficial for my body, mind and spirit as well as my time management. Chicago has so much to offer.
In writing this list, it was a good way to look back and admit what went wrong so that others hopefully won’t make the same mistakes. It’s also a good reminder for me right now to work hard, play hard, and get out and regularly see all that New York and a well-balanced life has to offer.