The art of not listening


The spring athletics season is upon us, and it sounds a lot like my morning alarm.

It looks like one more workout repetition than I can comfortably complete, smells like the addictive combination of perspiration and hope. It tastes like temperance.

The athletes of Franciscan University can by now recite from memory the list of benefits that are to be gained from otherwise distastefully intense workouts. We’ll tell you that participation in athletics provides one a sense of belonging, the bond created only among those who share advanced proficiency in a particular skill.

We’ll tell you that sports allow us to conform our bodies to our minds, that they teach us valuable life skills: perseverance, teamwork, forgiveness. We’ll tell you the morning conditioning sessions and the augmented workouts are validated in fit bodies and healthy dispositions.

Among the benefits of the undertaking of athletics, regardless of the capacity of the cardio, is an aspect of sports not often discussed.

Sports teach selective hearing.

Ron Marquez, the varsity men’s and women’s tennis coach at my alma mater Cathedral Catholic High School, can deliver a pre-match speech like no other. He stresses, more than anything else, this concept of selective hearing, of an intentionally filtered environment.

“For the next two hours,” he’d say before the onset of each match, no matter our odds, “You do not have a girlfriend. You don’t have two tests tomorrow, or problems at home, or fears or insecurities. For the next two hours you are only a tennis player, and you have the opportunity to leave everything else behind, to step onto a court and play a game to the best of your ability.”

Selective hearing: the ability to filter distractions, dilemmas, anything that could otherwise derive from quality of competition, in favor of enjoyment of the sport itself.

The best athletes can turn off the crowd like they can turn off a light. There is nothing save for the next ball, the next point, the next offensive or defensive opportunity, the next quarter of half or series of competition.

And in a world which so often bombards its people with crowd noise, this ability to turn off the noise and turn on a focused drive for success, experiences a seamless transition from the field of play into the field of life.

Never has it been said that the crowd waited on an athlete. The noise will come, whether or not we arrive prepared. External factors do not wait for sufficient preparedness.

Regardless of our status as athlete or non-athlete, the means by which we tune out the world and tune in to our vocation will do no less than determine the degree of affective then it comes to our impact on a broken world.

The noise will come. When you are the only one who believes in your capacity to change the world, why would ever take advice from a spectator? When in doubt, remember that the distance between spectator and athlete is the distance between the power to change the world and the power to stop it.