May 12, 2008

The 25-Second Lessons

May 12, 2008

25 Second Lessons
by Chris Podbielski, Media Relations Intern

Northridge, Calif. - Most scholars agree that you cannot learn all of life's lessons in a lecture hall. Some need first-hand teaching. For example:

#1: How do you peel yourself up from the ground after getting steamrolled by a 250-pound linebacker?

#2: How do you put yourself back together physically, mentally and emotionally after such a steamrolling in front of a stadium filled with friends, family, fellow competitors and emotionally-charged fans?

#3: How do you position yourself to successfully maneuver around that same 250-pound linebacker, who's probably still growling at you and giving you the stink eye, to find an open lane to your goal?

For Rick Mazzuto, Athletics Director at California State University, Northridge and former running back for Trinity College in Connecticut, lessons like these proved invaluable. He learned to do all of these things quickly.

"In football, in one play you're knocked to the ground and the ball's reset at the line of scrimmage. You have just 25 seconds to get yourself together and prepare to give an excellent performance."

In other sports you have even less time to regain the ball, the puck or your pluck. Though you may not face down imposing linebackers, these basic principles of sportsmanship apply to anyone from All-Stars and architects to Zamboni operators and zoologists.

"Some of the lessons you learn are how to deal with success and failure, and how to commit to achieving your goals," Mazzuto explained. "On the job you tend to move forward but it's never in a straight line. You always get knocked back a step or two and then you have to move forward again."

Athletics, you see, teaches the arts of physical and mental recovery, and student-athletes tend to learn them quickly. Jessica Beach, a CSUN hammer and shot put thrower would agree:

"I think sports definitely gave me skills that I've applied to other aspects of my life. For example, if you set a goal to run a certain time or throw a certain distance, you apply those skills to your classes. In athletics it's about how determined you are to do something, a principle I've applied to my academic life too."

For this determined red-shirt senior, sports programs provide integral support to her academic career. Being a part of a team has helped Beach socially, which relieved some freshman year anxiety so that she could concentrate on academics as well as athletics while adjusting to a new environment. And sports programs even benefit the non-athletes on campus.

"Because we're such a big commuter campus there aren't a lot of things that bring us together," Beach explained. "But if a team is having a winning season and people come to those and other events, you find a place where people can really feel like a part of the university."

Beach joined the CSUN track and field program in her freshman year, training with the team, but didn't officially compete for the university then. This allows her to throw and earn awards on the field now while she pursues her master's degree. She learned other lessons along the way.

"It's all about time management and organization," Beach said. "You just have to set priorities in your life so that you're able to balance everything. I'm not going to say it's easy, and I don't get that much sleep...but it works out."

Apparently, Beach learned her lessons of time management and physical and mental recovery well, as CSUN named this track and field thrower a 2007 Wolfson Scholar, the highest academic honor awarded to graduates from the university. It is Matador student-athletes like Beach that most amaze Mazzuto.

"Our student-athletes have an impressive ability to multi-task. They have very busy lives between their academic responsibilities and their intercollegiate athletic commitments...plus all of the other things they have going on personally. They are very, very busy people and their ability to balance all of these aspects is going to make them highly successful."

Why? Because the lessons learned on a rink, field, pitch, court or the greens apply to cubicles, conference rooms and classrooms as well.

#1: How do you peel yourself up from the ground after getting steamrolled by a heavyweight executive or critic who denounces your latest ideas?

#2: How do you put yourself back together physically, mentally and emotionally after such a steamrolling in front of your competitors and peers, or at a meeting teleconferenced to thousands of emotionally-charged stockholders?

#3: How do you position yourself to successfully maneuver around that same heavyweight, who's probably still growling at you and giving you the stink eye, to come up with an alternate way around a problem?

Ask the student-athletes. They may be the most prepared to tell you.