What do you play for? Why do you practice daily? What is your reason?
Is it to just be a part of a team? Is it to get a trophy? Is it to get in shape? There are various reasons as there are individuals in athletics. What this blog is trying to reveal is the essence of Excellence (Arete). In his book The Ancient Olympics, Nigel Spivey reveals how overwhelming the mindset of excellence was to Ancient Greece by recording:
“Whether presenting a case in court, or throwing clay upon the potter’s wheel, the opportunity of turning any activity into a contest was pursued. (There were awards for honoring ceramic skill at Athens in the fourth century BC). A fetish for competing; a pervasive, abrasive eagerness for outdoing the opposition in any field of human endeavour: is this what ultimately explains ‘the glory that was Greece’….?”
The great philosopher Plato felt like Arete could not be taught, it was something that you either had or didn’t have. It is found in the idea that people with Arete have a habit of doing what non-excellence-minded people find boring or uncomfortable. Like extra practice hours with tedious drills just for personal mastery. Arete-type people are not afraid to follow what their talents are asking of them. Erica Jong, a novelist says it this way, “Everyone has a talent; but rare is the courage to follow the talent to the places it leads.”
“Why should you push yourself? The answer: Because the rewards of reaching for excellence truly are profound. I’m not talking about a pay raise, a plaque or even a gold medal. It’s living into a purpose or a calling that enlivens even the most mundane tasks. It’s a deep pride in the life we are living.” – Nancy Hogshead gold-medal winner, 1984 Los Angeles
Arete people play for the recognition not of material rewards but for doing a task to the best of their ability. They are preoccupied with mastering every skill in their sport/profession for their position. In Ancient Greece their citizens embodied this term by constantly pursuing greatness in every area of their lives, and in the center of their lives was the idea of having a strong body and a keen mind.
They had constant philosophical debates and we already know that their culture was the one that birthed the Olympics and created the idea of a gymnasium. Their culture gave us the idea that we walk in today: Student/Athlete (i.e. Mind/Body). Ancient Greece lived for Excellence…for Glory, because it lasts longer.
How do YOU approach your sport and academic life? For the championship and G.P.A. or the opportunity to excel and truly understand all you do?
And like Leonidas, the King of the Greek state Sparta portrayed in the film 300 asked his soldiers, “What is your profession?!” Their answer? A unified guttural chant while pressing their spears in the air.
What is YOUR profession??!
My goal is to one day have people around me who answers that as ARETE!…as I do!