Ban On the Run and My Amateur Thoughts

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Last month, Roger Bannister died at the age of 88. Unless you’re an avid runner or a sports history enthusiast, you might not recognize the name, but in 1954, Roger Bannister was known the world round as the as the first person to ever run a sub four minute mile. At the time, the four minute mile was considered the holy grail of athletic achievement and his time of 3:59.6 placed him in the Pantheon of athletic accomplishment along side Babe Ruth, Jesse Owens, and Bobby Jones.

Keep in mind that this was 1954, and that Bannister achieved the feat without the benefit of finely crafted shoes or an indoor track. He did so without nutrition supplements or an advanced understanding of the importance of a proper diet and workout regimen. He did so without a personal trainer, speed coach, or membership to a track club. In fact, Bannister was a medical student at the time and only trained during his lunch hour. Even more incredulous is the fact that he broke the record after working a full morning shift on his feet at the hospital where he served as an intern. 

“However ordinary each of us may seem, we are all in some way special, and can do things that are extraordinary, perhaps until then…even thought impossible.” 

- Roger Bannister

In the truest sense of the word, Roger Bannister was an amateur athlete. That doesn't mean that he wasn't extraordinary, it simply means that he didn't focus SOLELY on his craft of running. He did not rise at dawn and spend the entirety of his days training. He did not compete against the best while traveling the world; he was too busy for that. He was a medical student, friend, sibling, and by all accounts, a perfectly affable and likable guy. But he was extraordinary in all of his ordinariness.

Somewhere over the past fifty years we have confused amateur with mediocre, and they are nothing alike. It is as true in sports as it is in education.

Recent (educational) trends have seen a strong and growing movement towards the development of pre-professional skills. We encourage kids as young as middle school to choose a “vocational path” and pursue college and career readiness. We encourage them to get academically focused with S.T.E.M., A.V.I.D., Advanced Placement, and International Baccalaureate. We tell our athletes to pick one sport and train exclusively on it in hopes of earning a scholarship. We do all of this, but to what avail?

The belief that equates singular with better is simply not true. Singular is not better, and amateur is not mediocre.

High school & middle school students are not (pre)professionals and should not be treated as such. They are not a career choice or professional pathway. They are children whose only job should be to learn, grow, and play. Yes, as a parent of a twelve year old, he is MANY things, but pre-professional is not one of them. He is an amateur student, an amateur athlete, and an amateur musician. HE IS AN AMATEUR. He is not meant to chose his life work yet. He’s not meant to chart the course of the next fifty years of his life. He can barely manage to remember to practice his trombone and put his clothes in the hamper (unless the kitchen floor counts).

He is meant to experiment and explore. He is meant to grow and learn. He is meant to succeed and fail, AND MUSIC PROVIDES HIM WITH ALL OF THESE EXPERIENCES!

He plays music not to be a musician, he plays music to be human. He plays music to be a child. He plays music to explore, to be a kid and to have FUN!

If there is ONE THING we learned from Roger Bannister it is that amateurs can not only do extra-ordinary things when given the opportunity, and that they can inspire others to do the same. Since that day in 1954, after opening the flood gates of human achievement, thousands of others have run four minute miles, including AMATEUR high school athletes.

Roger Bannister gave up running shortly after achieving that remarkable record to pursue a career in medicine. And even though he chose a non-athletic professional career, he will always be remembered as an amateur athlete.

Roger has stopped running now, but his lessons and legacy will live on through amateur forever.

Have a GREAT week!