How committed is committed?

Originally posted on August 21st, 2013

I would like to extrapolate a particular example from a certain aspect of my life and attempt to apply it to another. Mind you, this post is an attempt to procrastinate on writing. By writing on other things. Who knows, maybe writing this motivates me to write the other stuff I have to write.

So how committed is committed?

“Commitment” is a very heavy word. Socially, we attribute certain negative aspects to it. From a Western society perspective, it sounds burdening, difficult to terms with, settling. For a young mind, commitment often means the impossibility to get out of a situation after having signed for it. Associated with being married with kids, or in a dead-end job, commitment is indeed made out of concrete for the immature mind, normally full of air and scribbled plans.

For me, for example, the negative side of commitment came when I was faced with the choice of buying a car at my return from my year abroad. Needless to say this return never actually occurred, but the idea of a purchase of a certain level, that is, a commitment, did enter my mind. My reaction, in the end, was negative. “Wherever I buy a car, I will have to stay”. Settling back home was not an idea I was happy with. Too much of a commitment. I said no.

The commitment I wish to talk about refers to things that do not pose a dead-end threat, that are not something that, if fully-committed, are going to become an intrinsic part of who we are and that be it. In this case I am talking about refereeing and doing my PhD.

I have now been a basketball referee for 6 years. I first qualified in 2007 in order to get some extra pocket money as the penniless undergrad I was. Since then, my feelings towards refereeing changed over time, quite drastically I have to admit. It was not a serious ‘job’ for me at the beginning. With the years, and the insistence, I have learnt to love it and now it is an important part of who I am and what I do (but definitely not the most important!).  We can say that for the last four years, I have been “fully committed” to refereeing.

However, over the summer, I have experienced a change. A change in commitment, we could say. My biggest worry, refereeing wise, over the last four years has been surviving the period that goes from the last game of the season to the pre-season seminar. Summer is a terrible time, in Scotland at least. This summer has been a Scottish scorcher, I’ll admit that, but other years, weather has been its usual crap. Glasgow is beautiful when nighttime never comes (it reminds me of the White Nights in St Petersburg), but the weather always stinks. And my friends are away. And I am not doing any interesting things. So I am bored, and annoyed at the weather, and I put on weight solely on the fact that I eat like I do whilst in season, but doing no physical activity whatsoever. So I have to go on a diet and I totally hate that. My struggle these years has been getting out, running and doing sports over the summer, to maintain a level of fitness that will bring me to the bleep test in August within an acceptable standard.

The fact about the bleep test (or multi-stage fitness test) is that it is an unkind type of test for small people and women in general. For those non-initiated, the bleep test measures the capacity of one’s lungs to produce and transport oxygen when under physical strain. The test consists of running 20m sprints on a flat surface, normally a basketball court, back and forth at a certain speed. Level 1 starts at 8.5kmh, and the speed is increased by 0.5kmh after ever successfully completed level. Every level lasts one minute. FIBA candidates and Scottish National League referees are to reach Level 10 in order to pass. If the mathematics don’t fail me here, the last one minute at Level 10 is run at a 13kmh pace. For women, the pass is at Level 8. However, I do not believe in reaching Level 8 only – I have discussed this with some fellow foreign officials, and they seem to agree. Women have to reach Level 8 only based on the fact that the test measures how well your lungs cope with an increased speed and hence reduction of oxygen intake. Bigger lungs, easier the task. Hence it is easier for men that it is for women, and small people in general. Someone argued to me the other day that since I am short (5’1″), I am more lightweight and I have less weight to carry. That is not necessarily true. The 20 meter distance is still 20 meters, and my leg span is very reduced, never mind how much actual weight I have to push. Tall men would run a 20 meter sprint at high speed much faster than me, despite the fact that they can potentially be carrying “much more weight”.

Bottom line is, the test is very unforgiving for me. Some guys can choose not to prepare for the test, and they will struggle, but they will pass it. For me, that has never ever happened. Even last year, when I thought I had prepared the test really well, I only got to Level 9. And I was very disappointed.

This summer has been a completely different story. After the last game I played and refereed, I took four weeks off. This was back in May. I needed my knees to recover from having played two very intense finals, and the rest of my body to fight leftover season pains. So I just took time off. After that, I started reconsidering some things. I had to prepare physically for the refereeing camp in Slovenia. I also needed to push myself into even more commitment for the coming season.

I hated running. However this summer I have learnt to love it. I had never, in my adult life, run more than 30 minutes. At first I started slow, then I started to challenge myself. I finally managed to run more than that. I have gone for a PB of 11km, and over an hour of effort. My running time average is 45 minutes plus. I actually enjoy myself going out there and me and Alex are considering going for the Great Scottish Run later in the year. Without that plus of commitment, the “going even further” motivational point, I don’t think I would have achieved it.

I feel now that, never mind the outcome of the bleep test this weekend, I know I am fit. Having that knowledge puts the pressure off my mind. I know I will do well if I take the steps to prepare the rest of this week and on the day. My lungs are ready.

However, the measure of my commitment for the new season is not so much in all the running. For the last two months after Slovenia, my nutritional habits have changed drastically. I was not a dirty, deep fried bastard, I have to admit that.  I have always cooked from scratch and stayed away from the chippie and other lovely Scottish delights. But this time I have taken a step further. I have increased my fruit and veg intake, home made protein shakes are part of the every day deal, I don’t eat empty calories or skip meals. I drink more water than ever before, and I have not counted a single calorie in a long time. My stomach has always been funny, and it has not given me any issues at all lately, fruity farts aside.

All these things make me wonder how committed I was and how committed I am now. How differently it feels from the last four years of struggle with commitment. Right now, the things that seemed most difficult over the years have become the easiest ones.

Let’s just say that my commitment has changed and now I am definitely ready for the challenge. Not only the bleep test, but the rest of the season. I am now working on ways that I have adapt this new commitment mentality to my PhD. We’ll see how that works.