David and Goliath and American Gymnast Warriors

Making the rounds on the ol interwebs the last few weeks is a kick ass video featuring Kacy Catanzaro’s performance on American Ninja Warrior. Which is, apparently, a thing. I may need to watch more TV. You can enjoy all of the kickass-ness here. In addition, Kacy gives an interview where she talks about her sport background and her competitive drive, recorded before she hit that buzzer in Dallas.

Now I’m sure it would be fun (and easy) to devote an entire blog post to just Kacy. After that insanity ladder, she’s likely earned it. But as I watched the video of her finals performance and listened to the commentators’ reactions to what they were witnessing as she completed the course, I knew I had to write about a lot more than Mighty Kacy.

The key point that stood out to me was the degree of surprise, maybe even disbelief that people seem to experience in response to her performance. Not just being impressed with what is justifiably an amazing performance, but continually emphasizing that they just didn’t expect that she would be able to complete different elements of the course because of her size. “Just 100 pounds!” must have been said about 10 times (ok, honestly, I didn’t count). Which puzzled me. Why would her weight – specifically a low weight – be an issue or hindrance to completing the course? Height and wingspan seems to be much more of an issue, undoubtedly. But my no-PhD-in-physics self seemed to think that her low weight would be a huge benefit in completing the course.

Which leads us to Malcolm Gladwell’s recent book David and Goliath: Underdogs, misfits, and the art of battling giants. Gladwell makes many interesting, stop and ponder a minute observations about the tendency inevitability of people to make mental errors. Honestly, we do this constantly. And where it gets important for athletes to take note: the trouble people often have in accurately assessing what constitutes a strength or benefit. In the story of David, we assume that Goliath’s size is the strength of which we are supposed to take notice. But Gladwell (with the help of some historical assumptions that are impossible to prove but seem pretty believable) points out that David’s skill with a rock and a sling are far more beneficial, particularly when David forces Goliath to “run his race” instead of meeting in the usual manner for hand to hand combat.

There are multiple points discussed in the book that are worth reading regardless of athletic goals or background. Go. Read. Prosper. I don’t want to over-share and ruin it for you. Also, this post is long enough already.

For athletes, learning how to pay attention to how you think about your strengths and assets is an indispensable skill. The next step? Questioning and perhaps rewriting how you’ve assessed strengths or weaknesses. Doing so creatively earns you bonus points. Given your sport, your body type, your skills (and a host of other variables) you will likely benefit from reviewing how you evaluate your ability to be successful. Because here’s the thing: Mighty Kacy knew she could slay that course. And Goliath would have made a crappy ninja.

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