Everyone knows the stereotypes about gifted kids and athletes. And everybody in TIP knows how wrong those are, because TIPsters are always doing amazing things in all areas—including sports.
We conducted email interviews with some of those athletes to hear more about their experiences.
Tell us about your background in sports.
Chloe Waller, 7th grader: I’ve pretty much played every sport. From ice skating to soccer and everything in between, you name it, I’ve played it. The main sport that I’ve stuck with is volleyball.
I’ve played volleyball since third grade, club since fifth grade. One of my proudest achievements in volleyball was making our school’s varsity team and getting third in the region. I even got a letterman jacket out of it! It was great to play with an amazing group of girls who pushed me to become better both on and off the court.
Another memorable achievement was serving five straight aces to win the championship game in the Image Classic tournament. My goals for this year are getting my vertical (jump) up and to finally get a good block!
Makayla, 9th grader: I started playing volleyball when I was ten years old. My mom essentially had to drag me away from my books to get me to start playing!
I started playing for American Volleyball Club when I was thirteen. Last year, during my fourteens year, my team and I won a bid to AAU Girl’s Nationals in Orlando, Florida. I also was selected for the USAV High Performance Girls Select A3 National Training Program, which is the first step for my journey to the Olympics.
I was a starter for my high school’s varsity team as a freshman and was nominated for the Second Team All District. My coaches gave me my first high school letter and awarded me with the Model Player Award. As I said earlier, I strive to one day compete in the Olympics.
Beth, 10th grader: I grew up not sure of what sport I was meant to play. I knew I wanted to participate but I was unsure of where to go. A girl in high school who I had admired took up playing volleyball, so I decided to try it. I loved it immediately and really bonded with the concept of the game, as well as the girls I played with. I found my position as a setter and started varsity my freshmen year, as well as took up playing club ball.
My proudest achievement has got to be playing with my club team, VAPR. We went up to the Mideast [National] Qualifier (MEQ) tournament in Indianapolis, Indiana. Our club had only ever won about three games at that tournament. That year, we went up as fifteens and won most of our games, even upsetting the number-one-ranked team, and placed third in the gold bracket, falling in a close three-set match.
My ultimate goal is for my high school team to finally make it to state.
Grace, 7th grader: My interest in soccer started in preschool. Every so often, the teachers would have people come in to teach us about different subjects we didn’t normally learn. On that particular day, the subject was soccer. Two people came into the yard during recess and called us over. They started to describe the game and its rules to us. It sounded okay to me. After I that, they had us dribble the balls back and forth. I was doing pretty well. Having a ball at my feet just seemed right to me. I was in my own little world while doing the rest of the drills. Nothing else mattered except me and the ball.
The teachers told my mom how well I did, and later in the year, she asked me if I wanted to start playing soccer. I said yes. After playing in a small soccer club for a while, I joined the Capital Area Soccer League (now commonly known as North Carolina FC Youth.) I climbed in team levels until fourth grade, when I was finally ready to tryout for classic [a higher level]. After three nights of stress-inducing tryouts, the results were in. I had made white team, the third team out of three. That was one of my greatest achievements.
Now, I know what you’re thinking—why am I happy about making the bottom team? Well, about a third of the girls who tried out didn’t make a team at all. So making it on to a team at all was an achievement in itself. Second, most of the girls who made it went through CAYA, [a training program] which is a step above Challenge [a different training program]. I came fresh from Challenge.
For the bottom team, we didn’t do that bad. We won our league and got first at all our tournaments except one, where we placed second. I had never won a tournament before that. Not even gotten second. Now, my goal is to get on the highest team possible for as long as possible. That’s the big one. I also just want to get on gold team at the moment, the top team. But I’m pretty happy where I’m at, and I’m happy to stay with my teammates on the white team, which is the second team.
What do you like about sports?
Chloe: Sports are my favorite thing to do in my free time. I love the rush of adrenaline that you get in a competitive game. I love that feeling that you get when you or a teammate make an amazing play and the whole team celebrates together. I love the feeling when you WIN!
Those feelings are the best feelings in the world, and you can’t feel them anywhere else. Those emotions are what drive me to compete at the highest level I can.
Makayla: I love the competition and unity of sports. Volleyball gives me a family that I can rely on. My team and I spend almost all of our free time together. I have had some of the most intense moments of my life while on the court.
The rush of a killer hit, the feeling of running across the court to save a shanked ball, and the huddle with screaming teammates after the game-winning point—these moments keep me coming back for more. I’m always striving to become better than I was yesterday. Volleyball is a constant challenge.
Beth: I love the strategic and competitive nature of sports. I love to recognize holes and flaws in other team’s plays and use them to my team’s advantage.
I love how games can also make you feel focused on the game only and you can lose all other stress and nervousness and literally forget about all your worries outside the court. Sports help me get through the stress of everyday life of school work and the stress about my future plans. They give me a safe place to be active and make new friendships.
Grace: I really don’t know why I had the drive to get better and better. I think I thought I had something to prove, not just to my family and friends, but to myself. I thought that I had to win not just for me, but for other people.
Recently, I took a step back and looked at the big picture. I stopped trying to compete against other people, and started trying to compete against myself. I stopped trying to play like people who I thought were better than me, and started playing like me. I realized that it didn’t matter what the score was when the whistle blew. It only mattered that I tried and played to the best of my ability. What now drives me is not the fear of disappointing other people, but the fear of knowing that I didn’t try. The thought of being disappointed in myself because I know that I wasn’t giving it my all.
What do you think about the stereotypes about gifted kids and athletes?
Chloe: I think a customary idea that has been around our society is that the jocks play sports and that they are horrible students, while the smart kids are just into school work and nothing else. That idea is so NOT true!
Anyone can play sports and be a good student if they have the right mindset. Since I am very into academics, I work and push myself so that I can get the best grade possible. That also ties into sports. I work everyday to become better and I will not stop until I have met my goals.
It is sometimes difficult to juggle sports and school because it is so time consuming to do both, but I have a drive to succeed in both, which will get me further in life than just focusing on one thing.
Makayla: I have often times run into the stereotype of smart kids in sports. Personally, I like that the stereotype is fading.
A teacher once told me that a “jock” kid is passionate about sports and not education. However, if you give a “gifted” kid a lacrosse stick and tell them, “The others think you can’t do this,” that kid will try their best if they actually like the sport. Gifted kids, in my opinion, use this underdog-type stereotype to push themselves to be better.
On my team, I’m typically the over-analyzer. My parents joke that I’m a student of the game; I understand technique and motive. I don’t just focus on my own skills, but also the skills of others. I think that this is because I’ve always been “the smart kid.” Both my athletic and academic sides facilitate my success as a student-athlete.
Beth: I think the stereotype of gifted kids not being very athletic or successful in terms of sports is a foolish stereotype. Sure, there are kids who are smarter who prefer not to participate in sports, but there are also a large portion who do!
First of all, any successful athlete is intelligent because it takes immense thinking to be able to recognize what will succeed and what will not in a game. Successful athletes have high game IQs. I personally see my added academic talent within the classroom to benefit my game IQ. It helps me recognize cues faster—who to set the ball to in a time of necessity, the most proficient places to put the ball on the other side of the court, the best plays to run to gain the point. All of these aspects and more are added by my academic IQ.
My athletic talent helps me see problems in new insights and also gives me a new set of people to gain perspectives on life from. It also relieves me of stress and keeps me active and happy because playing volleyball makes me happy despite the tough losses and many bruises gained along the way.
Grace: There are a lot of stereotypes about athletes and smart people. People say that if you are athletic, you are not smart, and if you are smart, you are not athletic. This is not true at all.
Most of the best athletes actually have a very high IQ. Also, most kid do sports regardless. One of the challenges of doing sports at a high level is balancing it with school. At my school, we get eight hours of homework per week. I have soccer practices every day of the week except for Monday. I only have two hours at home every night to shower, eat dinner, get ready for bed, and do homework. It is hard to manage all of that homework with sports, but somehow, most of us manage.
Being smart and athletic has its advantages. For example, I can slow the game down in my brain very easily and take in every detail. It also helps me to predict the other team’s moves more easily.
This issue is about new trends in sports analytics. Do you have any interest in that field?
Chloe: I think the many discoveries our society is making with sports is incredible! Soon, I believe that we will have a lot of answers about mentality, practicing, and improving that will dramatically change game preparation.
As I mentioned before, I’m interested in improving my vertical jump. A good strategy in volleyball is to jump over/around/up so that you can demolish the players who are glued to the ground, even if they are taller and bigger than you. There are plenty of statistics logged during a volleyball game like the amount of kills and passing percentages, but other analytics like speed and athleticism make those things possible.
Measuring speed and jumping and putting in work there is just as important as refining individual skills like bumping and serving. It’s not just volleyball where analytics are important, every sport has analytics that are recorded to help improve your athletic play.
Makayla: I would be totally interesting in sports analytics! Earlier I mentioned that I’m an over-analyzer. At tournaments I tend to watch our opponents’ matches and find the patterns and weaknesses. During the game, I watch the physical cues of setters and hitters to determine how the ball will get received on my side. I would love to learn more and participate in sports analytics.
Beth: Sports analytics would not be a career I personally would pursue as I am more passionate about other topics, but it is extremely fascinating. It always feels great to be able to whisper to a teammate about a new hole on the court for them to place the ball in and then immediately scoring because the player does so.
Grace: I think that sports analytics would be a great addition to sports analysis. It would really help my team to actually see what the other team likes to do and go more in depth with how to conquer it.
Sports analytics has many different features that could be of real use in the sports world. Some of the greats used to spend hours rewatching their opponents. Now, we can spend about thirty minutes watching slides made from sports analytics. It could really help the fans, too. It could tell them why their team keeps attempting the same plays at certain times. It could also teach them a lot about their favorite player. Sports analytics would make sports better for everyone, not just the players, but the fans.