Friday, April 10, 2009

Computer Science and Volleyball

One of my few outside-of-computer-science activities that I actually do every week is volleyball. After our intramural game last Wednesday, I was thinking about all of the ways that the two are similar. For instance:

  1. Time Outs - In volleyball, sometimes you just need to call a timeout, mentally regroup, and then get back into it. In our game we were losing 3-9 to a team we had just squarely beaten; I called a timeout, and then we proceeded to win 15-9. What a difference that timeout made! In research it's the same way. Sometimes you just need to take a step back from what you're doing, regroup mentally, and then start off again where you left off.
  2. Team Effort - In volleyball, you have 6 people on the court at any given time. If you don't trust your teammates, you end up running over them to get balls they were perfectly prepared to hit, usually better than you end up hitting them. To really play well, you should back up other people and trust their abilities. In research you also need to trust your group members, but still encourage and back them up when possible. It's all about sharing information, ideas, and letting each other find his/her own way without stepping on each other's toes.
  3. Encouragement - When playing a team sport, you want to try to keep everyone energized and feeling good about their playing. If someone starts to doubt their abilities from a few bad hits, they are going to second guess everything else they do that game. A little "that's ok, you'll get it next time" or "great job!" will go a long way. With research, you should also encourage others even when they are struggling. Everyone needs encouragement in everything they do in life, but especially so in "high" stress situations like volleyball and research!
  4. Practice! - Obviously, if you don't practice volleyball you are not going to retain your skills. Much of it is muscle memory and reactions, which can be learned and refined over time. In computer science research you also need to practice skills such as public speaking, programming, and critical thinking. It may not be muscle memory, but it is still a set of learnable and improvable skills.

It's true that the comparison between team sports and teamwork in school and work has been made many times. However, it's nice to be reminded occasionally that our extracurricular activities really do relate to graduate school, and working on good habits and skills in one can easily help improve the other. All the more reason to be sure to get adequate "play" time in addition to work time!

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