Skills beat Fitness

If years of playing baseball taught me anything, it's that skills beat fitness.

Years of Baseball

I played baseball every spring and summer from the ages of 5 to 18. As an only child, the best gift I ever received was a rebounder net like this. I spent hours in my backyard throwing balls against it. Those hours are where the foundations of my fielding and throwing skills developed.

As I approached high school with dreams of starting on the varsity team, I was inevitably introduced to the gym. The gym represented hard work. I suddenly admired the image of profressional athletes lifting heavy weights.

I also wanted to build my own image of being a hard worker and the gym gave me a clear path. The problem is, I took it too far.

My Mistake

Too often, I prioritized gym time over skills practice (skills like hitting, pitching, fielding, etc.). In my mind, they were interchangable, except the gym had added benefits

  • bigger muscles
  • workouts feel good
    • Finishing a baseball practice just doesn't feel as satisfying as a weight lifting session.

The problem is, they aren't interchangable. What I didn't realize is that although the gym represents hard work, skills beat fitness. Work in the gym only counts when it amplifies great skills, but neither fitness nor strength can ever make up for a lack of skills. Get as strong as you want, but if you can't make consistent contact at the plate, only the air will feel the results of all those heavy squat reps.

Looking back at my performance, I see the effects of this mistaken mindset. Although I worked hard, my batting average never held up to the best players in the league. I didn't command pitches as well as I could have, or even throw as hard as I felt I should have. I just wasn't as good a player as I felt all my hard work should have made me.

Part of the problem (maybe the whole problem) was that much of my hard work was misplaced. Hours spent lifting in the gym could have been spent doing tee work, working on pitching mechanics, taking more ground balls, or even spending more time learning more about the game on youtube or through books. Instead, I let the satisfying feeling of intense workouts convince me I was improving just as much as I would have otherwise.

Why Bother With This

I don't want to just dwell on my fallen dreams of being an all league high school baseball player. I want to bring this lesson with me into future athletic pursuits and explore how it extends to other areas of life, like engineering.

Future Athletics

As some of you may know, I've become obsessed with mountain biking and I plan on entering a few races this summer. Taking my lesson from the past, and the forced inconvenience of sporadically closed gyms, I've made a point to completely prioritize time on the bike over other fitness.

My only plans for fitness off the bike are yoga to improve mobility for maneuvering, yoga to work up to sets of pistol squats, pull ups (because I want to include at least one pull-oriented exercise), kettlebell swings when I can't get out for rides because of bad conditions, and a few other exercises from [[]] sprinkled in to target bike specific muscles.

This is a much different plan than before, with minimal weight lifting involved. Part of my inspiration and comfortably with this plan comes from this video that I mentioned in my weekly review on 2020-12-20. Yoga is great because it doesn't make my body sore like weight lifting, so I am much more consistently prepared to take the bike out and improve.

Extending to Career

There are engineers that spend hours of their day working on leetcode problems. I'd argue they are making the same mistake as high school me.

The best way to get better at coding is to build real projects. Real projects require much more than the quick thinking skills to solve riddles. They require good communication and an eye for debugging, both of which are built over time and through experience.

Like my baseball experience, I might have been able to bench press more than most pitchers in the league, but that didn't help me strike anyone out. In the same sense, many engineers can out leetcode me, but that doesn't make them entirely more well equipped to create great software than me.

This also hints as a huge reason so many people have such grievances with the technical interviews. Hiring based on leetcode performance is like picking a baseball team based on who can bench most. You might find some correlation, but you’re not going to end up with the best team. Like the best baseball players, the best engineers are the ones putting in work on gametime skills, not working out in the gym building showboat muscles.

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