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Let’s get the ball rolling

The remarkable ways in which sports bring people together

Let’s get the ball rolling

With Portugal’s recent Euro 2016 victory, jubilant voices echoed through the thrumming streets of Toronto’s own Little Portugal. The Portuguese community and fellow fans — regardless of occupation, age, or gender — were united through the fulfillment of their collective goal of victory.

It was the thrill of sport, in this case European football, that brought them together. This shows that despite occasionally creating divisions, sports can be a powerful uniting force.

Consider, for instance, the power of sport in relation to the larger Toronto area: a community that brims with various cultures. Through the recent successes of the Raptors and Blue Jays, Toronto was brought together to share team spirit and a communal goal of victory.

I remember Union Station’s buzzing atmosphere just after the Blue Jays advanced in last year’s playoffs; sports had turned a typically cold atmosphere into one of vibrancy, cheer, and euphoria as individuals celebrated with complete strangers, regardless of their differences. For those trickling down from the Rogers Centre, anyone in sight represented a valid companion with whom to celebrate. And that was truly the power of the experience, in my opinion: what made you a Blue Jays fan was the fact that you were there.

In many cases, however, it is true to say that sport can bring on bitter rivalries and divisions: the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens in hockey; Barcelona and Real Madrid in soccer; and India and Pakistan in cricket are only a handful of examples.

At its core, sports are competitive, with the participants’ primary aim being of defeating one another. In situations of passion, partisanship, and high stakes, regrettably, even violence can ensue.

Many fans, such as those of England and Russia, fought during the Euros. The loss of the Vancouver Canucks in the 2011 Stanley cup stirred up riots. In  extreme cases, such as the 2012 Port Said Stadium Riot in Egypt, deaths have occurred.

A combination of passion, fan fever, and alcohol can cause many to behave irrationally.  Nevertheless, sports are often a fundamental uniting force considering the shared experience and language that comes from being a player, and likewise, from being a fan.

In fact, sports can be powerful enough to bring about cooperation between bitter or hostile parties, with even the fiercest rivalries sometimes resulting in  unity. This is because fans and athletes often agree to a set of rules and principles. Moreover, it is compulsory for all players to treat each other with respect and dignity. Agreement and respect towards these rules are mandatory for anyone to participate. If a team loses, they must acknowledge the loss despite the circumstances.

This is not to mention the fact that players are always changing sides. In the case of All-Star games, players from rival teams even work together in order to beat other players from the league. International tournaments, such as the Euros, do this in the most radical way. Players from different clubs face their teammates. And this would not be possible without mutual cooperation and acknowledgment of the rules of the game; through player associations, athletes commit themselves to the best treatment of each other.

The true power of sport lies at the heart of these standard rules and principles that govern it. Sport creates a universal language that does not require an understanding of any particular language or culture, but simply human intuition and communication. Nor does it require membership in any particular ethnic, political, or religious group. Instead, sport appeals to our innate and universal human qualities, including physical activity, strategic thinking, communication, and teamwork.

On a larger scale, sports can help to create a foundation for communication and cooperation between countries. Through sport the world has potential to achieve the same welcoming and joyous atmosphere we have observed in Toronto over past years. Like the city, the world has an assortment of cultures, languages, and backgrounds. And like in Toronto, sports can bring people together, not just as Torontonians, but as world citizens.

Sam Routley is a second-year student at St. Michael’s College studying political science, history, and philosophy.

Happy daydreaming

Boredom can facilitate creative thinking – let’s put that to good use

Happy daydreaming

In an episode of the Big Bang Theory, The Einstein Approximation, Sheldon Cooper, a leading physicist, is stumped on a graphene problem — a problem that he tries to solve by doing routinized work. He subsequently ends up as a waiter at the Cheesecake Factory and discovers his answer by accidentally dropping a plate of peas: the peas fall in a pattern he was looking for in electron movement.

By completing tasks that were mundane in nature, Sheldon was able to creatively discover the answers to his problem. This principle is applicable to students in many cases. Take, for example, the scenario of sitting in a boring lecture and catching yourself doodling in your notebook. Maybe you were completely oblivious to what the lecturer said, and instead used the time to determine the main argument for your essay. Alternatively, maybe repetitive workouts in an underused gym led to an “a-ha” moment that would not otherwise have occurred.

Although boredom is often portrayed as a bad thing, there has been a shift in thinking about the role boredom plays in our daily lives. Currently, academics have been trying to show that boredom can heighten creativity.

A study conducted by Mann and Cadman shows that boredom leads to a phenomenon they call the ‘daydreaming effect.’ When we are bored or not challenged by our work, we tend to gravitate to activities that fuel “inner thoughts…or could involve thinking about unrelated problems or ideas the consideration of which is more appealing than the boring task at hand.”

To support their hypothesis, Mann and Cadman conducted a series of experiments of groups engaging in boring tasks. The first group was given a humdrum task of copying numbers from a phone book, and to control for external factors, another group was not assigned this task. To measure creativity after being given their tasks, both groups were tested on their ability to think of different uses of a plastic cup, which tapped into their divergent thinking.

[pullquote-features]When we are bored or not challenged by our work, we tend to gravitate to activities that fuel “inner thoughts…or could involve thinking about unrelated problems or ideas the consideration of which is more appealing than the boring task at hand.”[/pullquote-features]

In another experiment, Mann and Cadman gathered three groups: a control group, the group that copied numbers from a phone book, and a third group that had a task of just reading the numbers (intended to be the dullest task out of the three). The same creative activity was given to the groups to perform, and Mann and Cadman discovered that the number-reciting group, despite performing the most monotonous task, were in fact the most creative.

The researchers suggest that this occurs because boredom creates more room to daydream during the task which means that an individual is more likely to be creative after the activity. Essentially, boredom “…can induce challenge seeking behaviour, and therein lies the paradox that boredom, associated by many with lethargy, can actually be energising, inspiring a search for ‘change and variety.” This may be surprising to those who consider boredom as a primarily negative aspect of daily life.

As another example, take the 3M engineer Arthur Fry. Fry attended a meeting conducted by Sheldon Silver, who was trying to come up with adhesives that would hold paper together; yet after several tries, they could not come up with a reliable solution. This soon changed when Mr. Fry, while sitting in on a monotonous sermon, intended to mark the pages of the songs within the hymn books, but the papers would not stay in place due to the weak glue that held them together.

Out of sheer boredom, Mr. Fry devised a creative the solution to the adhesive problem experienced at 3M: add the weak glue to pieces of paper, thereby creating what we now know as Post-it notes. With this considered, boredom can lead to innovation in unexpected ways.

Moreover, the link between boredom and creativity has been demonstrated to be neurological. Research conducted by Mark Beeman and John Kounios shows that creativity originates in the superior anterior temporal gyrus (aSTG), which displays heightened activity during our creative moments by pulling together abstractedly related information. This is why boredom helps: it isn’t until we are bored that we start to daydream, and draw on the distantly related information that we process in the aSTG. Jonathan Schooler, a prominent psychologist, also discovered that students “who daydream more score higher on various tests of creativity.”

[pullquote-features]Boredom can lead to innovation in unexpected ways.[/pullquote-features]

Altogether, the research suggests that, as students and as employees, it is wise to harness the benefits of boredom. It may well be that we can devise potential solutions to difficult problems at the most unexpected times. Boredom can help students and employees alike become creative thinkers, and in fact, being narrowly focused on the task at hand can impede creativity by engrossing our mind in the wrong solution.

When you need to write an essay, solve a math problem, or create a new product at work, consider allotting your time to drab activities such as cleaning, attending meetings, photocopying, or typing reports. Completing ‘boring’ tasks before or in conjunction with problem-solving sessions can help stimulate your imagination, and may be the key to your success.

Alexa Lopreiato is a Master’s student in Industrial Relations and Human Resources at the University of Toronto.

U of T track stars attack Rio

Four U of T track and field athletes to represent Canada at Olympic games

U of T track stars attack Rio

Although they were missing from the opening ceremonies, Canada has sent, arguably, its best track and field squad to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.

Among the 65 athlete roster — including London 2012 bronze medalist in the men’s high jump, Derek Drouin, and 100m sprinter, Andre De Grasse, are four female athletes: Alicia Brown (women’s 400m and women’s 4x400m relay), Gabriela Stafford (women’s 1,500m), Andrea Seccafien (women’s 5,000m), and Micha Powell (women’s 4x400m relay), who are not only representing Canada, but U of T as well.

Alicia Brown

Graduating with a bachelor of Communications, Culture, Information and Technology from U of T in 2013, Brown had an incredible intercollegiate career with the Varsity Blues. In 2013, she was the winner of both the provincial and national 300m titles, and was also a member of the national record-breaking women’s 4x200m relay team. Brown was also named U of T’s 2013 female athlete of the year. 2013 was a breakout season for Brown, who, along with all of her university accolades, won the national championship for the 400m.

After graduation, Brown continued to train with Blues sprint head coach Bob Westman and competed for the University of Toronto Track and Field Club (UTTC) where, this year, she crushed the women’s 400m Olympic standard and won the national championship in a personal best time of 51.84. Alicia competed in the preliminary heats of the women’s 400m on Saturday, August 13, where she placed 28th. You can catch her again in the women’s 4x400m relay on Friday, August 19 at 7:40 pm.

Micha Powell

Joining Brown on the Canadian women’s 4x400m relay squad is 21-year-old Micha Powell. Powell, who trains with the University of Toronto Track Club, had a successful season competing in the NCAA Division I Track & Field championships for the University of Maryland, where she holds the indoor and outdoor 400m records. Although the decision of which four of six possible athletes will be chosen to run in the four-woman relay lingers, with a personal best 400m clocking in at 51.97, Powell is a strong contender to represent Canada next Friday in the 4x400m relay preliminaries.

Gabriela Stafford

Third-year U of T psychology student Gabriela Stafford is the third track and field athlete to represent Canada and U of T in Rio. The 20-year-old middle distance phenom will take to the track in the women’s 1,500m event where she has clocked a personal best time of 4:06.53. Stafford is no stranger to success — her career as a Varsity Blue has seen her win multiple accolades, including a silver at the 2015 CIS Cross-Country Championships, two individual golds at the 2016 CIS Championships (over 1,000m and 1,500m), as well as several provincial titles. Stafford booked her trip to Rio after finishing first at the Canadian National Track and Field Championships back in July where she dominated a field of senior athletes in the 1,500m final.

Andrea Seccafien

A member of the UTTC, 5,000m specialist Andrea Seccafien booked her ticket to Rio at the Canadian Olympic Track and Field Trials in July by winning the 5,000m event with a time of 16:00.41.

After sitting out last season due to injury, Seccafien, who is a University of Guelph Alumni, joined the UTTC and has had a stand-out season, winning the prestigious Hoka One One Middle Distance classic in Los Angles where she clocked a personal best 15:17.81 — placing her well below the Canadian Olympic standard. Andrea raced on Tuesday, August 16, at 8:30 am, in the 5,000m preliminaries at Olympic Stadium in Rio. She ranked 20th after the race.