Academic Cross Training for Peak Performance


Cross training is when an athlete trains in multiple sports (or exercises) in addition to the one they primarily compete it.  The idea is that different activities will develop specific skills better than the just training in one main competitive sport.  A good example is mixed martial arts where many top competitors train in a grappling art (eg wrestling), a striking art (eg karate) and other supplementary sports for endurance (eg running), strength (eg weight lifting), hand speed (eg boxing), etc.


In parallel to starting our FIRST LEGO League team this year, I’m also in my 5th year of coaching Destination Imagination (formerly known as Odyssey of the Mind).  For the first time this year I’m coaching two teams at the same time, a Varsity team that graduates into middle school next year and a younger Jr. Varsity team.  We even have a DI team blog much like this for FLL at with an overview of our season so far.


Destination Imagination (DI) is a parallel enrichment program much like FLL.  Both heavily emphasize teamwork and have instant challenges, but DI focuses more on the arts and creativity.  Although there are STEM options in DI, in the past we (and most other teams) have chosen creative projects like plays, documentary films and community service projects.  For the past two years we have elected to compete in the Improv challenge.

Muscles-onlyThis year our team will be given 4 improv elements:  (1) a location, (2) a conflict, (3) a theme (eg game show, infomercial) and (4) a street performance type (eg mime, acrobatics).  This is not pure Improv because our team is given one minute to rough out a 2 minute sketch incorporating all 4 improv elements which they perform immediately after the one minute is up.  This year our team will given 3 different sets of the 4 improv elements and asked to create (1min) and perform (2min) all three skits in rapid succession.  In this way our team learns to master a very compressed form of story telling (character, setting, conflict, plot and theme) that emphasizes spontaneity and quick thinking on one’s feet.

In our first year of graded competition we were narrowly beaten by a veteran team that had gone to Globals the year prior with the same project.  Last year we won and advanced to the State Championship.  This year we hope to maintain or even improve our performance although it’s impossible to predict with Improv since we can’t plan out our performance in advance.  This is what makes Improv both terrifying, exciting and a better skill for real life than acting which depends more upon memorized lines in a fixed play format.

Over half our rookie FLL team this year are also members of my Destination Imagination team.  One of the things that helped us win the EPIC trophy at the FLL State Tournament was the creativity, spontaneity, teamwork and presentation skills that most of our team has been working on in DI for up to 5 years now (conga line anyone?).

Great technical skills without good communication skills are very self-limiting as are good communication skills without much interesting to communicate.  While FLL does a good job in emphasizing both, take whatever opportunities you have (like DI) to develop into a fuller and more interesting person.


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