By Cindy Lin, M.D.
March 23, 2012 5:34PM
While the Linsanity of February has
cooled off, Jeremy Lin continues to play terrific basketball for the
New York Knicks and remains an ongoing source of fascination and debate
among Asian Americans and their “tiger moms.”
What’s the lesson of Jeremy Lin? Many tiger moms
are concerned that their children will want to play sports instead of
study. The real lesson, they say, is “go to Harvard first.” But the
notion that sports and academic success are mutually exclusive is
misguided. As a sports medicine physician, I strongly believe that
exercise is an important means to a balanced, healthy and successful
Like Lin, I grew up in an immigrant family from
Taiwan, a country where exams are a key determinant of who gets to go to
which college. Fortunately, my parents also valued sports.
Whereas Lin’s parents took him to the YMCA when
he was growing up, I was lucky to grow up in Arlington Heights and
Hoffman Estates, where community park districts offered excellent and
affordable sports classes from tennis to gymnastics to swimming. My
parents recognized that I didn’t have the talent to become an Olympic
athlete, but they believed strongly that my sister and I should try a
variety of sports.
A testament to their genuine support came when I
quit piano in high school to pursue horseback riding instead, of all
unlikely sports for an Asian. They supported my decision fully.
During college, competing with the equestrian
club for four years taught me the time management skills to succeed, as I
balanced class work, team practices and competitions. While sports
undoubtedly decreased the number of hours I could spend on academics,
the quality of my studying improved. After exercise, I felt energized,
and my concentration and focus were better. It is entirely possible that
Lin did so well in school because he was on the basketball team, not
in spite of this.
Now, as a physician, I help care for student athletes at a university where excellence in academics and sports go hand in hand.
Here’s why being a soccer mom instead of a tiger mom may actually help your kids succeed in life:
1. Children do better in school when they
exercise. Studies have found that physical activity and sports team
participation are positively related to academic performance. Aerobic
exercise improves cognitive function. and is a positive tool for stress
2. Exercise is the best and way to get children
off devices. A 2010 study by Kaiser Family Foundation found that
children spend over 7½ hours a day on entertainment media. It’s hard to
text friends or check Facebook while kicking a ball or swimming.
3. As children are increasingly using media to
connect, their social interactions are limited. Sports require teamwork
and interpersonal skills. As Lin said: “I think it’s more my job to
distribute and get people in rhythm.” On the basketball court or soccer
field, learning to communicate, anticipate and adjust to a strategy
dynamically cultivates problem-solving and leadership skills.
4. Sports can teach children how to handle
failure and setbacks and that you can’t always win. It also gives
children the opportunity to translate mistakes and losses into growth
With this, I challenge you to get your children
out of the house and to foster their passion for physical activity.
You’ll be amazed what they will learn. Don’t be afraid of sports,
embrace it. That is what Lin has shown us.
Cindy Lin, M.D., is a graduate of Harvard
Medical School. She is a sports medicine fellow at Rehabilitation
Institute of Chicago.