“Hey, it’s just a game. You don’t have to take it so seriously. There is more to life than the game.
—Jack Nicklaus, golf legend
There is this distinction between a game or a match, and a championship round or a tournament. There are double elimination tournaments, single elimination tournaments, and other variations including consolation brackets within tournaments. Do not make the mistake of thinking that all games are the same.
During tournament play, the pressure is heightened because there is by definition only one winner at the conclusion. Every participant hopes and believes that they could be that one left standing at the end, the survivor, so to speak. Professional athletes acknowledge the inherent intensity and young athletes feel it too. Whether the stakes be in cash prizes or bragging rights, the desire to win amps up.
This past weekend I attended a college basketball tournament which had begun with 64 teams. There were countless hours of practice and sacrifice that each athlete brought to the competition from their cumulative work. Hopes were high in the first round which produced 32 winning teams. Sixteen were left after round two. This weekend after the third round of games, 8 teams moved on. After the fourth round, only four teams remained. I couldn’t resist calculating the percentage of teams left in the basketball division, composed of 485 teams, 0.89%. The last team standing when all is said and done will have had a 0.2% chance of achieving the ultimate prize, Champions.
I love what I’ve read about Jack Nicklaus, who is among the winningest golfers ever. This elite professional golfer whose name is so well known, took the approach of balance and perspective. He did not allow winning at golf to be the most important, the only thing that would make him happy in his life. (Psychology of Champions by James J. Barrell, Ph.D. and David Ryback, Ph.D.)
I believe that is important guidance not only for players, but for parents, for grandparents, for mothers-in-law, fans in general. At the tournament game I attended this weekend, however, I did not heed this advice. Notably, our interest in the college we were supporting was strong. Although we didn’t attend this college, had not followed this team through the years, in fact we had never heard of the school or conference until a few years ago. You see, my daughter is married to the coach.
We won the first game of the third round putting us in the Elite Eight, matching the programs’s best performance in history. One more win and we would be headed to the Final Four, a new frontier for the record books. None of this was lost on my husband or me as we carefully chose our seats in the crowded, small old gymnasium behind the team. It was a unique setting, a throwback arena with one long wooden bench for each team, organ music playing the national anthem, and wood paneled rafters above. Our hopes were high, and any calm was belied by the butterflies that filled my stomach.
Throughout the game, lurking was the real possibility that we could be defeated by a very athletic, scrappy, underdog of a team. A few questionable calls by officials, and in the heat of the moment, I reverted to poor fan etiquette. I vocalized criticism of the refs. I may have used an expletive. Thankfully, I had a mild case of laryngitis that mitigated my shouts of disapproval. I had completely lost perspective. Why? Because the game had become too important.
Next weekend when we travel to watch our team play in the semi-finals, and God-willing, the finals, my intention is to prepare mentally as a fan. I want to take a few minutes before finding my seat to contemplate the meaning of the event. It is a game. If we prevail, all the better. If we don’t, life will continue and many lessons will be learned. For those of us who are competitive and greatly enjoy the spoils of victory, it is our challenge to preemptively set our perspective correctly.
- Acknowledge the undeniable truth that it is just a game.
- Be intentional in preparing to watch a game as a parent or fan in order to maintain a healthy perspective.