That’s Why You Play the Game

“I’ve never lost a game, I just ran out of time.” –Michael Jordan

This time of year there are so many sports options for watching or playing: track and field, basketball, lacrosse, baseball, golf, etc. College basketball is at its peak of excitement, the time in which March Madness has spilled over into April for the Final Four, and ultimately the crowning of a National Champion.

In our family, sports dominates our free time with analysis, prognostication, and commentary. We were ruminating over the incredible parity in this year’s Sweet Sixteen (for non-basketball people, those are the last teams standing after an entire season of college play). Most of the games we watched went to the wire, a few into overtime. A bounce here, a rebound there, an official’s call, a made three pointer, a missed foul shot–any one event could have reversed the outcome of the game. In other words, any of these teams could arguably be the best in college basketball.

This calls to mind a resourceful idea that my sister-in-law once had. In the NBA, everyone is immensely talented, with players able to go on a scoring spree that decides a game. She liked to watch the 2 hour games; however, she had many priorities competing for her time. So instead of watching a contest from the beginning tip to its conclusion, her strategy was this. Turn on the game with 2 minutes left. The score will probably be tied. And within the next 10 minutes the winner will be decided. Look at the time saved!

By the time you have read or heard all the commentary leading up to games, including the Las Vegas line, taking into account prior games and anticipated player match-ups, you–and countless others– have likely reached an opinion about the probable outcome before a game is played. Like the NBA, in the Final Four, all the teams are the cream of the cream of the crop. That’s what intrigues us as spectators. Which statistics will be the focus of the post game analysis? Which player will display courage and determination and play the game of his life? Which team will have matched up better in their style of play against their opponent? Which coach will have drawn up the winning strategy?

I admire how players approach these high-stakes games. They are prepared to give it their all, because it’s win or go home. The range of emotions from one play to the next is extreme. Yet they put themselves out there in front of millions of viewers, to succeed or fail. Honestly, wouldn’t it just be easier to say everyone is worthy, hand out four trophies and four teams would go home happy? But that is not the way. All teams except one will eventually go home disappointed, although it may have been decided on one incidental bounce. We are compelled to see it played it out.

About 25 years ago, there were two little league all-star baseball teams, the Red Dogs and the Blue Pigs. First of all, selecting a 9-year-old-all star team has to be an inexact science, but that’s for another post. These teams were supposedly the top teams in the little league and were invited to play for a state championship. After several rounds of tournament play, incredibly they both reached the championship round. An important piece of historical context is this: the Red Dogs had never defeated the Blue Pigs, not in years past, nor during regular season play. In general the players on the Blue team were considered unbeatable.

Although both teams were from Nashville, the double-elimination tournament was held in Rogersville, TN, about a 6 hour drive. In the finals, the Red Dogs only had to win one game in order to be state champs. As expected, the Blue Pigs decisively won the first game. In a game that would be the final chance for the Red Dogs, it did not look promising. The temperature and humidity were excessively high. Fatigue set in. And then came a rain delay that lasted about two hours. With the long drive home ahead for both teams, the Blue Pigs offered to call it a draw, share the title and the trophy and call it a day. But the Red Dogs preferred instead to play it out. When at last the game resumed, the inspired underdogs outplayed their opponents to take sole ownership of a big trophy along with the bragging rights. What if they hadn’t chosen to play the game?

That’s the allure of sports. When athletes come together to test their preparedness, strategy, and will to compete, no one can predict the outcome. As it unfolds, those who play and those who watch are experiencing a full range of emotions. And to the winner go the spoils. It’s a rich experience for the athletes. It’s a thrill for the spectators. That’s why we love sports and that’s why we play the game.

KEY TIPS:

-Appreciate the value of the sports experience in which your child participates regardless of the final score.

-As a player, control what you can control, e.g. practice foul shots, block out on rebounds, go to the batting cage, etc.

-Acknowledge that their are incidental factors that can impact the outcome of a competition that do not define the worthiness of one’s performance.

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