“You’re playing a game, whether it’s Little League or Game 7 of the World Series. It’s impossible to do well unless you’re having a good time. People talk about pressure. Yeah, there’s pressure. But I just look at it as fun.” –Derek Jeter
Included in Webster’s definition of the word game is this description: “activity engaged in for diversion or amusement (PLAY).” That is really the essence of what people mean when they say “it’s just a game.” I agree that sports is not life. Nor is it battle. And those who put their entire identity into sports are asking for a big letdown when it ends. Because one day it will end. It does for everybody.
For me personally, the opportunity to play sports was a gift. Even before organized sports, I grew up playing outside in a neighbor’s yard or driveway. We learned independence, fairness, self-control, following rules, flexibility, cooperation, humility, respect, confidence, and the list goes on and on. It was a great way to socialize as well as build fitness and burn excess energy. It was a wholesome activity, except for the occasional argument, but that’s where we also learned to deal with conflict. All of this occurred before I ever started playing organized sports in middle school, which was actually serendipitous.
I never intended to play on the basketball team. I knew I wasn’t a naturally talented shooter, nor an effective ball handler. My initial thought was to play in the high school band which was nationally known. Our band was often asked to march in the Macy’s Day Parade or one of the New Year’s Day Parades. As kids, we got to see them prepare during summertime, marching around our neighborhood. It was quite impressive to watch the baton twirlers and flag bearers march by, leading the 100+ member band, hearing the cadence of the drums yield to the brass blasting out Malaguena.
However, in adolescence, my thinking changed from playing clarinet to being a cheerleader. After all, those were the girls who garnered attention from the whole student body, getting to wear those great uniforms, cheering in front of all the fans at games. That fit the bill for a young middle-schooler. What I hadn’t anticipated was not making the cheer squad, which left me with a void since I had no plan B.
That’s when it happened. I was approached by the girls basketball team coach who invited me to try out. Although I wasn’t skilled in basketball, rather it was my speed, quickness, and jumping ability that caught his attention. I became a defensive specialist and fell in love with the game. At the same time, my parents were going through a divorce, and my teenage ups and downs had intensified.
At the end of each day, we put our books away and rushed to the locker room to get dressed for practice. For the next 2 hours, I could run, jump, learn defense, how to dribble, how to pass, how to be a teammate. It was a natural fit for me, and I loved the diversion and the fun. I now had a tribe with common challenges and goals. During those two hours, I belonged to something greater, something purposeful. Instilling pride and work ethic, it was transformative. I understood my role and conscientiously set about making a positive impact for my team and my school. Physically exhausted, I went home to rest, refuel and prepare for the next day with a sense of accomplishment.
We had our ups and downs, wins and losses, thrills and disappointments. But what I remember most was the fun and the friendship. Looking back I can see how it was a diversion from a tumultuous time in my life. There are many distractions which cannot accomplish all the good that sports provide. Perhaps that is why I feel so grateful for the gift of playing. In spite of all the problems that arise in today’s culture of youth sports, including parents and coaches behaving badly. Or the frequent examples of collegiate and professional athletes dishonoring the game. Sports offers the chance to simply play a game, and in so doing, be transformed in meaningful ways that add value to your life.
- The games played in sports are meant to provide diversion from stressors and fun.
- A simple game can be add great value to a player’s life including support, purpose, life skills, and health.