Monday, December 10, 2018

Why I Love Sports

Recently my wife and I were given some free tickets to an Indiana Pacers game. We're all Boston Celtics fans, but we also really love basketball and thought it would be fun to take our kids to the game. Unlike their parents, our kids had never been to an NBA game before and free tickets were the perfect way to give them their first experience. The Pacers played the Utah Jazz and while we didn't really care which team won, we had fun although the constant barrage on the senses (mainly noise) of modern NBA games drove me absolutely nuts (that's a topic for another post). During the game my son asked me who I wanted to win. I told him I didn't care either way, to which one of my daughters said "that's because you just love sports." That got the wheels turning in my head and made me think about why I love sports so much. Ever since I was a kid they've been a huge part of my life;  I would say that along with music, sports is the thing I'm the most passionate about. There are several reasons for this:

The Physical Aspect - Let's get the low-hanging fruit out of the way first: in order to be good at sports, you need to be in good physical shape. It doesn't mean you need to have 3% body fat or run faster than Usain Bolt in the 40 yard dash, but you've got to be physically fit. This also varies by sports because a baseball player doesn't need to have the endurance of someone who plays basketball or hockey, while a soccer player doesn't need to have the upper body strength of a football player. One of my favorite things about playing sports is that it allows me to be physical, to run around and throw and jump and swing and kick and shoot. Playing something is a fun way to stay in shape and do something active with other adults as well as with my kids. It's also a chance when watching sports to appreciate the superior physical condition professional athletes are in after spending their entire lives training and working toward achieving their career goals. The parallels between that and what we can achieve in our everyday lives through that dedication, whether it's physical fitness, academic achievement, career advancement, or honing talents like music, art or writing, leads to an appreciation as well as a valuable lesson we can all learn from.

The Emotional Aspect - Being a sports fan, whether you're rooting on your kid's youth teams or your favorite professional teams, is first and foremost FUN. Getting emotionally invested and cheering for your teams, at whichever level, is one of the most enjoyable things about being a sports fan. Now, there's definitely a balance and some reality checking that goes on with this; if sports fandom takes over your life or subsumes your overall identity then it's a problem, but as long as it's kept in perspective and all in fun, there's nothing wrong with it at all. I've been a fan who lives and dies with the Red Sox, Celtics, and Patriots my entire life, but I don't let that fandom consume me or take over my life. At the end of the day sports are supposed to be a fun diversion that shouldn't be taken too seriously. Still, some of the best (and worst) memories of my life are tied to rooting for my teams and for pretty much all of those moments I can remember exactly where I was and what it was like as though replaying a scene from a movie. The same is true for the moments when I played sports as well as now when I watch and coach my kids.

The Mental Aspect - Sports are typically thought of in purely physical terms because regardless of which sport one watches or plays, there is some significant physical mastery of a skill (or multiple skills) that is required in order to be successful. However, an equally important but often overlooked aspect is the mental approach. For many people, myself included, the strategy aspect to sports is as fun and interesting, if not more so, than the physical. Regardless of which sport it is you're playing or watching, there is a mental game within the game that is as important as the physical game. Take my beloved baseball for instance: so much of the sport is strategic. Whether it's deciding which pitches to throw (and in which sequence) to each batter, how to position the fielders, stealing bases, hit-and-runs, squeeze plays, the strategy is an integral part of the game. Hell, in football strategy pretty much is the game as every single formation and play on offense and defense is devised and chosen to counter what the coach thinks the other team will do. Basketball, hockey, and soccer are more free flowing but no less beholden to strategy with the various plays and deceptions they employ. In fact, when you really think about it deception is the name of the game in just about every team sport. If that's not playing the mental game, I don't know what is.

The Excellence Aspect - Whether it's sports, music, writing, art, film, science, business, or anything else, I enjoy and admire excellence. Just as I am blown away by a musician who writes a fantastic song or plays something interesting or unique on their instrument, so too am I wowed by athletes playing their sport. I'm not exclusively talking about professional sports, either. At any level, including as young as my son's 9U travel baseball team all the way through junior high, high school, college, and the professional ranks there is nothing better than watching people who are great at what they do. At the professional level in particular, these are men and women who have dedicated their lives to their craft and possess skills most of us could never even dream of. As a means of emphasizing just how far superior these people are than the rest of us, I'll share a personal anecdote from my younger days. When I was in college and graduate school I had a group of friends who I played basketball with. We'd play a few nights every week for 2-3 hours at a time, usually finding enough guys at the gym to run 5-on-5 full court games. One time this fellow we'd never seen before asked if he could join us...he was wearing nice-looking Celtics gear and told us he had made the Celtics summer league team the year before but didn't make the cut to get a training camp invite. He joined our group and proceeded to wipe the court with every one of us. This guy ran faster, jumped higher, dribbled and passed and shot better than us, and made everyone else look silly (he was also nice and quite humble from what I remember). It dawned on me as I walked home that night that "this guy was fantastic and he didn't make the NBA!" Think about that: he was by far the best player I've ever shared a court with and he wasn't even good enough to get an invite to an NBA training camp. If he wasn't good enough, that should tell you how good the players who are in the NBA (or any other professional sports league) are. That excellence is one of the most admirable and fun things for me when I watch sports and I suspect it's a major reason most people follow as well.

The Teamwork Aspect - Obviously this only applies to team sports, but one of the things that fascinates and inspires me about sports whether I'm playing, coaching, or watching is seeing how individuals perform within the framework of a team. When a team truly plays together and for each other, the results are usually exhilarating as they bring out the best in each other. In team sports, I dare say that every winning team is a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. I see this in the youth sports I coach all the way up to my favorite pro teams. The lessons learned in parlaying individual excellence into the team, playing for your teammates, hard work and sacrifice are valuable at any age and translate into all walks of life, not just athletics. Whether it was the teams I played on in my youth, my kids' teams that I coach, or watching the Red Sox win the World Series (as but one example), there is something special about seeing stellar individual performances working together to elevate the play of the team. It's as fun to watch as it is to be a part of.

There are numerous aspects to why I and countless other people around the world enjoy sports. Whether it's watching, playing, or debating them, regardless of which sport is your favorite I'm sure you'll agree that the reason we love continue to follow and enjoy them is as multifaceted and varied as the number of sports themselves. What are some of the reasons you enjoy sports? Please feel free to comment below so we can discuss them!

4 comments:

  1. All excellent reasons to continue watching, despite some leagues (NFL) having rule changes and political silliness that makes them almost unwatchable, and others (NBA) where the presentation can be annoying (although the game itself is still awesome, stat-nerd reliance on layups and three-pointers aside).

    The thing is, when you actually PLAY a sport, they become more fun to watch. Not devote your life to like they're a religion, but there's nothing wrong with a little healthy passion. We have so few outlets for this sort of thing, especially as men, in the 21st century.

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    1. Great point about outlets for men these days. I will say one of the best things that's made me love sports (especially my beloved baseball) more as I've gotten older is A) seeing my kids fall in love with our teams, B) seeing my kids play, and C) coaching my kids. I always say about baseball in particular that it's the only sports that makes a boy feel like a grown man, and a grown man feel like a little boy, but to see my daughters fall in love with it (especially my oldest) is just the coolest.

      As you know we're also big hoops and football fans and my kids play basketball, but those two leagues have done so much tinkering to the rules that they're almost unrecognizable as the games I grew up watching. Baseball definitely has its fads as far as pitching or, currently, reliance on launch angles and all or nothing at bats, but the rules themselves have barely changed in the last 75-100 years and the game does a much better job of correcting itself than the other sports do. When I watch footage of baseball from the 30s or 40s or 50s etc or games I remember watching growing up in the 80s and 90s, it looks so much the same as today. Watch NBA of NFL film from our youth and it's like a different sport. Just my $0.02 and I digress. You know I like to get long-winded!

      But yeah, there's so much more to like about sports besides just rooting for your teams to win (which is still a ton of fun).

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    2. It might be your $0.02 (where is the "cents" symbol on the keyboard?) about the NFL and the NBA . . . but those two cents happen to be correct.

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    3. Well thank you. I also prefer the slower pace and quiet presentation of baseball. The last NBA game I went to a few weeks ago was so loud and obnoxious not only between the action but DURING the game that it drove me nuts. Baseball has the sounds of crowd, the players, the game, the ballpark...I love it. We go to a few minor league games every summer, we’ve been doing that for years, and I love it! Major League games are great too, just pricey. We’ve gone to a couple the last two years but we can go to 3-4 minor league games for the same price as 1 MLB game and it’s great baseball (AA team when we were in PA and AAA team here in Indy).

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