Saturday, July 18, 2009

You blew it!

I like sports. I like them for several reasons...

1) They make exercise fun.
2) They provide a social "fix."
3) They provide a window into a player's character: for better or worse.
4) They provide a "flow" experience: they are completely engaging and challenging.
5) They teach the importance of a strong work ethic.

There are other reasons I like sports, but those are the five that come quickly to mind.

I don't watch a lot of sports. I like to play sports. (I like games too, mostly cards, but playing sports floats my boat.)

I don't play organized sports, but my kids did, and I supported their efforts. All three competed all the way to the collegiate level. I participated in some organized sports as a kid, but mostly I played the sand-lot variety with the neighborhood kids. I did tennis, basketball, and track in school, but it was the after school pick-up games of football, handball, and baseball that I loved.

Along the way I also enjoyed playing ping pong, golf, swimming, volleyball, frisbee, body surfing, and bowling. I've was better in some of these sports than others, but these are the ones I enjoyed and played.

I've also tried surfing, skiing, and water skiing but never mastered them.

Notice the absence of organized team sports? Beyond my early years of high school, I abandoned organized sports for recreational sports with my friends. Organized sports seems to draw a more cut-throat, win-at-any-cost, destroy-the-opponent mentality that I avoid. I like to compete, but I like friendly competition. It's not any less intense, but it is safer.

When you play with someone who is not your friend, they may not take your personal safety into account. People get hurt playing sports. That's not fun.

I titled this post, "You blew it!" because my intention was to write about a recent sports related encounter when one of my playing partners "blew it." As I began to write this piece, I discovered a whole new "writing territory" to explore: sports.

Sometimes in the heat of athletic competition someone blows up. It's not supposed to happen. Sports is supposed to teach "grace under pressure." I can handle blow ups when they are self-directed: athletes get mad at themselves.

Sometimes my competitors get mad at me, and sometimes I deserve it. But they don't blow up. They say something, or play harder and a bit meaner, or they provide a telling gesture: perhaps something involving a single digit. I understand that. It happens when you're playing hard.

But an in-your-face, I-hate-you, you're-a-bad-person rant -- that's blowing it. Follow the rant with a I'm-packing-up-my-stuff-and-going-home-without-a-word scene, and now I'm afraid. All of a sudden, sports is no longer fun: at least, not with that person. And it's over.

With family, you probably get a do-over, maybe. I'm all about second chances. But with a casual playing partner: it's a show stopper.

What's the moral of this story? 3) Sports provide a window into a player's character: for better or worse.

When the view into a player's character reveals aspects that destroy the fun of the game, including my sense of safety, it's game over, for good, with them.

Too bad, but "You blew it."

Good thing I have other people to play with. ;-)


  1. Don, you are a sports guy! I agree with you that some people get way too combative when a game doesn't go their way. You're right that they "blow it" with such an immature reaction. They miss the whole point about sports as a vehicle for fitness, fun and personal fulfillment and camaraderie.

  2. good words.

    what is it about sports and drudging up this testosterone, alpha-male win-all beast in us guys?
    I keep it down as much as I can, simply because I know how fast i can 'blow it' when he starts to growl

  3. I guess, for me, sports were just a negative experience from the very beginning: people laughing at me, or getting mad at me because I wasn't any good. I was a "jinx". "Keep away from the ball; we'll take care of it." No fun at all.

  4. @Chase: Maybe sports is how "civilization" has sought to moderate the win-all beast. In the insurance industry they make a difference between a friendly and unfriendly fire. A friendly fire burns in your fireplace, the other kind burns down your house. Sports lets us play with fire, but in a friendly way. Intensity, hustle, focus, and sportsmanship? What an amazing mix.

    @Dennis: #5... a strong work ethic. I've only met one guy who had very limited athletic ability, and he had Asperger's Syndrone. The rest of us often mostly need practice and coaching. (I know another girl who was an All-Star softball player... she has Asperger's as well, but she learned to excell.) I spent hours hitting a tennis ball against my garage door and later against a practice wall. I learned to juggle by practicing on my living room floor with golf balls. When I didn't make varsity in junior high I was puzzled until I found out that all of the guys who made the team had one thing I didn't: practice hoops at home. How come you got good on the ukelele and I didn't? (You practiced, had coaching, and you worked at it... for decades.)

  5. @Septembermom: Yeah, I am a sports guy... and I've worked hard to become so. ;-)

    "They miss the whole point about sports as a vehicle for fitness, fun and personal fulfillment and camaraderie."

    You say it well. (But then you should... you are a poet! Athletic too?)

  6. Don,
    It's fine to talk about practice and coaching but if you are the kid that everybody doesn't want on their team, and if anyone who really enjoys sports doesn't want to practice with you, and if there is nobody who will to coach you, then progress is highly unlikely.
    The odd thing about music is that I have joked for a long time that the instruments I play are the ones I didn't have to practice at: ukelele, autoharp, harmonica, recorder; they didn't take much work at all (although any twelve year old who took the time to practice would probably be able to play better than I can). I tell people that I don't play any instruments, I just play with them.

  7. Okay Dennis...

    Do you want to be "the kid that no one wants on their team" or do you want to be "athletic"? The choice is still yours. It begins with self-perception. A lot of athletics is about attitude not aptitude.

    You admit, "I was no good." You admit, "I play the ones (instruments) I didn't have to practice at."

    You missed the part where I tell how I learned to juggle or play tennis. I did it without anyone to play with me. I developed some basic skills practicing by myself without coaching.

    Baseball: I threw the ball up in the air and caught it. I bought a "Larry Sherry Pitch-back." (You threw the ball into a net that threw it back to you.) I tossed a tennis ball against the garage door and practiced grounders. I took a bat and ball to the school yard and learned to toss the ball into the air and hit it. Then... I got picked towards the middle for pick-up games at school.

    That was then... this is now...

    A friend who I've been playing racquetball with also golfs. I golfed some as a kid. He played alone the last time he played. He's a teacher: we both have summers off. I asked if he'd like a golf partner. He said, "Okay."

    I went to Goodwill and bought a set of irons, a putter, and a bag: $33. (The course we are going to play doesn't require woods.) I went online and found some YouTube videos on how-to play golf. (This is the same thing I did with racquetball. Free coaching is now called YouTube. I found some free golf videos: from a guy who charges $1,000 an hour for lessons. I'm relearning the game so I can play this Friday: noon, weekday, mid-day (hot), and fairly empty course. Am I anxious? Yes. Am I preparing for success? Yes. (One body building online coach ends his e-mails with this: Train hard. Expect success.)

    I'll probably go hit two buckets of balls after I finish watching my on-line "coaches." I'll hit the putting green (alone). The driving range is also "alone."

    Hopefully, I'll be "good enough" instead of "no good." How? I know how to learn stuff. I break down the problem into bits. I start early. I find help (online). And instead of blaming others, I take control of my own improvement.

    Locus of control. It's my problem, and I can solve it. "I can reach my goals, but I can't reach them alone. I need God and others." This is one of my personal affirmations. It's who I am by intent. As a result, I can become athletic. I can master (at some level of adequacy) a sport.

    (I taught myself how to throw a boomerang from a book in my 30's. My personal record is 36 consecutive throws and catches.) (I tilted up 1/2 of a ping-pong table and played against myself in my teens.)

    I never played varsity sports in high school. I didn't practice enough, nor did I pursue learning any sport with enough intensity to be that good. But I got chosen on PE teams, intramural teams, church teams, and family reunions. Why? Because I was above average. Why? Because I worked at it? Why? Because that's how you make exercise fun. You make sure you are not "no good." Instead, you make sure that you are "good enough." Then it's fun. Surfing and snow skiing are not really fun for me. Why? Because I'm not "good enough" yet. Tennis sucks until you are "good enough." So do most sports.

    You and I are both preachers of sorts. That was my sermon for you on "Athletics: becoming good at sports." I'm stepping off my soap-box... now.

    I really hope this helps. That's the intent. "Speaking the truth in love,"

    Your cousin,