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. ;-)