Friday, August 7, 2009

It's How You Play the Game

Last night I was enjoying a re-run of Northern Exposure. Holling Vincoeur got fed up with everyone's obsession with baseball on TV and declared it to be, "piddly, inconsequential goings on!"

I cheered!

I have been cross threaded with sports for most of my life. As a young man all we did at Mutual was play basketball and I sat the bench, even in practice. I was slight, uncoordinated, and just didn't get sports. I couldn't throw a baseball. I was afraid to catch one. The concept of risking and experiencing pain for the fun of sport was totally mystifying to me. The humiliation of my inevitably poor performance was as repulsive to me as crying in public might have been to my father, but he was totally blind to it.

I couldn't even stand to be a fan of sports. It boggled my mind that we who couldn't make the team were expected to show up and worship and encourage those who did. To me it was just "piddly, inconsequential goings on." I remember reminding a friend who was grieving a big BYU loss that, "a billion Chinese don't even care." And neither did I. It was absolutely no consolation to him.

My friend Bobby mellowed my disdain for sports a good deal. He called me one day and invited me to come watch his kids play ball at the Fort Duchesne gym. I took Aly with me and we drove over to spend a Saturday morning. I felt like Adrian Monk at a 49er's game. A fish flopping on the bank. I found Bobby and a seat right behind him. He shook my hand and I asked him who we were cheering for. He looked at me with the most puzzled look and answered, "Why, everyone, of course."

I have never enjoyed such basketball! Those Native American kids were having a blast! Their skills, enthusiasm, comaraderie, were awesome. I'd watched the occasional Jazz game. Those pro players looked jaded, even bored. Rarely, did they play with what I'd call joy and vivacity. They played more like machines. Their play seemed more like work. They played like they were chasing carrots.

Not so in Fort Duchesne. These kids played for the love of playing. Fouls were practically none existent. Deliberate fouls were unthinkable. It had nothing to do with winning or losing. Everything to do with having a good time. I still can't quite put my finger on the way they competed without being competetive.

I play volleyball most Wednesday nights with the next generation of those kids. It is still the same way. There is even room and fun for an old klutz like me. Perhaps it is a cultural thing with the indigenous Americans, who seem to intrinsically get that it is not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. Perhaps it is for this reason we seldom see their talent on High School or College courts where it is no longer play and no longer a game. Perhaps it is for this reason that the best basketball I've ever watched is still I big secret kept tucked away in a little reservation town.

Another paradigm shift came when I became associated with Curg. Curg played strong safety for BYU and the Washington Redskins. I have no idea what a strong safety is. He remains a loyal BYU fan. Yet somehow, he is different. At first I thought it came of the confidence that having been an All American and a Pro afforded; he has nothing to prove. But I later could see that for Curg, sports was not the end all, be all of his life. He is humbly grateful for the experience. He sees sports as an opportunity, not a pedestal. He is not the rabid fan who cajoles and insults those who wear red. Nor is he that fan who rails against a player who stumbles on the field. His disappointments sigh over players who stumble in life.

For Bobby and Curg sports are hardly piddly or inconsequential; though they might be if they were only about superiority and final scores and money and arrogance and pride. It turns out that they are not merely about those things but can also be about fellowship and brotherhood and courage and commitment and development and motivation and opportunity and joy.


Melissa Hudson said...

This is mostly unrelated to your post (though I love reading what you post)

I love you Uncle Myke. You're a good man.

I wanted you to know that :)

Candleman said...

Boy have I ever got you buffaloed!

Thank you though. I love getting feedback to my random musings.

Life is so good, don't you think?

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