Sport is a metaphor for life.
Or so they say.
Many of the values we aspire to live by are evident in many sporting environments. Honesty, integrity, humility, diligence, courage, creativity and dependability to name but a few.
Sport teaches us a lot about ourselves, our peers and what we can achieve when we work at achieving something together day by day.
However, sport isn’t all sunshine and rainbows either. Just as we can see positive values exhibited on the field of play, we also often see the worst aspects of the human psyche on display for all to see. Greed, dishonesty, manipulation, vindictiveness, selfishness and envy can all be seen in just about any game or event that’s put together for our viewing pleasure.
Sport is not free from the negative aspects of what makes us human. None of us are perfect. We each have a dark side or our own vices and we all know that our favourite sports stars are no different.
Sometimes our vision is tinted as fans, and every action we see from our favourite team or player is seen as right and just, and those of our opponents as devious and conniving.
Tribalism is nothing new to the human spirit. Some aspect of our identity is often wrapped up in attaching ourselves to a group or team. And an unconscious and unsavoury aspect of that is often fear or hatred of the other. We like to belong to something. To experience some aspect of community and to strive to achieve something together. It is often said to be one of the most fulfilling aspects of the human experience. The absolute elation of achieving realisation of your potential and getting what we deserve for all the work we put in. And a common byproduct of belonging to one group, is not belonging to another.
Striving for something against others is often what brings people together. And although we can do our best to retain the values of the games we participate in and not to succumb to those negative qualities of separation as spoken about above, some aspect of that striving against the other is inevitable in sport.
We see the others as out to take what’s ours and our victory is not only a victory over the self by conquering the highest mountain we can but a moral victory against all others. The hero’s story plots out how we take on all-comers to take away all the spoils, through a journey of honour, defiance, learning and adventure.
However, what’s often not spoken about is, things don’t always work out that way. Sometimes people put in huge amounts of effort and commitment, dedicating their lives to achieving that well-sought after piece of silverware, but unfortunately come up short. How many athletes go to the Olympics each year in search of that coveted gold medal, with their own backstory, own life’s work and own team behind them, willing them towards victory? But how many of them come up short? Undoubtedly it’s the vast majority.
Sometimes, we forget that the reason we play sport isn’t really to win the trophy, medal or championship. Playing a singular match may be a finite game, with obvious winners and losers. But participating in sport is, in my view, more of an infinite game. Participating isn’t all about whether you win or lose. It’s a journey of self-discovery that leads the player to figuring out a lot about themselves, about the world and about life.
You see, just because you give it everything, doesn’t mean that you’re going to be victorious. There are so many variables that play into whether someone wins or loses. Resources, refereeing decisions, injuries and luck will all have a part to play in the outcome. And sometimes both sport and life are unfair. The team or athlete that doesn’t deserve to win, still comes away with that medal. Sometimes, those who’ve put the most in, get the least out. And sometimes we learn the hard way that we can’t control absolutely everything.
However, all we can absolutely control is our effort. The only way to have complete confidence that you won’t be victorious is to not play at all. And in my view, that’s the coward’s way out. If you have a dice, you might as well roll it. If you have a card, you might as well play it. And if you’re thrown into the colosseum, you might as well make a go of fighting your way out.
Life is cruel. Sometimes we don’t get what we deserve. But maybe the trophy isn’t what we’re really playing for. Maybe the trophy is just what anchors us to giving our all. Maybe what we’re really playing for are the lessons we’ll learn along the way. And maybe the real victory is the experience of striving for something together in itself.