I once came across a poem while I was reading Wooden, a book written by the late John Wooden, former coach of UCLA and one of the greatest coaches and people of all time. The poem is titled: A parent talks to their child before their first game (see below). The premise of the entire poem is a parent sitting down with their child before they compete in their first-ever sports competition. I believe this piece explains what to expect. why sports are important to us, and what they represent.
This is your first game my child. I hope you win.
I hope you win for your sake, not mine.
Because winning is nice.
It is good feeling.
Like the whole world is yours.
But, it passes, this feeling.
And what lasts is what you’ve learned.
And what you learn about is life.
That is what sports are all about. Life.
The whole thing is played out in an afternoon.
The happiness of life.
The miseries. The joys. The heartbreaks.
There is no telling what will turn up.
There is no telling whether they will toss you out on your first minute,
or whether you will stay for the long haul.
There is no telling how you will do.
You might be a hero.
Or you might be absolutely nothing.
There is just no telling. Too much depends on chance.
On how the ball bounces.
I’m not talking about the game my child.
I’m talking about life.
But, it is life that the game is all about.
just as I said.
Because every game is life.
And life is a game.
A serious game.
But, that is what you do with serious things.
You do your best.
You take what comes.
You take what comes.
And you run with it.
Winning is fun. Sure.
But Winning is not the point.
Wanting to win is the point.
Not giving up is the point.
Never being satisfied with what you’ve done is the point.
Never letting anyone down is the point.
Play to win. Sure.
But lose like a champion.
Because is not winning that counts.
What counts is trying.
Those that know me well know that I disagree with the last part about how “trying counts more than winning” but that is a topic for another day, so I will digress the point.
Why Sports and Life Are Similar
As you can read for yourself, the entire poem represents how sports are a lot like life, both at first glance and once you delve deeper. The similarities are striking. How there is no way of knowing ahead of time how well you’ll do—if you’ll be an all-star or a complete zero. No telling how long you’ll “play”- if you’ll live to be 114 or if you’ll be one of the “good die young” crowd. It is filled with metaphors comparing sports to life—most of them spot on.
The Emotions of Sports & of Life
I agree that the emotional side of sports and competing is one thing I love the most. The line that always stuck with me the most is when the parent talks about the feelings we exude during a competition. It says how all of the emotions we experience during life are felt in a single afternoon of sports and competition. Think about it. Playing or even watching a sporting event, our emotional swing is unbelievable. One minute we’re on Cloud 9, so excited about what is happening, and the next we’re devastated by some random failure or happenstance. Five minutes later we’re hopeful, and then next instant, we’re enraged by the injustice of the most recent play.
Seizing the Ball
Passion is one of the greatest gifts we have in life. Anything that helps us discover and get in touch with it should be cherished. Yes, you are going to experience the bad things, like when the ball doesn’t bounce your way. The beautify of sports—and life—is there is always another moment, another chance that you can seize to make sure the ball does bounce your way. We are never fully broken or destroyed until we give up and decide to be.
Living Life, Condensed
I started to think about the poem again when I started thinking about ship life. I sat down to write about relationships and human interaction on board (still a work in progress) but couldn’t get away from this poem and topic.
I know it may be a weird comparison to some, but living and working on a cruise ship is living life condensed in a lot of ways. Relationships may shorter but tend to be more intense. You are literally together non-stop for days and weeks on end. This makes both friendships and relationships escalate for both people involved. You can play an entire relationship out in a week. You are able to have the highs, lows, regrets, mistakes, drama, and recovery more quickly than most would believed possible. It’s life played out in a week. Throughout our lives, we have moments of happiness and points of despair.
However, it’s not just relationships that promote the “life in an afternoon” theory. There is also the constant arriving and leaving of people, comparable (in a morbid way) to life and death. Because in most cases, you will never see or even talk to most of these people again. So you are required to both accept people quickly for who they are and then almost immediately after, let go of them when you must.
For some other reason, your peaks and valleys are both more extreme as well. Honestly, it seems that each feeling is amplified whilst working on the ship. The bad days are worse than they would be at home. But on the flip side, your good days are at the height of bliss. A few weeks ago, I was struggling through the day wondering what I had gotten into and why I was doing this to myself. I just had a lot of stuff on my mind and no one to really talk to about it. The next thing I know I’m parasailing in Cairns, Australia with some of my coworkers and life couldn’t be better. Every few so often, you have a moment and realize how good life is.
Kurt Vonnegut said it best when he wrote “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim, murmur or think, at some point, ‘if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.” Don’t take the good times for granted, and don’t let the bad times be written in cement.
Most people couldn’t handle this type of emotional swing. They like consistency. They strive for predictability, regardless of if it is slowly killing their spirit. Change terrifies them. They only see the now because they lack foresight. They don’t realize that only through change and growth can we become the people we want to be, the type of people the world needs.
So the next time you play or watch a game, please remember the similarities it has to life and cherish them. Enjoy when you’re happy, but endure when you must.