I never watched a ton of sports in my life. Mostly due to the fact that I was too busy playing them. However, up until a year or two ago, I had my finger on the pulse of most major sports leagues in North America, ATP and WTA tennis, a bit of European and Southern Hemisphere rugby, and Canadian college sports. I read snippets here and there, I knew trends, major injuries and other developments. I could go to the water cooler and chat with most anyone on most any sport.
Maybe it’s my growing family….relaxing me- or we- (my wife and I) time is sometimes non-existent. Maybe I’m bitter because I am no longer the athlete I was in my 20’s (ahhhh the glory days!). Maybe I am transitioning to my professional adult life, so the little time I have to consume media is spent in a professional context. But really, I think the main driver is….professional sport is basically entertainment, nothing more.
Don’t get me wrong. The rare times I do catch highlights or actual live footage, I am still blown away with the athleticism, the power, the agility, the decision-making, and the speed at which world class athletes perform. I watched the Djokovic/Nadal semi-final at Wimbledon this year and the things those two on a court together is nothing short of magical. Or back in 2011, when the Vancouver Canucks were at their franchise finest, a live match showed me a game that had a level of elegance and speed I had never witnessed in any other sport (or other) setting in my life.
But to what end?
Yes humans will always push their boundaries, be it physical, mental, emotional, whatever. It is one of the incredible features of being one in the 21st century. Many of us have the opportunity to exploit ourselves in ways unimaginable even 50 years ago. And we need those outlets to explore the limits of our capabilities. But big sport is entertainment first and foremost. Billions are spent to entertain fans. Of course, similar to our need to push our limits, it is also great to have engaging, real-life entertainment where we can witness the human peaks of exertion, emotion, effort, and struggle.
But billions are spent, every year, to bring this entertainment to us. The NFL alone $6.5 billion just on labour in 2017.
I guess if I throw on my first-year economics class hat, it’s either the law of diminishing return, or a cost-benefit analysis (that was a few years back now, can't quite remember which). Does the increased money spent every year increase my enjoyment? For me the answer is “no”. Now, I can completely understand how it would for others, athletes are bigger, faster, stronger, and that happens in large part because there is money there to allow them to push. But for me, I think that’s cool, but it doesn’t do much for me anymore.
Oh and one more reason I am following pro sports less, I am in love with youth sport!
Not the product, not the games, not the practices, not the results, not the emotion. I am in love with the power youth sport can have in developing young people into amazing adults.
I am in love with the memory of my U8 player coming up to me after he scored a goal saying (with a huge smile) “I used the outside of my foot, like you taught me, coach!”
I am in love seeing my players pick up their teammates when they fall over. Even more, I love seeing my teammates picking up opponents.
I am in love watching the more talented and/or physically gifted kids ensure that the smaller, less athletic kids get an opportunity to participate.
I am in love watching players celebrate the hard work and success of a teammate. (It’s amazing what 7 year olds notice and say!)
I am in love watching my basketball post player struggle for weeks to get his footwork correct on his up-and-under, then finally execute it correctly and smile ear-to-ear (perhaps my favourite coaching memory so far, I have goosebumps just writing about it).
As much as it also infuriates me, I am in love watching my player chat with an opponent, mid-match, (as the ball goes by him towards a goal against), because it’s his classmate.
I am in love watching the players stay after practices and games because they love playing with each other, be it soccer, or wrestling, or tag, or whatever they make up that day.
Basically, I am in love watching sport create opportunities for these kids to develop key life skills. That hard work and focus can help you achieve your goals. That despite being opponents, everyone involved is still a human deserving of support, friendship, and love. That teams require everyone to improve. That, at the end of the day, sport is a tool, but to never let it get in the way of empathy and compassion.
These are all things that will prove immensely valuable as they navigate through work, friendships, relationships, loss, and heart break. Basically… through life.
Of course I also hope it helps them develop healthy habits like staying active and eating well. I hope they develop a strong foundation of physical literacy. I personally am very greatful to be able to perform a full squat, bum to ankles, while engaging my knee and ankle proprioceptors…as I hold my babies and pick up their soother!
Look, I get it, professional athletes are incredible to watch. But given the choice, I much prefer getting on the field, the court, the yard, wherever, and doing my best to help kids become better human beings. If you are a youth coach, every time you put your hat on you may create a memory that impacts a life for a lifetime. Make sure that memory is positive and will help mold that kid into an adult that will help make the world a better place.
“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”
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