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August 17, 2010 / Melissa

Sports: A true metaphor for life

Lesson Three: “We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort. Jesse Owens

Or…how athletics create a character that must parallel life

Growing up, sports were a huge part in my life.  Yes, I was the girl who would go from basketball practice from 3:30pm – 6:30pm and then on to club soccer practice from 7:00pm-9:00pm.  Add in summer leagues for softball, soccer, and basketball and I would say I was one busy girl.  Once I got to college and played, I actually started to hate sports.  I hated how parents thought their child was the next Mia Hamm and deserving of all.  I hated how I had given up so much of my adolescence for a game, and had begun to in my adulthood.  We’re talking not going to prom because of soccer tournaments. And then I began to give up classes I wanted to take because they’d conflict with 4:30 pm soccer games. And then I began to doubt my love and dedication to a game I had spent the majority of my life playing.

But this year, in my quest for something comfortable in my discomfort, I reached for the cleats again, put on the GK jersey, and loved the game as I did what seems like so long ago.  In addition, I began running.  Now, I have never been a fan of this running business (which probably explains why I preferred keeper over middy), and to this day I question my thought process in agreeing to run the 300m hurdles on my high school track team.  And then the reason I play made sense, as well as the unexpected lessons I had learned throughout my scholastic playing days.

My understanding of this began as I read What I Talk about When I Talk About Running. A philosophy for running I had never imagined was like Pandora’s Box for me, and from then on I was hooked.  And then I looked at my personal journey through athletics and realized what crucial experiences those were.

In high school our warm up song for basketball was “Eye of the Tiger.”  I listen to those lyrics now and still feel empowered.  Not because I’m warming up on a court in front of local elementary students who would view me as an idol, but because they are so true when applied to REAL LIFE.

“So many times, it happens too fast; You trade your passion for glory; Don’t lose your grip on the dreams of the past; You must fight just to keep them alive; It’s the eye of the tiger, it’s the thrill of the fight; Rising up to the challenge of our rival.”

Athletes, in any capacity, have an inherent tenacity.  A constant fight and drive, a character trait that develops from T-ball in your efforts to run around the bases or *hopefully* not get stung by a bee.  And that trait continues to develop as the athlete does, especially once competitive organized participation begins.  Athletes know that the saying “no guts, no glory” is true.  We know that when your rival from the next city over is running extra stadium steps after a three-hour practice, you have to be doing that AND sprints.  We develop a realization that no matter how hard you work, an ideal outcome is not always reached.  But somehow, in that, a true athlete finds peace and a willingness to work harder instead of give up.  The athlete has the ability to not want to disappoint – themselves, their teammates, or their coaches.  They work hard and demand that of others.  And when the season ends, and only one champion is crowned, you can feel the depression of defeat, yet the next day hit the gym to lift weights.

Applied to life, we know that difficult times are inevitable.  Yet, it is the response one has to them that is a testament of their true character.  The traits that are built-in to an athlete – whether a soccer player, runner, or participant in martial arts – are necessary for survival in the world.  It is not falling down that is the failure, it is the inability to try to get back up again.  So, despite my less-than ideal year, I know how to keep on moving and running towards my goals.  I’m not afraid of the work ahead, because I’ve done it in various metaphorical capacities before.  It’s knowing how to set your own goals, and then exceed them. It’s playing against Division Three National Champions Ohio Wesleyan and doing everything in your power to keep the score UNDER 10-0, doing it, and considering that just as fulfilling as a win. It’s about playing Kenyon College your first game back after a concussion, getting knocked out cold 10 minutes into the game, knowing you have no other subs but staying in and playing the best game of your life – the closest to Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s flow you have ever experience. It’s running up a hill after you’ve run 10 miles and your body screaming at you that you can’t do it, but your mind and experience telling you otherwise. It’s about knowing that hard work and perseverance and an internal fight will get you past anything.

My 7th grade basketball team had this quote on our team t-shirts: “Confidence is a lot of this game or any game. If you don’t think you can, you won’t.”  Who knew Jerry West’s words of wisdom would ring true twelve years later?


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