March Madness is one of my favorite times of the year because it constantly displays what I believe is the reason athletes play competitive sports. The reason why we all spend countless hours in the weight room, analyzing game film, and practice for hours on end. The answer is far more complex than wins and losses, or what level our teams compete at. It’s different for every athlete, and it comes at different points in all of our athletic careers. The simple answer of “to be a champion,” or “for fun,” do not do our efforts to accomplish each justice.
Evidence of this reason exists everywhere. I can see it in the faces of kids when their team is about to win and advance, or how high they jump out of their seats when a buzzer beater swishes through the center of the net. I think the best way to describe it is overwhelming joy, the win. The moment you realize your hard work has payed off, let the celebration begin. The moment when money doesn’t matter, and playing time is an afterthought. The expressions are truly heart warming and inspiring. The reason I believe we play sports is evident in victory; however, it might be more evident in defeat.
Most athletes realize this reason quicker in defeat rather than victory. I can see it in the eyes, and hear it in the voices, of coaches and players after a season ends. It’s the reason why in a post game press conferences coaches like Tom Izzo, and Mike Krzyzewski, spend the entire time talking about their seniors rather than game strategy. Even if they’re asked about bad calls, questionable coaching moves, or player mistakes, somehow they end up speaking to the relationships they have developed over the season. We realize it quicker in defeat because the reason we play has come to an abrupt end, evident in the faces and tears of so many players and coaches around the country. Sports news coverage is really opposite from regular news coverage. The evening news usually spends all its time covering the negatives of society, while sports news usually chronicles the victory. The reality is that of the 68 teams that started the NCAA Division 1 Basketball tournament… 67 will end in agony and defeat. So what am I getting at? Why do we put ourselves through the endless hours of work if our season will probably end in defeat?
A game becomes more than just a game when we invest so much time and effort into it. How does an after school activity turn into a passion? I believe the ultimate reason we play sports is for the quality of relationship we develop with our teammates. The desire to be apart of something that is bigger than ourselves, or any one person. Those coaches and players don’t get choked up in post game press conferences because they’ve lost, it’s because they know there not practicing together the next day. After the thrill of victory subsides, we realize that the true joy generated from that win was forged in the relationships we developed over the past few years, not the win itself. And when we are able to eventually step away from the game and look back on our season, it’s the players we remember…not the record. I played a lot of games growing up, and probably won just as many as I lost, but I can remember the exact moment when I truly understood and realized why I kept playing for such a long time. For the rest of my life I will remember the sport, people, and feeling associated with that moment. It happens at different times for everyone, and we probably all experience it in a different way; but when you realize that you truly loved all those guys you competed with… you’ve won.