Though some may not realize it, the most important sporting event in the world took place a couple of weeks ago: the Women’s World Cup. If you don’t yet recognize the Women’s World Cup as holding that lofty position, you may leave your misguided comments below.
For days following the final, people who have no particular interest in soccer came up to me and said, “Did you see that game?” I don’t know whether they watched the entire 120+ minutes or saw highlights on the evening news, but their comments made it clear that sports create a point of connection.
They’re not always the healthiest connections. People trampled to death at soccer matches or assaults on opposing fans following American football games don’t foster open, accepting community. But if you take the sum total, from AYSO to the Olympics, sports teach both players and fans the building blocks for creating community more often than not.
I recently joined an ultimate Frisbee league. Ultimate has no refs, so players make their own calls, which inevitably leads to contention over fouls, which leads to grumbling, a few snide comments, and a lot of sideline conversation. But then it’s done. No one rolls the previous game’s complaints forward to the next week. Given the fact that for years I resented my sister getting a rabbit when I only had a bird, this letting go impresses me.
The opposing team isn’t always the difficult bunch. At the end of a recent game, one of the young women on our team gathered us together and, in an act of courage I could not have equaled at her age and perhaps still cannot, reminded everyone to respect each others’ opinions, regardless of experience level. My team responded by affirming her request and apologizing—no defensiveness, no ego. Remarkable.
As a kid, I hated both participation and sportsmanship awards because you only receive them when you lose. The more I play, though, the more I realize how sometimes difficult and ultimately rewarding participation and sportsmanship are. Only being competitive doesn’t require much maturity, and winning doesn’t always require the strength of character losing does.
We will all fail in both small and spectacular ways: not get a job offer, get dumped by a boy/girlfriend, make a joke nobody laughs at, do or say something that hurts a friend. These moments may matter more than the dropped catch, the missed goal, but if we’ve practiced how to behave on the field, we might remember when we really need to.