Sports Education

Positive power of connective sports

Everyone talks. Everyone communicates. But few connect. Those who do connect take their relationships, their work, and their lives to another level John C. Maxwell, author and speaker

In the hills of north-east los angeles overlooking the Dodger Stadium, stands another baseball diamond. While this field never attracts the teeming crowds of its neighbour to the south, it provides something far more important. It offers a sense of community and connection to children who might not otherwise experience these social benefits. “Before, the only organised thing around here for the kids was the gangs,” said a community resident. “Now we’re for real. We got little league baseball.”

Such is the power of sports to uplift and renew the human spirit. But unfortunately, today too often, we see a different type of “in your face” sports — characterised by taunting, hostility, and over-aggression.

My college teammate, friend and colleague in our non-profit — The Promise of Good Sports — Dr. David Epperson, has written extensively about the positive perspectives of those who regard sports as an opportunity for athletes, coaches, parents and fans to work together to build supportive, connected communities which work for the welfare of all. Dr. Epperson’s analysis of the purpose and character of sporting activity is the polar opposite of the viewpoint expressed by NFL legend Vince Lombardi. “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. In our business there is no second place, either you’re first or you’re last,” he famously declared. The latter analysis of the objec-tive of sports leads to all types of on-field and off-field conflicts which in my opinion, is contrary to the very essence of sports activity and participation.

Here are some ways in which athletes, coaches, parents and fans can encourage and spread the message and spirit of connective sports.

Examine your own attitudes. Do you show empathy and concern for others — teammates, opponents, game officials? Or are you that parent or fan in the stand who yells: “Kill‘em, Bobby! Kill ‘em!”?

Learn to express your emotions constructively. I’m not saying the philosophy of connective sports rules out disappointment, anger or sorrow. But as a parent, you need to school your child to constructively rather than destructively, express those emotions. You need to model self-control. Connective sports is about controlling emotions. And great sportsmen use their emotions, instead of letting their emotions use them.

In 1995 golfer Ben Crenshaw used all the emotion he felt for his departed friend Harvey Penick to win the Masters. Penick died the week of the tournament, but instead of allowing his grief to overwhelm him, Crenshaw used the emotional energy that welled up inside him to give himself focus and a cause.

Focus on growth first, trophies second. I am aware I repeat this constantly, but that’s because it bears repetition. Not every child can be a winner or in the winning team. Not every child can be a star player. But every child can develop character through sports, and that should be the goal that athletes, coaches, parents and fans strive for.

Encourage relationships. Back in the days when Magic Johnson was still playing basketball for the Los Angeles Lakers, and Isaiah Thomas was playing for the Detroit Pistons, I used to love watching the two teams go head-to-head. And the best part of it, for me, was watching the relationship between Magic and Isaiah. Best of friends off the court and fierce competitors on, it wasn’t unusual to see these two reach out to each other during a game with encouragement, congratulation or solace when needed.

Develop strategies. There are strategies that can be used to establish common ground with members of your team communities. First and most important, athletes, parents, coaches and fans can all agree that having fun is essential. Second, they can agree that teamwork is crucial for successful sports experiences. They can also agree that effort is important. And finally they can agree that mastery of skills required for their chosen sport deserves to be given high priority. By adding these shared commitments to their perspectives on sport, common ground can be established for creating mutually supportive and connected team communities.

In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” address at the Washington Monument. In his speech, he painted a picture of the United States as he hoped to see it. He envisioned little children, black and white, playing and holding hands in the rural towns of Alabama. He saw black and white Americans working together across the country. King’s vision created a strong motivational pull for hundreds of thousands of Americans. It projected a positive image that people could strive for.

Connective sports can generate the same kind of sentiment. People with different values, abilities, cultures, languages, roots, and experiences can connect through play. We see so much divisiveness already in our countries and the world. Let’s not use sports as an excuse to grow further apart.

(Dr. George Selleck is a San Francisco-based advisor to EduSports, Bangalore)