What is your sport doing for you?
It’s a question that I’m often bringing up when talking with athletes. Honestly, it generally comes with a good pause.
There is plenty of value in examining an athlete’s patterns in their sport. All of those patterns contribute to how well the performer (usually an athlete, in this context) executes the task at hand. The interesting thing about sport is that there truly is a deeper level. It becomes more than just having a few years to play, giving everything you have, then being done with it and moving on. Many people carry their experiences with them, and many use their sport experience to overcome hardships, deal with the struggles of life, or teach lessons that go beyond the playing surface.
It's just a game, so why does this happen?
The first issue to address, before talking about what sport should be doing for the public, is what the athlete should carry with them into their participation. There are two main pillars that have to be in place for the best performance or experience. First is purpose. Purpose is simply why the athlete plays the game. Many studies have shown that “fun” is often a No. 1 answer for beginners. Fun can be related to social aspects or to the fun of competition. Even as athletes climb the levels of sport and the pressure heightens, fun is always a part of it for the best of the best. Purpose can definitely reach beyond fun, though.
Second is identity. It’s simply who you are as a person and how does that translate into sports. Athletes get in big trouble when their self-worth is attached to their results. It leads to perfectionism and a fear of failure. Instead, the athlete needs to show a security in their identity outside of sports and do their best to take that with them.
The best stories in sports, the ones that make us romantic about it, always have that human element. The athlete who overcomes a disability to play. The athlete who plays shortly after a tragedy of some sort. The athlete who uses sport to rise out of the difficult hand they’ve been dealt. People love these stories because it reminds them that there is value in hard work and that there is a place to escape from difficult emotions.
Some say that sport is a “metaphor for life.” No matter what the situation is, there’s always hope that the next thing will be better. Next play, next game, next season. That’s why we latch our emotions to the game. When a team or individual succeeds they get to feel the extreme amount of pride that comes with accomplishing their goals. When they don’t succeed, there is frustration and sometimes sadness. Sport allows for emotional experiences all along the spectrum and for practice in dealing with those emotions, all without any real risk.
So, what is your sport doing for you? Whether you are a participant or a spectator, the answer should hopefully be, “a lot.” Keep reading, watching, and sharing inspiring stories in the sports world. Teach kids to understand what purpose and identity should mean and how their experiences may affect them over time. Take time to remember your experience and how you felt at your very best. Sport was created to enhance other parts of life, and we all have a responsibility to carry that torch.
About Danny Desin (www.desinsportpsych.com): Danny Desin has been around the Billings sports community all of his life — as a spectator, player, and coach. Desin received a Bachelors of Science in Psychology from MSU Billings and played college basketball for both Montana State University and MSU Billings. Has has graduate level education at both Boise State University and California Southern University, where he finished a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a specialization in Sport Psychology. He is a member of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology and a Certified Mental Performance Consultant (CMPC) working with teams and athletes of all ages in the area of sport and performance psychology.