Sometimes I think that people who don’t care for sports really don’t understand what it does for a person.
Major league sports salaries, taxpayer-financed stadiums and high-ticket prices are easy to criticize and should be, but that misses the big picture.
I particularly think about the many kids I see involved in high school sports here who are not gifted athletes, not stars and whose names rarely get in the newspaper.
While that may be frustrating to them, the rewards they reap will last a lifetime. What they learn about getting along with others, teamwork and fitness can’t be replicated as quickly anywhere else that I can think of.
In youth sports you learn that losing (failure) and winning (triumph) are both important life lessons. It teaches you how to emotionally handle yourself.
You can also make friends for a lifetime.
Let me give you a couple of personal examples of what sports has done for me and an old friend.
My buddy couldn’t catch a ball very well growing up and was always the last to be picked in our sandlot games. To this day he couldn’t tell you the difference between a squeeze bunt and a quarterback option.
My friend — we’ll call him Joe — had an older brother who also wasn’t great in team sports, but he was born to run. He talked Joe into going out for the track team and the benefits are still with him.
Joe was always skinny but when he started running cross-country, he developed a slender, lean build the ladies still notice.
Joe wasn’t a star in cross-country or track, but he was always proud that he didn’t come in last. That small incentive pushed him to places he didn’t know he could go.
Our high school’s cross-country team was the best in the state and although Joe was no star, he learned what it took to be on a team of people reaching for success. The fact that the coach at our high school treated him no differently than his stars taught Joe what some coaches forget.
If a kid is out for the team and trying their hardest, that’s a victory all in itself.
Most of the coaches I see at our area high schools are that way, despite the constant pressure to always win.
The other example is me.
I could always play ball naturally when I was a kid, but several things kept me from ever playing in high school.
For one, my high school was huge and the competition to even make a squad was daunting. I didn’t get over 5 feet until my sophomore year and that didn’t help.
When I went out for JV baseball, I was so nervous I couldn’t hit a thing in the tryouts. I fielded 100 percent, but with 50 guys out for 20 spots, I was cut.
I should have gone out for other sports, but I let my supposed failure get in the way of the big picture, which was just to play for the joy of it all.
Unconsciously I started doing just that and got over my disappointment about making the team by my junior year. By my senior year, I realized the main thing.
Sports is not about trophies, it’s about doing something you like for relaxation, fitness and joy.
Sports was also an emotional outlet for me. Whenever I hit a teenage low, all I had to do was shoot baskets or get into a pickup touch football game to raise my spirits.
When I got to college, I played quarterback for my fraternity flag football team. I even had a couple of fraternity brothers on the varsity football team ask me come out.
I declined because I still only weighed 130 pounds by then, and I didn’t need it for my ego.
By that time, I knew I could play and I was playing for fun, when and where I wanted to.
After college I continued to play summer softball, fall flag football and winter city league basketball until I broke my collar bone in my mid-30s.
By that time I was playing to forget about news deadlines, jerk bosses, divorce, cars breaking down and all that life throws at you.
I later got the same refuge by coaching my kids in soccer and baseball. I’m too old to do much more than hack at a golf ball these days and follow my teams on TV and radio.
But my love of sports has always been a glorious diversion from the mundane.
Being involved in sports is like playing a guitar. There’s nothing that says you have to make a living at it. You just play to have fun.