Sports: The Growth Experience
It's More Than Just Exercise
Why Sports Matter
I was at a large high school track and field meet yesterday (May 31), and then had to go to a karate demonstration that I was involved in immediately following, and there are a few images and thoughts I wanted to share.
A senior level athlete, staring down his lane as he readies himself for the 3000 m run in significant heat and humidity.
Three sisters - a family of sprinters - stretching and warming up 20 or so minutes before their respective races.
A sprinter, bouncing on a misstep and rolling to the ground in obvious pain, seconds later trying to regain his breath as his older sister tries to help him carefully stretch out the problem area while his head coach and a couple of his teammates try to assure him how strong he looked until that point in the race.
Three friends, who have been training together for years, moving in near-perfect synchronicity through a nunchuku kata, laughing and joking about a shared experience and later making plans for further practices.
I've always understood the physical benefits of being involved in sports, in spite of not necessarily being the most gifted person athletically. I'm also very much aware of the mental benefits of taking on some sort of sport; running helps manage my anxiety levels, which can sometimes be quite significant, and karate does help me relax, in spite of my own stress at times about not being able to nail a kata even after months of training.
It wasn't until yesterday, though, as I watched the athletes from 102 schools compete and talk with each other and watched my own kid and her friends do a karate routine so well together that I really appreciated what sports can do for people.
As far as the track meet went, it wasn't just about the competition. Certainly, that was significant - these kids were competing for an opportunity to participate in the provincial track championships the following week. However, there were kids from schools that would have only seen each other once in a while, likely at competitions of this nature, sitting in the shade and talking, or laughing together, or even greeting each other with high fives and handshakes. There was the back-and-forth teasing about who would outdo the other, and advice about how to perfect even the smallest move. Under team tents, there were kids playing cards together, working on homework, and consoling each other in those times when a race didn't go as planned.
You don't have to be "into" sports to draw the benefits from sports. Your participation does not necessarily have to be as part of a team, either. My kids and I train in karate, and while we are a part of the demonstration team for the karate school, much of what we do is highly individualized. Yet, the three of us have made friends and have had experiences that we would not have otherwise had if we hadn't gotten involved in sports.
It's not just about the element of competition, either, though that can certainly be fun. I stood at a finish line recently, watching some kids from the team I help coach pound down the straightaway during a hurdles event. Our athletes were twin brothers and one of their buddies, and when the twins crossed the line in what seemed to me, at least, to be virtually neck in neck, as the brothers bounded to a stop in their lanes, they were already ribbing each other about which of them actually came in ahead. They were laughing and clearly in high spirits about how tight their race was. I don't doubt that for the brothers, that moment may one day be something they will look back on and continue to share a laugh about.
We could talk about the physical benefits that participation in sports brings all day, but that discussion is pretty much a no-brainer. That's something that doctors have said for some time; we all know that we should take up some sort of sporting activity for the maintenance of a healthy body. There's something about being involved in a sport, though, that goes beyond that. It's not just physical training.
It's the people that you're surrounded with.
It's the moments that when things seem low, you know there are people who've got your back to try and bring you back up for the next step in training or competition. There are people there with you, pushing you to be that better version of yourselves that you might not otherwise be on your own.
It's sitting on the bus on those early morning rides to competitions, listening to music or talking about just about everything.
It's seeing people you haven't seen for a good long while, and knowing that while they're fellow competitors, they're also your friends.
There's a bonding that occurs between friends and family when you get involved in sports that I don't think anyone can really understand until you've actually seen it or lived it.
I see it with my students and my own kids regularly.
It's pretty cool.