Most sports fans played a sport when they were younger. Maybe they didn’t play the sport that they enjoy the most now, but it’s rare that you find a fan that didn’t have some sort of athletic experience as a kid, in high school, or even in college. You will even find adults that still play in a club league or in a pickup softball game once in a while. The sports philosopher Dr. George Sheehan once said that sports are how we play. When we’re young, it’s perfectly normal to play with toys, but as we grow, they quickly lose their appeal. That’s where sports step in. And while only a very few kids will grow up to be professional athletes, it’s a dream that many of us have throughout our youth.
So, it’s no wonder that there are so many avid fans out there. There’s no wonder that people go to games, follow their favorite NASCAR driver around the country, or play in multiple fantasy leagues every year. We love sports, partly, because of what they stand for. They represent an ideal of what we wish we could have done: play for a living.
Obviously there’s a lot more to it than that. Sports are a game, but they are complex, more akin to chess than checkers. There is strategy, and there is a lot of psychology. If you think that a NASCAR driver just drives fast and turns left, you are wrong. If you think that a basketball player just shoots the ball toward the general direction of the hoop, you would be wrong again. Every sport has its complexities, and that’s part of what makes it so much fun to watch. Having experience with a sport allows you to understand these intricacies that much more, and it gives a deeper appreciation for the talent that you see in your favorite athletes.
There’s another level to the appreciation we have for a sport. When you were a kid, you looked up to many professionals and you wanted to be like them. Now that we have kids of our own, it’s exciting to see that same sense of awe grow in them. If you’ve ever taken your child to a professional game, they cannot do anything but leave as a changed person. Seeing an NFL game in person is a one of a kind experience. Besides the game, there are so many stimuli to take in. There’s the noise, the smell of food, the cold wind if you live up north, and many other things. But one thing that might happen is that they see how powerful of a feeling that it is, and maybe they will also aspire to become an athlete. They might not be a pro football player, but sports are a great way to have fun, stay healthy, and they teach us many life lessons, particularly about the importance of perseverance. There are even studies out there that indicate student-athletes on the average perform better in school. The best athletes all accomplish these things on the field, but many successful businessmen and women go on to take those ideas and apply them off the field. Being an athlete when you are younger, then, isn’t just about playing a game; it’s about learning how to be successful throughout your life. Giving your own children this tool to carry with them in their own lives is setting them up to be more successful than they would had they had to learn certain lessons on their own. This is one joy of being an athlete: you are prepared mentally for the tough times ahead in addition to being prepared physically.