I have come to have really mixed feelings about competitive team sports. My daughter just played host team to the Alberta Provincial Ringette Tournament. This should be a fantastic opportunity to engage in play and wellness and get to know girls with similar interests from around the province and establish some connections. This I am all for and this is why I support my daughter playing Ringette...but this is NOT what I witness.
Play is a human need and sports should fulfill this. The purpose of sport should be to create an environment of play based on a completely meaningless and absurd task like putting a ball in a net, the human need isn't fulfilled by putting the ball into the net, its fulfilled by engaging in play...absurdity combined with physicality is play. Why is it do you think that people are so ecstatic when a team they identify with does better at this than another? Why is it that the players happiness really seems to hinge on whether they do better or worse than the other team at putting things into nets? Is this how happiness and well-being should be determined? Shouldn't happiness and success in play be determined by fun, enjoyment, physical activity, individual and team effort and growth? If this is the case why don't we as parents and loved ones cheer on these indicators of 'winning' or success as opposed to something completely meaningless like the score?
My daughters team got a lower score than the other team in the finals and feels completely dejected and sad. Everyone around her, including me, has been saying "Go for the Gold!", "What was the score?", "You guys are going to win!" The message here is that the importance of the play isn't the value she's getting from the activity, but what the final score is. She gets this message more from our non-verbal cues than our words because the truth is the score really matters to us and she can read that. We cheer loudly and burst with happiness when her team scores and we slump in our seats dejected when the other team scores. We greet her excited and happy at the end of the game when she wins and we mask our disappointment with obviously painted on smiles and hollow words meant to sooth unhappiness when she loses. There is little doubt in my mind why her happiness hinges on winning and losing the game...its because ours does, and quite frankly for a supposedly actualized and enlightened adult that is pathetic.
Nobody really means it when they parrot platitudes like, "It's not winning or losing it's how you play the game," or "As long as you tried your best that's all that matters." These are little mantra's we chant to ourselves more than anything to sooth our own discomfort and feelings of inadequacy when our child or loved one doesn't win a game. If we really meant these things they wouldn't need to be said because they would be implicit in our actions and words. When our kids came off the ice we would be excited to know and explore what that experience was like for them, questions like: How does it feel to glide like that down the ice with so many rushing bodies around you? What did it feel like to catch that pass? How did you know your teammate was gonna be there? How did you find your second wind on that effort?
I confess that I have a hard time watching my daughters Ringette games because I can't stand to listen to the the crowd cheering for domination. When sport becomes ritualized warfare instead of play, perhaps its time to look in the mirror and question why our feelings of inadequacy and happiness are so tied to the score and what that means. I have my theories but I'll save them for another blog.