Do it for the love of the game

I’ve gotta warn you, I’m not sure I can crank out a quality column now. The atmosphere is not very good.

I don’t need people cheering when I write. It helps if there have been people cheering something before I write, or at least, people cheering something that inspires me to write.

There’s the word, well, just a word cousin, actually. Inspiration.

How can I do this well without any?

This is why I love youth sports. Give me your little league ballgames. There’s no shortage of motivation there.

The kids are there to have fun. The families and friends are there to see them have fun.

Games are fun. So let’s play. Simple, right?

That’s why, after playing all sorts of sports when I was a kid – organized, and not — and after writing and talking about them since, I have never, ever, ever gotten my brain to accept, never have gotten my heart to grasp, never have gotten my soul to understand, why athletes in high school, in college and in the pros “just couldn’t get up for the game.”

Especially after we’ve just come through a pandemic, with cancellations and then restrictions stopping and then adjusting if, and how, games got played, I can’t swallow that one.

Yet I hear players trying to explain subpar performances by saying the game was at a less-than-sparkling facility, or there weren’t many fans there, or it was a long trip … we’ve all heard the excuses.

At the level where I’ve spent most of my career, college football teams play 11 or 12 regular-season games each fall. In basketball, it’s roughly 30. Baseball and softball, the count rises to 50-60. Tennis teams are lining up for 20-25 matches and some individual tournaments in the fall. Soccer, volleyball, track and field … we can go on.

Those numbers pale in comparison to the time invested, in days, in hours, at times before dawn and after dark, preparing for those opportunities to compete.

Yes, it can turn into a grind. There is more to daily life than practice and preparation for the seasons, for the games. Warning to the athletes, prep all the way to pro: nobody plays forever. Only the elite keep playing for long. Only the lucky ones get to play at all. It is not a birthright. If often ends unexpectedly.

Sometimes, the victory is in the grind – in the ability to go out and set aside whatever burdens and distractions exist, to focus on doing all that can be done for teammates and coaches, to find the very best you can summon on that date and at that time.

Not allowing surroundings or situations to suck away the energy and excellence within.

Play the game, young athlete, like you did when you were playing in your neighbor’s front yard, or out on the street, or on a dirt court, or on the practice range.

When you might play for hours, or just shoot hoops by yourself until you missed supper.

For the fun of it.

Because when you can’t “get up” for the game, that’s when you’re cheating it, wasting your time, and everybody else’s. I’m pretty sure you’re better than that.


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