In the first two installments of this series, I discussed how sports have aesthetic value and provide clear examples of excellence. In this post I want to highlight another significant way in which sports are valuable.
3. Athletic competition builds character. It seems to me that the most significant benefits of sports pertain to the impact that athletic competition can have on the competitors themselves. By participating in sports athletes develop leadership skills, teamwork and dedication to a shared goal, an attitude of service and mutual submission, discipline and poise under pressure, and many other virtues, including patience, courage, and self-control. Athletes also learn how to graciously deal with disappointment and to persevere through difficulty and pain. We might even say—if it’s not too melodramatic to put it this way—that athletes learn that grief is the price you pay for love. This is true for fans too, as any Chicago Cubs fan knows.
Every sport provides a microcosm of the human experience, and this includes the fact that it is our lot to suffer in this life, as Moses reminds us in Psalm 90. The sooner you grasp this fact, the better your chances to make it through to the end without losing your mind. You don’t have to be a fan of the Cubs or Detroit Lions (I happen to be both!) to know that the love of a game or a particular team carries with it both joy and sorrow. While the joys and sorrows on the field or court pale in comparison to the birth of a child or loss of a loved one, they do provide healthy metaphors for these and other more serious life experiences. And I would even say that to have been exhilarated or disappointed in these less significant ways provides valuable preparation for life’s greater joys and sorrows.