Exercise is important to maintain good health. And, whether a person wants to sit in front of a gemara, an algebra book, or a piano, a healthy individual has more energy and concentration in any interest they choose to pursue. Team sports teach critical life skills. Athletics are a powerful tool for building self-esteem. And, the list goes on. We want our children to be healthy on many levels and sports play a large role in fulfilling this goal.
Unfortunately, the number of children who pursue sports and continue to participate in these athletic activities is very low. Research has shown that the vast majority of athletes drop-out of sports while they are still youths and, as a consequence, only play sports for less than a handful of years. The top reason sited for dropping out of athletics is that the sport was “no longer fun”. The primary reason sited in this research why sports are no longer fun for these young athletes is that sports became “too competitive”. Sports leagues throughout the country have implemented initiatives to combat this drop-out rate ranging from silent sidelines (i.e. parents and fans are not allowed to cheer or talk from the sidelines) to not keeping score of athletic contests and… the drop-out statistics remain steady.
Competitiveness can be very destructive. And, sports, especially youth sports, can be the source of some of the unhealthiest forms of competition. Many athletes (and coaches) have a compulsion to be “the best”. This drive to be the best is inevitably undermined by the fact that there is always going to be someone better. Unfortunately, many athletes believe that they will be the best or they will be nothing. The athlete pushes themselves (or is pushed by an overly competitive parent or coach) to extremes to outdo their competition. The athlete may have short-term successes but is doomed to long-term failure. Inevitably, this athlete feels frustration, dejection, and finds a reason to quit. They rationalize quitting by blaming a coach who doesn’t recognize their greatness, teammates who aren’t talented enough or don’t give him proper respect, or that the sport stinks. But, the bottom-line is that competitiveness defeated this individual. They need to be “the best”, they weren’t the “best”, and, as a consequence, the only option to maintain this psychological viewpoint that is in conflict with reality is… to quit. This is a typical example of unhealthy competitiveness.
Our Hapoel League is a competitive league. We document the score of each game. We have league standings. We track the league’s leading scorers. And, for sure we don’t have silent sidelines. (i.e., parents and fans are encouraged to cheer for your favorite players and teams.) We take our games and league seriously. With this said, we strive to promote healthy competition. We look to our opposing players and teams for inspiration to push ourselves harder, but our competitiveness does not cause jealousy or other forms of unhealthy behavior. The scoreboard is a tool to help us to play harder, play smarter, and be bigger mensches. The competitiveness within the Hapoel League helps to push us to try our best. The scoreboard is the means, not the ends. And, when our game is over, we take comfort in knowing that we gave it our best effort and we are happy with the results. In other words, we Play Hard, we Play Smart, and, during the game, as well as when the final whistle blows… Be a Mensch.
Play Hard. Play Smart. And, Be a Mensch.