Today is the Super Bowl. And though I’m not enamored with the teams that made it this time around, I will be watching along with well over 100 million of the rest of you.
Football is in a strange time in its history. It’s more popular than ever; certainly the NFL makes more money that it ever did. On the other hand, mounting evidence that concussions have long-lasting effects on the health of those who play it have made many consider whether to allow their children to participate in the sport. Even President Obama.
I’ve also read many accounts from others who used to watch the game but won’t even do that any longer, comparing it to supporting dogfighting or gladiators in the coliseum. This opinion is supported in much more eloquence than I can impart by blogger and author Nathan Bransford (a 49ers fan, by the way) here and here.
As a result, many parents are making the same choice the president has suggested he might – prohibiting their children from participating in the sport of football . In some cases, even stretching that ban into other sports: basketball, soccer, baseball, hockey.
At one time or another, at many different levels, I’ve played all these sports. And I certainly can’t fault anyone for making a decision they feel is protecting the long-term health of their children. But I want to add one thing to the conversation here: there is perhaps no more direct translation of effort to visible results than on the fields of athletic endeavor.
Or, in other words, in sports, trying matters.
Okay, so in truth, trying matters everywhere. In the classroom, in relationships, at work, in life. We must all give forth great effort to achieve success in these areas. But I’ve also found that in many walks of life, simply trying doesn’t always pay off. There are some very difficult things one can attempt and not meet success no matter how much effort is expended. This is for many reasons I won’t go into here. The short explanation is “life isn’t always fair.”
But in sports, it can be clearer to see, easier to evaluate, the results of trying. On the basketball court, if you move your feet and stay in front of the other player, you will play good defense. Sure, how fast, tall or strong you are can matter, but honestly if you give forth maximum effort, you can guard a person in front of you who is a better athlete. It’s just that simple.
The shortstop who just made the extraordinary play did it because, before the ball was hit, he assessed who he was on base, how fast they were and who was at bat. Is the batter left-handed or right-handed? Is the pitcher about to throw a breaking ball or a fastball? Where is the ball most likely to be hit as a result? To my left or my right? What will I do with it once I field it, since there are runners on first and second base?
Quarterbacking in football is much the same. Peyton Manning is so good because he knows where all his teammates are going to be at any given time, can merely glance at a defense and know how they are going to react to the play he’s about to run. He’s achieved this through hours upon hours of film study.
And so on…or, you can just stare at your shoes and hope no one hits the ball at you.
This can be an important thing for young people to learn, especially if they are finding that the axiom doesn’t hold true in other walks of life. Some may be trying just as hard as they can in the classroom, but some concepts simply elude them. They become confused because they feel they’re trying so hard and aren’t seeing the results they hope for. They might even hide their struggles as a result.
The concept of trying, of intention, is an interesting one to me. At kyudo seminars, we often recite something called the Raiki-Shagi, which contains the following:
After having acquired the right inner intention and correctness in the outward appearance, the bow and arrow can be handled resolutely.
Kyudo’s full of these zen-like sayings one can spend hours trying to understand the meaning of. In short, to me, this one means you can’t excel at kyudo until you bring the correct intention to it.
I’m also reading a very well-written book called Good Prose by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd (one would hope a book called Good Prose is well-written, right?). Inside they talk about how the word “try” is used in Ghana.
In Ghana, once a British colony, where English remains the official but a second language, they have an interesting usage for the verb “try.” If a Ghanian does something particularly well, he is often told, “You tried.” What might be an insult in American English is high praise there, a recognition that purity of intention is at the core of achievement.
So I will be watching the Super Bowl this evening. What do I hope for it? I hope if they’re watching in Ghana that after the game, there will be a conversation like this:
Ghanian 1: How was the game?
Ghanian 2: Great. Both teams tried.
Oh, and I’m rooting for the Ravens, because of this kid:
And….all right. Here’s Pink, after all.