Posted by: JanF | January 23, 2011

It’s just a game

With many football fans focusing their attention on the NFL Conference Championship games this afternoon and emotions running high and governors making bets on the outcome, forgetting that “it’s just a game” is pretty easy to do.

As The Onion suggested this past week in their satirical article NFL Season Seems To Be Building To Some Sort Of Climax “if this is all just some sort of results-based elimination sequence to boil the league down to one team, well, that’s a lot of anticipation for not a lot of payoff. Especially if all the teams are just going to come back later in the year and start playing again.”

The wagers that the governors are making on these games (unlike some of the other bets they are making) do not involve negative impacts on people’s lives. The unpleasantness that each team’s fans are showing to the opposing team’s fans will be forgotten when hell freezes over  not in this lifetime  quickly.

Because, as The Onion writer so wisely said, “the teams are just going to come back later in the year and start playing again”. Life does go on.

Yesterday I spent all day at a basketball tournament. The players in the four games I watched were 10 and 11 years old. I wish there had been a banner in each gym that said “it’s just a game”. Or maybe “IT’S JUST A GAME!!“.

There were enough life lessons from my day to fill several blog posts but I will stop at two because there is a Really Important football game that I need to would like to watch on TV shortly.

First, officiating is part of the game. Bad officiating is a fact of life. The referees calling or not calling traveling can change the game if the player traveling proceeds to score the game-winning basket. Or if calling travelling stops your team from scoring what would have been the game-winning basket. What does not have to be part of the game is screaming at the referees from the stands. Instead of teaching your children that it is just a game and that unfairness exists and generally balances itself out, you teach your children that screaming about unfairness is okay … especially when it goes against you.

Second, youth sports are played by children. A coach bellowing at a specific child “You need to be in position, Megan! That player got right past you. How often do I have to tell you before it sinks in?”, while the game is going on, is not how you are going to instill in her what I see as the most important goals of youth sports:
• Playing a sport is fun
• Playing a sport with your friends is fun
• Playing a sport with your friends where you work together to win is fun

Do you notice a theme here?

There is plenty of time later in life to go from sports as fun to sports as Very Serious Stuff (hint: it is not when you are in elementary school). And if you as a parent or a coach are going to become unhinged over a bad call or by Megan being out of position in a game being played by 11 year olds, you need some Very Serious Adjusting.

It really is just a game. But what your kids learn from you at the game is Very Important Indeed.

(A version of this was originally posted on 01/23/2011 at BPI Campus)