I Can’t or I Won’t

 

Children are drawn to sports like geeks to the newest iPhone; they can’t help themselves. Even the shy ones, the overweight ones, the ones who are all elbows and thumbs, the ones who hate sweat, all still possess the restless energy that yearns to run and shriek and jump. And when you can run and shriek and jump with friends, it’s even better. Sports channels that energy, gives it focus. Rather than aimlessly running around on the playground, everyone has a place and a job to do, with defined rules and understandable goals. It’s sandbox sharing on a grand scale, as each member of the team learns to support everyone else.  When you capture that emotion in a photograph, that is when you have become a real sports photographer.

“But my child is more of a scholastic,” parents may worry. “I just can’t see her running around in the mud.” Maybe not, but sport is not just for the natural athlete. The bookworm not only can, but should, get out there, too. Parents focused on getting their child into Harvard would do well to remember that schools look at more than academics. The coveted Rhodes Scholarship, which has launched so many careers in business, politics, science, and statesmanship, goes only to college students who not only score high academically, but are athletes as well. Cecil Rhodes knew that a well-rounded individual is one who has learned on the sports field many crucial life lessons that books alone cannot teach.

What lessons? What does playing baseball have to offer that a good chess club cannot? You mean, aside from vigorous physical activity to tone up the body, strengthen the heart, and get our increasingly sedentary children out of their chairs?

The chess match requires mental discipline, knowledge of the game, strategic thinking, and a desire to win. A race, a tennis match, a football game, a skating routine, all require mental focus, physical stamina, the ability to “read” the opposition, and the willpower to keep going hard enough, fast enough, and long enough to at least finish, if not win. Showing up for the chess match or for the local Key Club project demonstrates responsibility, but acquiring willpower of the type required for sports is a matter of self-discipline, of physical effort, of step-by-step progress that can be measured and appreciated: “Today I ran an extra quarter mile. Next time I’ll try for another.” Every day that a child sticks to a training routine builds a habit of self-discipline that produces not only heightened self-esteem, but the confidence that comes with achieving a goal. That feeling and those habits instill, at very deep levels, the knowledge that “I can!”

Barack Obama famously used “Yes, we can” to win the White House. It is probably not a coincidence that the 44th president is an accomplished basketball player who played on his high school team and enjoys pickup games whenever he can find one. For him, it was not organized league sports that taught him the most valuable lessons, but those impromptu games against a variety of players who cared only about how well you could play, not who or what you were. Sports has the power to reduce life to its essentials, erasing differences in skin color, national origin, social background, and other artificial barriers. It comes down to “show me what you got,” a game any child can play.

And what if your child doesn’t “have it”? So what? Does that mean he can’t improve? Should she trudge home in defeat, convinced she can never fit in because she can’t sink that basket or beat that girl to the finish line? It is not the quitters we admire, but the people who take defeat as a challenge to do better.  These lessons and memories are what can be captured in a photograph and which helps these lessons to be remembered.

Can’t or won’t—sports helps us discover how to turn “I don’t want to” into “Look what I did!”

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