During the course of a day, we are all working towards something. Perhaps a project is in the works and you are trying to get a good grade. Maybe you are simply figuring out what’s for dinner. When it comes to sports, goals typically revolve around improvement, competitiveness and the achievement of personal bests. But why bother? What does sport participation actually mean to us? The answer to that would—and should–look different for each individual.
Buster Douglas explains that he was able to upset Mike Tyson in 1990 because his why was deeper than simply winning. His mom had suddenly passed away 23 days before the fight. Douglas knew he had a choice. He could let his mom’s untimely death inspire him or deflate him. He decided to fight. In 2003, Brett Favre famously threw for 399 yards and four touchdowns after his father’s unexpected death the night before. He stated that he knew his father would have wanted him to play. It was clear that his performance was linked to something far deeper than improving his stats.
While some might say that mortality can put other things into perspective, it is also not fair to trivialize the power of sports. Sports and life do not have to be mutually exclusive. Sport participation can be so reflective of our personalities—how we behave and relate to others. For some, the athletic arena may feel like the safest place to heal and just process life. Sports provide community and, ideally, a supportive environment.
Deeper meaning is not only found through loss and one does not have to play through pain to establish their why. Every day, people are making choices based on a greater good. Perhaps an athlete wants to succeed so that they can have a platform to make a difference in the world. In 2016, Serena and Venus Williams opened a community center in their hometown of Compton, California to support residents affected by gun violence. Their half-sister had been killed in a drive-by shooting in Compton in 2003. LeBron James announced that he wants to play in the NBA with his son before he retires. He emphasized how much that would mean to him, saying that playing would not be about a paycheck at that point.
Setbacks are often part of the process. For example, recovering from injury can feel like one step forward and two back. The patience required can be excruciating. However, adversity can be reframed as a test of one’s resilience. Yet, even resilience requires a why. You always have a choice—you can call it quits or press on. It is often that deeper meaning that fuels one’s energy to continue. Attitude, motivation and work ethic are intensified when you have a why that outweighs pain and sacrifice. The energy it takes to commit to the process is not just found in behaviors. It’s when you have energy in your mind and heart that the magic is more likely to happen.
As you embark on each new personal journey, spend time exploring your why. Remind yourself of this deeper meaning throughout the quest. That is where victory and satisfaction lie.
As sport psychologist for the Los Angeles Rams and in her role as owner and founder of Sport Psychology in Westlake Village, Dr. Carrie Hastings aims to support the total wellness of athletes and to address the link between mental wellness and athletic achievement. Learn more at SportPsychologyWLV.com.