Finding pandemic guidance in the sports world

Ken ReedThe coronavirus is certainly testing us all. In times like this, it’s natural to look for guidance in dealing with challenges. Wise guidance can come from all areas of life, including the world of sports.

I recently came across some wisdom from two sports figures that I think is applicable to the situation we’re in. These men come from different sports and different eras. Neither is known as great philosophers but their philosophies on how to deal with uncontrollable events and situations in life can help us all deal with the pandemic.

The first sports figure I’m referring to is Urban Meyer, longtime successful college football coach for Utah, Florida and Ohio State. I’ve never been a Meyer fan but I love one of the things he stressed with his players through the years. It’s a simple but powerful equation: E + R = O. Event plus response equals outcome.

“We don’t control the events in life, and we don’t directly control the outcomes,” says Meyer. “But we always have control over how we choose to respond.”

Meyer says the R factor determines the quality of one’s life. Meyer’s goal was to make his players’ R stronger than any E they might encounter during a season.

The second sports figure I want to mention is former Major League Baseball pitcher Don Carman, who primarily pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies. Carman, who’s now a sports psychologist, has a similar life and sports philosophy as Meyer.

“A big part of my philosophy is I don’t get to write the script,” says Carman. “Whatever it is, I just get to respond.”

The philosophies of Meyer and Carman are similar to that of famed psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, who once said: “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”

Meyer says an important step between the E (event) and R (response) needs to be a pause (P). It’s important to pause and not just react emotionally to an event or situation. A pause gives you time to accept the event or situation and then ask: Now what? What’s important now? What does this situation require of me?

This allows you some time to reflect and for your response to be driven by your values. So the equation can be modified to: E + P + R = O (event + pause + response = outcome).

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response,” said Frankl.

The coronavirus pandemic is a reality. It’s the E in the equation. Now we get to respond (R). How we all respond will impact the ultimate outcome of this pandemic.

I’ll end this discourse with the philosophy of another sports figure, legendary North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith: “Play hard, play smart, play together.” That was Smith’s mission statement for each of his teams throughout his hall-of-fame career.

It applies to all of us. In cases like this, we’re all on the same team. If we’re all smart about what we do during this pandemic, give our best effort to find a way through it and remember that we’re all in this together, we can come out the other side stronger than ever.

And that’s an outcome we can all strive for.

Ken Reed is sports policy director for League of Fans (leagueoffans.org), a sports reform project. He is the author of The Sports Reformers, Ego vs. Soul in Sports, and How We Can Save Sports.

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