We celebrated Jackie Robinson Day on April 15, so I’ll start with a quote from the man who broke Major League Baseball’s colour barrier.
“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” – Jackie Robinson, baseball Hall-of-Famer
There haven’t been many more impactful lives than Jackie Robinson’s.
Robinson won the National League MVP award, made six all-star teams, was part of a World Series-winning team and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. But then he started doing some really good stuff.
After Robinson retired, he began working tirelessly for social justice causes. He wanted people to have equal rights and opportunities, no matter their skin colour or gender. He received two of the biggest awards any American can receive for his work: the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. He was also picked by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.
“When you’re not practising, someone somewhere is. And when the two of you meet, assuming roughly equal ability, the other person will win.” – Easy Ed McCauley, basketball Hall-of-Famer
This is a classic quote that coaches in all sports – from youth leagues to the pros – have used.
Nobody is a natural, even Michael Jordan. In fact, Jordan is well known for his incredible work ethic, never taking a play off even in practice, and staying after practice to work on his game.
Bill Bradley, a basketball star at Princeton and later with the New York Knicks, said hearing this quote in person from McCauley at a basketball camp in his youth is what drove his famous work ethic on the basketball court. Bradley must have applied it to his academic life and post-basketball career as well. He was a Rhodes Scholar and later a United States senator.
“I don’t want anyone to ever go [on the field] afraid to make a physical mistake because that will lead to a mental mistake. Fear comes from focusing on outcomes. The process is fearless.” – Joe Maddon, three-time Major League Baseball manager of the year
Ironically, the key to success in athletics is the willingness to fail. That doesn’t mean you have to be okay with failing or making mistakes. It just means that you understand that failing is part of athletics. Being willing to fail means you accept that, handle it, learn from it and grow.
Players who aren’t willing to make a mistake in competition, or fail on the scoreboard, naturally play tight and conservative because they’re constantly resisting the possibility of making a mistake.
Maddon wants his players to play aggressively. That comes from focusing on the process of playing the game and executing one play at a time. Focusing on the outcome of an event is a distraction that causes tension. But as Maddon says, “The process is fearless.”
“Teamwork is the essence of life. It makes possible everything from moonshots to the building of cities to the renewal of life.” – Pat Riley, NBA player, coach and executive
I enjoy many aspects of sports but what I love the most is the sense of fulfillment that comes from being part of something bigger than myself, and sharing the ups and downs with people I like and respect.
To me, there are very few things in the world that can match the experience of being part of a team that’s working toward a common goal. As part of a team, you need to sacrifice a little of your individual desires and wishes for the good of the group. Sometimes, the common good must take precedence over self-interest.
I once saw this described as “a commitment to the oneness.” I like that – a lot.
“Sport has the power to change the world, the power to inspire and the power to unite people in a way little else can – it is an instrument of peace.” –Nelson Mandela
This is awesome but, on its surface, it’s too idealistic. Sport has the potential to do all these things. However, if the focus is solely on competition and sport is seen as a zero-sum game, then sport won’t actualize all of the things Mandela says it has the power to do.
If a sports contest is viewed as a metaphor for war in which only one team or one individual can gain anything positive, then Mandela’s quote is nothing but a pipedream.
Sport at its best is a co-operative activity in which competitors on both sides play with honour in a mutual quest for excellence. As such, our opponents are also our colleagues. We compete with our opponents, not against them.
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. For interview requests, click here.
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