Updated: Apr 16, 2021
Former NFL head coach Herm Edwards famously said, “The greatest thing about sports is...YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME...you don’t play to just play it.”
Certainly, the object of any game or sport is to win. In professional sports, absolutely winning is super important. However, winning isn’t the only reason to play. For instance, as much as professional sports is about winning...it’s also about entertainment. And ultimately, it’s about viewership, ticket sales, and making money too.
So yes, I think we can all agree that you play sports to win the game, but winning is really the WHAT of sports. It’s what you’re trying to do...it’s not the WHY of sports. There are so many reasons to play sports.
We play sports for that feeling of joy you get when you win.
For the adrenaline rush you get while facing stiff competition and adversity, and the release, once you ultimately overcome the obstacles you face.
We play to have fun, and socialize with our friends, families, and neighbors.
We play to test our physical abilities, to stay physically fit, and also as an outlet for our creativity and self-expression.
We play to escape the rigors of everyday life, to clear our minds, and to manage our stress. Many of the reasons we play having absolutely nothing to do with winning.
When we prioritize winning over everything else, and focus solely on the outcome of the game and our performance, we are more likely to lose interest and motivation to play when things go poorly. A lot of people are discouraged from playing sports because they aren't good at them, or they stop playing when they age and their skills decline. In reality, these people are giving up on a good thing in their lives that provide them with so many valuable benefits, whether they realize it or not.
I used to play exclusively for the thrill of winning. In retrospect, my hate of losing probably even out-weighed my love for winning, and often brought me frustration. It bugged me when I had teammates that clearly didn't prioritize winning as much as I did, and it was difficult to stay engaged and enjoy the season if my team wasn't competing for the championship. The problem wasn't only that I played to win, but rather that I only played to win. Compounded by the fact that I joined a teams who didn't always have the same motivation to play that I did, and I was playing in school intramural leagues, designed for a fun, social escape from studying, not cutthroat competition.
If you’ve been keeping up with me recently, then you know that I am a big fan of incorporating play into our lives, even as adults, for all the potential reasons listed above. Here's a recent instagram post where I demonstrated me just playing around in my garage for fun.
You also know that I use the terms “sport” and “athlete” very loosely, and probably much differently than coach Herm does. No matter what type of physical activity you choose, your experience, or level of competition, you can consider yourself an athlete when playing your sport.
Re-framing physical activity and exercise from a chore that you have to get done, instead into a sport that you enjoy playing, can help increase your consistency and motivation when it is lacking.
Ultimately for many of us, staying as physically active as we need often requires discipline and dedication to fit into our busy sedentary schedules, but any extra motivation that we can create can’t hurt.
If you want to be more consistent, motivated, and satisfied with your physical activity, consider incorporating more physical play into your routine. Start by figuring out YOUR SPORT. AKA the physical activity that you do for fun and entertainment. It can be an individual or group activity, it can be fiercely competitive, or you don’t even have to keep score. Just something that you’re willing and able to pursue, that brings you some level of joy. It’s also helpful when the activity is somewhat of a challenge. Performing a task that requires mental focus and effort is stimulating to the brain and healthy for our nervous system.
Then identify and verbalize WHY you play. It’s sometimes important to remind yourself of why you are doing something when you get frustrated or things start to get a little stale for you. It’s also helpful when looking for a community of other people to play with. You don’t necessarily have to totally share in your motivation for playing with a teammate, partner, or competitor, but it might be awkward if you came to play for a fun escape from the office, and your opponent is there to rip your heart out. If you’re playing with Coach Herm he might tell you to just go ahead and retire!
Try playing at a level that allows you to enjoy the game. Maybe you don't play as often as you used to, maybe you play for 1 hour instead of 3, maybe you don't go diving for loose balls anymore. Ultimately, playing at a sustainable level that you can, and want to maintain, is better than not playing at all because you're no longer in the most competitive league, or because you aren't the best player on your team.
Of course not ALL of your physical activity needs to be fun and games. Setting health-related goals and developing consistent, disciplined effort and training to achieve those goals can also be rewarding in many ways. But that’s a topic for another day.
So remember…”YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME” but yes, it is in fact perfectly fine if you want to play just to play. Sorry Coach.
**If you need help identifying the right sport for you, or guidance in safely playing a sport for the first time, or getting back to play after an injury or long time off, please contact me directly either via email at Jared@hutchhealthservices.com or via phone at 512-522-2732.