Let’s be careful not to forget the fun in sports


Think back to when you were a kid, when you would come home from school and shoot hoops with your friends in your driveway, or wake up on a rainy Saturday morning and put on your soccer jersey and cleats on without a second thought, or when you would spend all day in your fourth grade class trying to contain your excitement as you thought about the Little League game you were going to play under the lights that night, just like the big leaguers.

Why did you do all of these things? You didn’t do them because your parents made you. You didn’t do them because your religion said so.

You did them because they were fun. You wanted to go out and, as Michael Jordan, beat the Lakers in your backyard (at least I did). You wanted to get out and make that game-saving diving catch in center field because you liked how it felt.

But as you grew older, fun seemed to become less and less important — sports became more of an obsession, or just becomes routine.

By the time you get to the collegiate level, almost everyone is serious, growling, trash talking and cursing — not smiling, laughing and having fun.

Perhaps that’s why it seemed strange to me when, after practice yesterday, I saw junior quarterback Matt Barkley and junior safety T.J. McDonald walking away from the baseball field, where they had gone immediately after practice, shoulder pads in hand, smiling and laughing.

I asked McDonald why some of the football players had been taking batting practice. Was it to enhance hand-eye coordination? Was it to strengthen and quicken their upper bodies?

No.

“It was just for fun,” McDonald said.

That’s when it hit me. Other members of the media and I attend football practice so often, analyzing everything that goes on, that we have become brainwashed into thinking about everything from a critical perspective. If the players are doing something, it must be to focus on a skill. Or if they aren’t running until they get sick, something must be wrong.

But then I thought about it, and I actually felt ashamed I had thought batting practice was another drill for the safety and quarterback to do. Nope ­— they were just having fun.

Ultimately, what’s the point of playing without a sense of enjoyment?

I remember the first time I asked myself this. It was at tryouts for the sophomore basketball team in high school. I had played basketball since kindergarten and loved the sport.

I was looking forward to tryouts the way a kindergartner looks forward to his birthday. But during the first few days, the fun just got sucked out of the game. I don’t know what happened, but I found myself dreading going to tryouts, something I could barely comprehend. I knew there was no point in continuing, so I quit tryouts there on the spot. Why continue with something I clearly was not enjoying?

That’s something I think we all could learn from. Like the football players taking batting practice, we need to do things every day simply because they are fun, and it starts with putting the enjoyment back in sports.

 

“Spittin’ Sports” runs Fridays. To comment on this article email Kenny at klegan@usc.edu or visit dailytrojan.com.