At the heart of playing sports

I’ve done my share of splinter collecting. However, sitting on the bench is not where most athletes aspire. If we had wanted to be spectators, we could have forgone all the sweat and hard work and sat in the stands. But there is something about competing that draws a person to being an athlete.

Now, what I said was athlete — not NFL player, WNBA superstar or professional golfer. Some reach that level, but most high school athletes are just one among the 7.8 million participants. 

Consider being a basketball player. Only about 3% of male and female high school basketball players go on to play college basketball — that includes all the colleges in the United States and all divisions. For male athletes, who wants to play for a Division 1 school, it’s even tougher. There are only 347 Division 1 college men’s basketball programs. Each team offers 13 scholarship slots. You do the math. At any given time, there are 4,511 players dressing out in the jerseys you dream of wearing one day.

These statistics are not meant to be a downer. But seriously, if you are playing the game with the dream of one day retiring from the Lakers at 38 years old with millions in the bank, you might want to re-evaluate your reasons for being an athlete.

So, why play sports?

I need the competition. Most of us have something innate that makes us want to run faster, jump higher and cross the finish line sooner. It doesn’t even have to be a race where we run beside someone else. It could be that once we reach a record time for ourselves that we set our sights on besting that time. 

I like pushing my body. I like the feeling I get when my body performs at its peak. The practice, the drills, the sets of reps you complete are all done to temper your body to perform the way you want it to perform. Getting in shape is hard work but with rewards. When you are called upon to push yourself on the field, the court or in the pool, you know you can. You have prepared, and it feels good. 

I play for the team. Being an athlete and playing a sport allow you the opportunity to form bonds with other athletes. 

I sat out my high school junior year and didn’t play basketball. My coach was not supportive of my decision; he was far from understanding. But personal things crashed down on me and I needed to evaluate my priorities. It was a good decision for me. I grew in my relationship with Jesus and gained a life focus that remains strong even today.

Renewed, I returned to the team my senior year and easily made varsity. But my coach made it clear that I would not start. I worked hard at practice and found ways to contribute. One way was to serve my teammates. Instead of fussing, I cheered their successes on the court. I encouraged them when they missed the layup or struggled with things at home. Being a part of the team meant more to me that year. When I played, I passed the ball for the better shot, set the screen for the guy who was sinking everything he tossed up, and ran to help a player who had fallen on the court.

A recent survey of high school athletes asked the question, “Why do you play?” 

Predictable answers in the top ten included: to be competitive, to be in shape and to be part of a team. But the number one reason was “to have fun!”

Now to those who aspire, I have good news. Athletes from Davidson County will play on college teams. Some may play for Division 1 schools. Some athletes have gone on to play pro sports and will continue to do so. But for all the athletes who play, let’s place the priority on playing for the fun of it. Let’s be the best we can be, befriend our teammates and make them lifetime friends. Let’s be joyful in winning and persevering in losing. Remember: “Whatever you do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”

Jim Edminson-1.jpg

Edminson is the Editor of Baptist Children's Homes (BCH) of North Carolina Charity & Children publication & also serves as BCH Special Assistant in General Administration. This column is intended to invoke thought, to inspire and to offer encouragement to families and athletes across Davidson County.