Some experiences in life stand above others as attitude shapers and lifestyle modifiers. My college athletic education was one of those. In fact, to compare it to the classroom would be unfair. Its value to me stood “head and shoulders” above the academic learning I experienced. While the college curriculum was mind expanding, much of that type of learning came later while on the job. But participation in sports was a tremendous course in human nature and relationships.
All levels of individuals facilitated this learning process. Starting with the President of the University, who was an SOB, I learned that positions of authority are not necessarily staffed by people with high levels of integrity and that you had better recognize it. Two of the coaches fit that same category while others were somewhat more human. Added to that mix was the vastly divergent personalities of teammates and opponents, and rival school anti-Mormon attitudes. This later attitude, though well camouflaged, at times “leaked” from the head coach who was a Baptist. He never felt comfortable at BYU and it’s a wonder that he was ever hired. I’m convinced that LaVell Edwards’s great success was first “rooted” in the fact that he had a total understanding of the “Mormon psyche”.
From all the applied pressures, the ranting, the cussing, and in some cases coaches who provided the opposite extreme; I learned much about what does and what doesn’t motivate. Another lesson was how valueless lip-service is and how important is a quiet resolve. You learn that the truly dependable are few while the majority is not. I confess to having become a cynic when it comes to human palaver. Talk is not only worthless; at times it’s downright disgusting. Other things learned were: self-discipline, a drive for perfection in all areas, and the experience of physical exertion that the average “Joe” has no concept of. However, mental/emotional aspects outrank the physical – the physical aspect is so closely matched between teams that only a slight edge turns out to be a huge difference.
Teamwork, competition, work ethic, getting yourself up when knocked down, etc. are recognized as values worth learning. One thing that is never mentioned is compassion – compassion for the “other guy” because my success results in his failure. I have sat in losing dressing rooms, as both a player and a coach, and I guarantee that it is a miserable experience. This realization has made me less critical of how someone else performs a task. Knowing how it feels in the other locker room, I have never rejoiced in the victory but only felt relief in the escape from defeat.
There are those who think athletics should be de-emphasized or even done away with. How naive! Extra curricular events are every bit as valuable as the classroom and that is not to demean that area of one’s education. School sports can be a tremendous unifier, especially for students and alumni who may not have much in common otherwise. I am not the typical sports fiend, but I am deeply grateful for the enriching and life expanding gift that my athletic experience bestowed upon me!
Making the Stop