Winning isn't everything

The experiences - bad and good - learned in athletic endeavors are some of life's most valuable.

But, just as with any of life's lessons, we have to consciously make the effort to learn from them. What we learn from athletics is a matter of individual choice. If, for example, an athletic contest is viewed solely from a win-lose perspective, the important lessons are lost.Perhaps that's why one of the prime objectives of the Church sports program is to build character and integrity. (See Church's Physical Fitness, Sports and Recreation Manual, p. 17.)

Challenges, pitfalls, discouragement, success, opportunity, happiness, satisfaction, frustration (the items for the list are virtually endless) are inherent in any athletic contest, be it individual against individual, team against team or even an individual against himself. Learning to appropriately handle - even enjoy - these ups and downs should be a central element of any athletic contest. Winning should be a secondary goal.

Those same emotions - the highs and the lows - are inherent in life. Learning to appropriately handle - even enjoy - the wins and losses of life is equally essential, for it helps mold and shape us into the type of people the Lord would have us be.

The Church athletic program can also help priesthood quorums and other Church organizations accomplish their purposes by providing a variety of wholesome sports activities to meet participants' needs. (Physical Fitness, Sports and Recreation Manual, p. 17.) "Many participants are converted or brought back to activity each year through these programs," the manual states. (Also page 17.)

Athletics, approached in the proper spirit, can provide a great opportunity to build lifelong spiritually rooted relationships that do, quite literally, help priesthood quorums and other organizations achieve their purposes.

Certainly, there is nothing magical about athletics. The lessons we can learn there can (and ought) to be learned elsewhere as well. But if one enjoys physical activity and athletic competition, why not condition the body and spirit at the same time?

A wise mother understood this as she taught her sports-loving sons from infancy that three things, in this specific order, are essential in any athletic contest. First: Have fun. Second: Gain experience. Third: Win honestly.

In a telestial world that has come to honor winning just for winning's sake, we are in danger, sadly, of losing the concept of what makes athletics great.

Similarly, Church members must not forget the core reasons for having a sports program.

Many years ago, when the Church still sponsored All-Church tournaments, a wise leader, who well understood those core purposes, molded a group of semi-talented young men into an All-Church championship volleyball team.

These were scrappy youth, with varying (but never exceptional) degrees of individual athletic ability.

As a group, however, they were virtually invincible because this far-sighted coach understood the real goal of the competition. Each team member wanted, without question, to win an All-Church championship. But from the very first days of practice - many years earlier - the path to that championship was clear:

The team, of course, would work hard to hone its volleyball skills. But all understood that those skills were only part of the equation.

"Volleyball is a team sport, we'll play as a team. Everyone (and the total number of boys, at times, exceeded 25) will play. And, most importantly, we'll call our own fouls," the coach repeated time and time again. Every boy understood.

They won that championship. And the victory was sweet.

But that sweet victory pales now when compared to a seemingly minor occurrence during one of the championship matches.

One of the youth on the team (he happened to be from a less-active home) went to the net on a crucial point and made a spectacular block. But amid the roar of spectator approval, this young man's hand shot in the air, signaling to the referee that he had touched the net, nullifying his block.

The honor call could have cost the game. As luck would have it, it didn't. But either way, a young man walked off that court that day with his personal integrity intact - a far, far greater victory than the All-Church championship.

To this day, some 25 (now aging) men are eternally thankful to a wise and far-sighted coach who truly understood the purpose of the Church athletic program.

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