One of the most important things that I have learned from karate is that everything is a give-and-take process. Never, however, did I think I would be able to take anything away from teaching a precocious six-year-old white belt in Crown Heights. I guess you can say I had a first-hand experience of how the fresh and untainted perspective of life that children have can oftentimes offer to us bitter and often-jaded old farts.
I was covering the class for my sensei, and after the lesson, I asked little Batya if she liked karate.
“I really like it. I used to watch karate cartoons, and I did the kicks and punches at home,” she said. “Now, I can do it here, and I really like it. It's so fun. I can't wait to get my black belt!”
As I made the 40-minute journey back to school, I gave it some extra thought. In her naiveté, what she had essentially told me was this: Love the sport for the sport. Play it for what it is.
It's so easy to get caught up in the W's and L's of sports because they're the standards by which success is measured. How many rings does Team X have? How many games has Team Y lost in a row? What are the chances that this is finally the year for Team Z?
Under this scrutiny, it is easy to lose sight of why you even began playing in the first place. Most people, if anything, would not say they picked up baseball as a seven-year-old to win six World Series rings.
They played it because they enjoyed it.
We all know that, on the whole, our school is relatively inept in athletics. Women's basketball is 1-7 with more than two-thirds of the season left. The men's and women's soccer teams went 1-3-3 and 1-4-2 in conference play, respectively. And the football team well, we all know about the football team.
The main questions surrounding the athletic program—both externally and, likely, internally—are “Why aren't we winning?” and “Who can we fire and bring in so that we can start winning?”
This holiday season, in the spirit of giving and taking, I urge you to take my next few words to heart: Don't let the pain of losing make you bitter and ruin your love for the sport, as a fan or athlete. Always remember why you became invested in the sport in the first place.
It's hard. I know. I credit it to our competitive natures as humans, and quite frankly, I'm guilty of it too. For as long as I can remember, I've been so concerned with winning and making the national team—so I could travel to other countries to compete—that I ended up just going through the motions. All I could think about was winning; I found myself doing everything just to win, even though I was aware that my performance would probably improve if I were solely motivated by the pure love of the sport, letting my kicks and punches flow like Batya rather than stressing over claiming another national championship.
What about people who love to win? Of course I love to win. (Who doesn't?) But while the love to win and the love of the sport are often sold as a reconcilable pair, sometimes it feels like the pressure to win is so great that everything else gets squeezed out.
For me, it took the inconspicuously wise words of a first-grader to see that sometimes we have to take a step back from the immense pressure to win in the sports world in order to recall why we're playing in the first place.
Now, I'm taking her words and giving them to you.
Play for the love of the game, and you won't regret it.
Melissa Cheung is a Columbia College junior majoring in English. Closing In runs biweekly.
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