“He hit a home run in his last business deal.”
“All I’m asking for is a level playing field.”
“There are many candidates but it’s really a two-horse race.”
“I’ve done my part. Now the ball is in your court.”
“Your performance on the job is below par.”
There are hundreds of these sports idioms used every day, bite-size metaphors for different aspects of the grand game of life.
Almost everyone I know has played at least one sport in their life. Many people, I believe, regard sports not as a luxury, but almost as a need, to live completely. Since childhood, I have taken up every sport I could that caught my fancy: basketball, track and field, cross-country and long distance running, martial arts, practical shooting, tennis and golf (for the senior years).
When I retired from full-time corporate work, I noticed that without the discipline of a rigorous daily schedule, I was beginning to get physically complacent.
One day, as I was being driven in the passive comfort of my vehicle, I saw a young woman on a motorcycle zooming along and weaving through traffic. I thought that this could be the antidote to my creeping complacency.
If a young female could do it with such ease, there was no reason an aging male couldn’t. So at age 62, I jumped on my first motorcycle and haven’t stopped riding since.
But as I immersed myself in this new pursuit, I asked myself if I had taken it up just to keep my mental concentration and physical reflexes sharp. After a lot of honest introspection, I came to this unexpected realization: I took up the new challenge because I wanted to keep an active engagement with life.
Retirement had meant taking a step back, saying goodbye to the adrenaline-pumping challenges and uncertainties of an exciting career. Subconsciously, there was a need to replace it with another exciting activity with its own challenges and unknowns—in short, a “living” metaphor for the life I had just left behind.
This insight inspired a poem titled “Life is a Motorcycle Ride” in my latest book (“Poet on a Motorcycle”) whose first stanza reads: Life is a motorcycle ride— /The ride can be smooth, and the ride can be rough. / But it will often leave us feeling / we just haven’t had enough.
Probably the most dramatic example of the life/sports metaphor is how sports provides an outlet for the aggressive and violent tendencies of human nature which usually find expression in all-out war. These tendencies find “controlled” release in physically competitive sports, most particularly in the martial arts which are characterized by actual physical combat.
History provides an excellent example. In Greece, birthplace of the original Olympic Games, the waging of war between states was suspended to give way to the quadrennial holding of the Games, and citizens traveling from far-flung regions to attend the event were guaranteed safe passage to and from the venue.
Imagine how much death and destruction the world would be spared if nations agreed to resolve their differences through sports competition instead of armed conflict.
Life and sports share these important aspects (a few of many):
Competition. We compete throughout our lives: in school, at work and in the unending pursuit of our goals. The spirit of competition is the very heart of sports.
In the martial arts, the most aggressive type of “contact sports,” physical violence is the essential element. Their unfortunate analogy in life, on a much grander scale, is war and every form of violence inflicted on society. But in contrast, “noncontact” sports (they far outnumber the former), although still highly intense, also reflect the more “civilized” competitiveness of daily living.
Pursuing excellence. In life, we are constantly motivated by the specific goals we set for ourselves. In sports, an athlete’s goal is to achieve a certain time, a certain height, a certain length or a certain score in his particular event. At the very least, in both sports and life, our constant aim is to keep improving, to keep exceeding our previous best performance.
Skills. To prepare for life, we go to school, take special courses, learn on the job. So too, every sport requires a special set of skills. This is why athletes—from weekend amateurs to full-time professionals—train diligently for competition. For world-class athletes, like real-life overachievers, their chosen sport is their vocation and their whole world.
Fair play. “That’s not cricket” is a sports idiom we often hear when someone doesn’t play by the rules, cheats or takes unfair advantage in a real life situation.
Every sport has its own rules, but the final outcome of a game in some is automatic and leaves no room for doubt (as in the clocking of races or the measurements in field events), while in others, human judgement determines the winner (games scored by judges, referees and umpires). Here, the sportsmanship of the players and the fairness and integrity of the adjudicators are critical. In real life, there are daily opportunities to take shortcuts, to put one over others, to bribe or to take bribes. Or to play by the rules: That’s cricket!
Fortitude. How many times has a basketball team, down by 20 points in the last quarter, claw its way back to win the game? In life, how many times has an entrepreneur put up successive businesses, failing again and again, until the last one that becomes a huge success?
Marathons, triathlons, and cross-country cycling exemplify the ultimate in human endurance and determination. I have seen a marathon runner who sustained an injury but kept going, limping to the finish line in the dark, hours after the last runner before him had checked in. I have also seen a grandmother, who had to stop schooling early in life, proudly showing off her prized high school diploma after she went back to school and finally graduated in her 60s. —CONTRIBUTED
“I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”—Michael Jordan