Every so often something comes across your desk that reminds you about the basics of life. I don’t mean about how much money you make, or your most recent promotion, or even how you’re going to make next month’s budget given these hard economic times. I’m talking about your sense of humanity — what it means to be alive and the choices we make. Watch this video, and you’ll see what I mean.
The video was sent to me by my wife’s friend because she knows I have coached boys and girls soccer for years. You may have seen it already. The video tells the story of a group of girls playing competitive softball, and what happens when they realize there’s more to the game than simply winning. Or, to put another way: You should always do all you can to win, but still make good choices.
When a player from Western Oregon hit a home run during the conference championship, she tore a ligament while rounding first base, and couldn’t get up to finish running the bases. Her opponents, from Central Washington, who desperately wanted to win, faced a fundamental choice. The rules said that the girl’s team could substitute a runner for her, but her hit would count only as a single. And the team would give up the extra run. Her teammates asked the umpire if they could help her run around the bases; the answer was no. So, two members of the opposing team stepped forward and did the unthinkable: could they help her? This time the answer was yes, and so the two opposing players picked her up and carried her around the bases, at each stop helping her tag the base so she could make it home.
Over the years, my own soccer teams won numerous annual sportsmanship awards. Sometimes my players would say that they won the awards as a consolation for not winning a championship. But I always told them that wasn’t the case. You can be a great player, a great team, and still have character. In fact, they go hand in hand. One of the times I was happiest coaching was when other teams had to play us short, and we always decided to pull our own players off the field so the teams would play even. Never once did one of my players complain. Indeed, over the years, my players would be the ones to alert me that our opponents didn’t have enough players, or if a player went off the field injured or was ill or simply out of gas. It was my players who ultimately kept the promise of the kind of team we wanted to become — and the type of people they should be.
Myself, I watched this video when I was exhausted from work, and when I’d had more than my fill of stuff. I was wondering why certain people wouldn’t return phone calls, why certain people can make life so difficult, and why making progress can seem so hard at times. I was wondering whether all the effort is worth it. And then I watched this video, and I was reminded in an instant: Keep focused on the essence of what we’re doing — and why.
It reminded me of the many people who made some of the biggest contributions in my own life: coaches from my childhood. Just last week I got a call from my high school tennis coach who remembered my birthday, who himself just won a national award for his character-building coaching style. His teams consistently win championships. And in a call this week I found myself telling folks from another organization how some of my coaches had led me to start the Institute: my involvement in politics and some other nonprofits didn’t fit with what they taught me about making a REAL difference — about what it means to step forward and make choices.
This video and the memories it prompted in me aren’t about being nostalgic, hoping for some nicer world, or wanting to return to simpler times. The world is what it is — what’s at issue is how we engage with it.
This story shares the true nature of community, coming together for the common good. In the world of competitive sports, it can get fierce, but keeping the spirit of sportsmanship, that’s what shines above winning. How far does good sportsmanship go in helping our children, even us for that matter, make the right decisions? Is it becoming less of a focus for communities with the rise of global competition? Do you have a story about good sportsmanship, or lack thereof? Share it with us, we’d love to hear.
A dynamic public speaker, Rich Harwood is a frequent keynote for foundations and national organizations. He is an expert contributor on national and syndicated media outlets including MSNBC, NPR, The Christian Science Monitor, CNN’s Inside Politics, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, Special Report with Brit Hume, C-SPAN, and many others. He is also the author of Hope Unraveled: The people\’92s retreat and our way back (2005), Make Hope Real: How we can accelerate change for the public good (2008) and numerous studies, articles and essays chronicling vital issues of our time. His most recent written work, Why We\’92re Here: The Powerful Impact of Public Broadcasters When They Turn Outward, is being published and distributed in Spring 2011. You can follow him on twitter @RichHarwood and facebook.com/richharwood.
You can read Rich’s posts every Tuesday on State of the Re:Union’s website.