Reclaiming Joy in the World of Sports
Karen Horneffer-Ginter and I both love joy, and have written about it through different experiences. While hers are found in our everyday busyness, mine emerge from a career in sport as one of the early recipients of the sport benefits of Title IX. I find great joy in sport, and the ability of sport to connect us, to teach us, and to show us a side of ourselves we often overlook.
The word sportuality was born out of my deep desire to reform our current cultural thought about sport and its purpose in our lives. Being one who's life is pretty much shaped by the paradigms of sport and spirituality, I needed to make sense of what we do, and why. So I began to rethink these words that we use to describe our human interactions on fields of play – words like competition and community and humor have vastly different meanings than what we have accepted as the norm.
Competition literally means "to work with." I like to ask people to say it again…"to work with'" and then emphasize the 'with.' Most of the dysfunction in sport - the hate, the violence, and the killjoy - resides in the thought that to compete means "to work against." To find greater joy, we must accept and embrace the idea that when we compete, we are not working against another, but with another, even if the other is us. To work against breeds thoughts of separation, division, 'us vs. them' and 'the other;' and that we must eliminate 'the other' in order to be successful, which in turn can lead to fear, hate, violence, and war-like thinking. There is no room for joy in fear-based thinking.
Community literally means "to have charge of together." We are a part of so many communities in this fast-paced world that it is easy to forget that it is we who are in charge! We are not 'doing' community, but 'being' community. As we accept our part of being in a community, we become more active, more vocal, and more intentional about our actions. For instance, I am a part of the volleyball coaching community, in that I 'have charge of' this action we call volleyball. When calls come out for rules, gatherings, or input on a certain issue, it is my responsibility as a member of this community to weigh in. You may be a part of a school community, a neighborhood community, a work community, a family community, or other professional communities. If you, or a family member, are at all involved in sport, you are automatically a part of the community of that particular sport. And you can influence it with how you consider competition and community. Hopefully with joy and humor.
Humor is often regarded as our sixth sense, and well it should be. We may think of humor as simply laughter, but to go back to roots, it means "water" – so humor, to me, means "to be fluid and flexible, like water." Humor is not simply laughing at funny circumstances. A true sense of humor allows one to face any circumstance with ease and grace, flowing around and through it, just as a river flows around an obstacle in its path. And really, doesn't a flowing river sound quite like a good laugh? As we inject humor into our games and our lives, we can't help but leave more room for joy. For we must know that the Great Spirit, the Creator, the One…God is surely smiling at our efforts.
Other words defined in "Sportuality: Finding Joy in the Games" are spirit, communication, education, enthusiasm, religion, holy, sacrifice, sanctuary, and victory.
Read more from Jeanne Hess at her website.