What’s the Difference?
November 20, 2010
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I’ve had enough of this obsession with pastimes like football and baseball. Sure, they’re packed with eventful moments and impressive turning points, but they don’t have the creativity and depth that sport is supposed to embody. I don’t doubt that they’re challenging in their own ways. I know it takes practice, determination and technique to make it to the top, I’m just saying these players don’t have half of what it takes to be an athlete as far as my idea of sport goes.
First, let me reevaluate some misconceptions. I don’t think it’s fair to say that quarterbacks can possibly be confined to simple set of options. When that ball is snapped, as both lines clash and the players jump into motion, quarterbacks process an overwhelming amount of information. But as a whole, football is too slow and broken-up to be a test of mental stamina. Every five seconds, everyone on the field gets to hit a reset button. Some players might argue that these decisions are more impactful in the moment than ones made in soccer, but when you define sport as a series of broken-up plays that are pieced together to reflect some end result, I think you lose the true challenge of sport.
Sport isn’t a test of how one executes second chances over and over again with adjustments and reactions scattered through the game and within each play. Sport is a test of how a team links together all these plays into one cohesive performance, uninterrupted by strategic time-outs, split offensive and defensive line-ups or frequent restarts.
Baseball players take the best spot in the sport world spotlight: they get most credit, the most breaks and the most time. They basque in the luxury of having all day to position themselves on the field, smack some gum, blow a bubble, play with their glove and give the pitcher an encouraging pat on the back before, once again, the game restarts. Sure, I’ll give the pitcher credit for figuring out a way to manipulate the strike zone to his advantage from pitch to pitch, but planting yourself on the field and adjusting your game after trial-and-error isn’t a test of the ability I think sport should challenge.
For me, the essence of sports boils down to what the game demands mentally from its athletes. A true test of skill is a test of an athlete’s vision. Vision is the ability to calculate on the spot how executing in one instant will impact the speed, flow and rhythm of play three, four or five steps down the line. From basketball to hockey, each player focuses on unique sets of responsibilities that are essential to be competitive in his or her position, but all the while balance a multitude of demands. What’s required of these athletes is never black and white. They learn the ropes for both capitalizing on offense and holding the line on defense while working their position and supporting others’. They compile and act upon more skills because of the variety of circumstances that their game throws at them.
Besides having vision, these sports demand constant focus. There is a higher expectation of these athletes because of the duration of undivided focus they endure. Got knocked down, knocked around or knocked out of your zone? Take t-minus one second to adjust yourself and get back into the swing of play. These athletes don’t wait for a reset and stop of play to get into focus, they reset the game with their own actions. The contributions that they make are always original, requiring creative off-the-ball movement to deceptively stretch out the other team. They find a way to break apart defenses and create opportunities without forcing the play to develop. So don’t be confused, the speed is quick but these athletes are in no rush to make things happen they just move the ball around the court, pass it up to the front line, receive it back, reshape the play and shift the point of attack. They hold tight to these aspects of the game and make them their domain. At the end of that day, it takes creativity and innovative design to develop this constant vision of how the game is interconnected. These athletes embody the true spirit of sport, the perfect blend of mental, physical and emotional stamina.
Before I leave this page for Paly sports buffs to chew me up, let it be known that I’m more than qualified to make these claims. I made it through pitching-machine in the Palo Alto Little League without knowing which hand I threw or caught consistently with and ran as a second-string running back on my middle school intramural team–and I ran for the winning touchdown. baby
Sam Greene studies at the Univesity of California, Berkeley. He joined the journalism program at Palo Alto High School in 2008 and has been writing for...