I was recently asked what my best childhood memory was. The first answer that came to my mind was one from high school – back in the days when I played cricket with a passion.
Our school was divided into four houses which faced off against each other in sporting events. I was representing the Einstein house in a cricket match. When I walked up to the crease, we needed 5 runs to win of 3 balls. The bowler was considered the best bowler in the school, and was two years my senior. I was nervous as I watched him run up to the crease. He released the ball. It was a fast low full-toss, and thereafter my instincts took over. Without a conscious thought, I swung the bat at it. It was a clean hit. The next moment, I watched it sail high up in front of me, over the bowler’s head. As it moved further away, it became clear that it was headed for the nursery block building behind the playing field. It struck the wall of this block, which meant that I had a six. The match was won. I was the school’s hero that evening.
Fast forward to my present, and I neither play nor follow any competitive sport. And yet, of all my childhood memories, this was the one that sprang to the fore.
Every sport is centered around performing an inherently meaningless task – scooping a ball into a net or whacking a piece of leather as far as one can – with certain rules that define the game. It is a reflection of life itself, which is inherently meaningless, but with each one of us struggling to give it some meaning by thinking of what we stand for – what our specific goals are, and under what rules or constraints. Sport mirrors the struggles we face in our life, and that it is why millions of people care about 22 players on a football field in Russia. Besides, winning a game is a shortcut to experiencing the pure glory of confronting a challenge and emerging victorious.
If sport were a reflection of real life, to what extent is the inverse true? Is there something we can learn from sport in our lives?
A couple of things come to mind. The first one is that of rules and constraints. A sport would feel meaningless if there were no rules, or if every player cheated. And similarly would our everyday lives feel meaningless if there was no “goal” – no ideal to live up to. And the rules here are ones we define ourselves – our principles, beliefs and values, without which we are lost.
Secondly, every sport is a concoction of meaning for the sake of it, where winning isn’t everything. That is why we celebrate acts of sportsmanship such as Morten Wieghorst deliberately missing a penalty against Iran or Adam Gilchrist walking back to the pavilion numerous times before the umpire declared him out.
Sport is the epitome of finding meaning in the meaningless. What has it taught you?