My coach wants us to play with more intensity, but it seems like that means getting angry. How can I play hard without becoming the type of person I don’t like to be?
Everyone likes to win, but the true athletes are the ones who enjoy using their skills to the best of their abilities, regardless of the outcome of the contest. Sometimes lessons about true sportsmanship are hard to learn, but if you can learn the difference between intensity and anger in sports, it will take you to a level of competition where sports can work for good in your life.
We received two letters from young women who are competing in sports on the college level. After participating in sports for most of their lives, they had some excellent advice.
Tera Wardle from Puyallup, Washington, wrote: “Playing with intensity is creating a sharper focus in the game and building a determination that one would sacrifice personal benefits for the team’s sake. Angry words and actions are signs of bad sportsmanship.”
In other words, intensity has more to do with staying focused than with letting emotion run away with you. In the second letter, Jenny Wolfensperger from Littleton, Colorado, says, “Not many athletes play well when they are angry. Everything that you have learned at practice needs to be incorporated into the game. Intensity doesn’t mean telling jokes between plays or talking when the coach is talking, but rather taking the sport seriously, wanting to get better, and still having fun.”
One of the highest compliments that can be paid to athletes is to describe them as team players. Instead of playing to show off your own skills, play to include the best abilities of your teammates. In a game, just as in life, when you are more concerned about those around you than yourself, good things happen. That is part of playing with intensity, working together on things you have practiced, staying calm, and enjoying the experience of playing with good friends at something you enjoy.
More and more it seems that athletes use angry words or an overly aggressive attitude to intimidate. However, if you notice carefully, they rarely succeed for long or become an asset to their team. They just become problem participants. If you follow that same course, you will lose something more important than games or the respect of your teammates. You will lose at an experience in life. Even if we participate in sports just as recreation and exercise, if we are not Christlike in absolutely every part of our lives, we are losing something of eternal value. Sports can be a great opportunity to enjoy the company of other good people and can be a great deal of fun.
President Ezra Taft Benson, while serving in the Quorum of the Twelve, spoke at a fireside about Church-sponsored softball. He said, “Sportsmanship is the spirituality in athletics. … Athletics are explosive, as any of us know who have participated in them. The problem therefore, is to do everything that is fair and honorable to win, and also to know the line where sportsmanship stops and mockery starts” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, Bookcraft, 1988, 437).
Sports are just games. Winning is fun, especially when competition brings out your best efforts. But in any substantial way, winning or losing doesn’t truly matter. Focusing on doing your best while being respectful and courteous to your opponents will teach you the good lessons that sports have to teach. And it will also give you the opportunity to bring the gospel into your everyday life.
Motivation can be a very tricky thing. You need to remember that personal improvement is essential in all aspects of life, whether it be in talents, relationships, or most importantly, in the gospel. Anger, however, is not the way for us to gain this growth. The growth should come from striving to be better than your former self, but not from being better than someone else.
Paul Schoeni, 18 Douds, Iowa
Play your best, but realize it is just a game. Be strong within yourself and concentrate on being a better player. To be aggressive and to play hard is not to be angry. Playing should be fun and competitive. It shouldn’t make you be somebody you’re not. Be yourself, and you’ll find that is when you will play your best.
Heidi Jacalyn Tolman, 18 Sandy, Utah
This topic hits right home with me. To help with intensity, I say this to myself, “Do your job no matter where you are, and you can do this without getting mean.” You must stick close to your Heavenly Father, read your scriptures, say your prayers, and most importantly be an example and stand up for what you believe wherever you are because it is hard to focus and choose the right when so many negatives are being said with the intention of getting you motivated to do good in a game.
Ben Forsyth, 15 Kennewick, Washington
I’ve learned that if I play with integrity and enthusiasm, and encourage my teammates to do well, we play together better, which gets the intensity level up to where the coach is pleased with our efforts. It also helps to stay in control and be positive because as LDS players, we always have someone watching us who looks up to us and who might be disappointed if we lowered our standards by getting angry and swearing.
Heather Hansen, 14 Mesa, Arizona
From playing competitive tennis, I’ve learned that playing a sport with intensity doesn’t mean you have to get angry. To become angry is to lose control. Talk to your coach or someone you think can help. If you learn how to be a good sport, you’ll be a better player and have a lot of fun.
Andrea Durrant, 13 Sandy, Utah