March 15, 2011

Got Gumption? What I learned from My Daughter’s Soccer Game.

It Really Isn’t Whether You Win or Lose That Matters. It’s How You Play the Game.

During one of the most memorable matches of our kids’ fall soccer season, you would have thought my husband and I were watching the World Cup. We were cheering like lunatics from the sidelines. In reality, we were watching our youngest play in her travel soccer game. But those little girls were really playing their hearts out! And their passion was contagious. Even as the game ended, they were fired up. As they came across the field after the last whistle blew, several were pumping their fists and they all had huge grins on their faces. Let me tell you, so did we.

Would it surprise you if I told you the other team won? That’s right. Our gals got beat. You sure wouldn’t have known it to watch them. Their intensity never flagged. Their joy in playing was clearly evident. Despite the score, they continued to play hard. Their post-game jubilation (and ours) was simply a celebration of how well they played.

On the contrary, the preceding morning, we watched a disappointing match. The only similarity between the two games was that (once again) our team lost. Unlike the passion and energy that our daughter’s team displayed, our son’s team never seemed to get going. They dragged behind play after play. There was such a dearth of enthusiasm on the field that they even managed to silence their typically loud and encouraging coach. After the game, they dragged off the field. Not even post-game cupcakes could add bounce to these boys’ steps. That game wasn’t fun to watch, and (I suspect) was even less fun to play.

Which just goes to show, it really isn’t whether you win or lose that matters. It’s how you play the game that is the important thing.

When you bring passion and joy to something, that activity is a thousand times more rewarding. Our yoga mats are a great place to experiment with this idea. When I think back to my least rewarding practices, in almost every instance, it was not the yoga I did or did not do that disappointed me. My feelings of dissatisfaction had nothing to do with falling out of Tree Pose (vrkasana). My frustration had nothing to do with not being able to clasp my hands behind my back in a challenging twist (Marichyasana C). I’ve actually ended practices feeling fabulous where both of these “failures” and more have happened.

Rather, my disappointment almost always stems from within me – my focus, my attitude, my energy. I remember a class when I allowed myself to get distracted (and irritated) by the irregular, loud sounds the person on the mat next to mine made while breathing. Another time, I got my knickers in a twist when an aggressive driver cut me off on my way to the studio. I then carried my “victim” frame-of-mind into class with me, feeling persecuted when a classmate requested that we work on hip openers when I wanted to work on my upper body. I can recall several classes when I sluggishly started to practice, dragging myself through the Sun Salutations (surya namaskar), and simply never got myself going. In each of these instances, I left my mat feeling precisely the same way I did when I showed up — irritable, victimized or sluggish.

Growing up in the south, we used a word I don’t hear all that often up here in the northeast. Gumption is that extra “something” that can make a soccer player shine even in a losing match. Gumption is that spark or little “oomph” that can lift you above a bad mood. Gumption can create an inner surge of energy that can jumpstart a lethargic yoga practice and allow you to leave your mat feeling a thousand times more energized than you were when you stepped onto it. With a little gumption, it’s even possible to will your distracted mind to use that irritating sound that was driving you to distraction moments before as a reminder to stay focused on your breath and your practice!

I looked up gumption in the dictionary on my bookshelf, and found a relatively lifeless (gumption-less!) one-word definition — “initiative.” Feeling dissatisfied, I took a little initiative of my own and found an on-line dictionary that defines “gumption” precisely as my grandparents and parents used it — “Courage, spunk, or guts.” In a nutshell, gumption defines how you “play the game.” No matter what the game is, whether it’s practicing yoga, volunteering at your church, playing recreational soccer or cooking dinner, gumption is the secret ingredient that makes that activity rewarding.

As you head off into today, take a lesson from those little-girls-with-gumption on the soccer field. No matter what the scoreboard says at the end of the game, if you’re pouring your heart and soul into something, you will be a winner.

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