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May 7, 2024

An Introvert’s Refuge: How I find my Zen amid the Pandemonium of Live Sports.

 

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I’ve written about this before: I am mostly an introvert—who sometimes dabbles at being an ambivert.

As much as I love my family and friends, solitude is my comfort zone. That’s where I am mostly at peace. It’s my zen space.

But there’s a place where I leave all that behind: in the noisy, packed stadiums of live sporting events.

There’s something electric about these places that flips a switch in me.

So what is it about these games that transform me, a self-proclaimed introvert?

Intrigued? Well, read on!

Since I moved to a new city in my home country a few months back, I’ve been reminiscing up a storm about the many places I’ve both visited and lived around the world. As I was thinking back, I was reading yet another snarky blogger go on about Taylor Swift and her “bad influence” on football, although they had to grudgingly admit that she “redeemed herself” with her “unwanted presence” at the Super Bowl because “her man” won the trophy.

That sent me down a rabbit hole and my experience with the Super Bowl.

A few years back when I lived stateside, I received a much sought-after invite to a Super Bowl party by a family who hosted incredible parties in their mega-mansion. It was the invitation to get around my neighborhood.

The Super Bowl, y’all.

Everything you imagine a party like that to be is true. They had a massive movie projection room that could hold at least 25 people. If you were one of the lucky ones, you could sit your behind on one of the 10 Lazy-Boy chairs. They even had a popcorn machine, like the ones you see in movie theaters. It was also one of those “bring yourself and nothing else” type of parties, so not only would you have fun, but you could do so without having to bring your own beer.

Win, win, no?

As thrilled as I was to score an invite, when Super Bowl morning came I started to panic a bit.

While I am an introvert, I sometimes tend to give the impression that I’m an extrovert. I guess it’s because I’m extremely opinionated and have no issue stating my opinion to whoever will listen. I become animated and am strong-willed and can be stubborn at times, all in the aid of my perspective and point of view. I’m also one of those obnoxious, bleeding-heart liberals and if I’m in a conversation about one of “those” issues, I pull out the hand gestures and neck tosses and hair flips and pointed index fingers. Hence, the major misconception that I’m more of an extrovert than I am.

Nothing could be further from the truth though. As much as I can be fun-loving and open with people I know, I’m painfully introverted with new company and prefer to stay quiet. As much as I’d like to go out with friends every weekend, it’s all in theory only. Even with close friends, it takes a lot for me to leave the house. Once I actually do go out, I absolutely love it and end up enjoying myself so much. But to get to that point is hard for me.

So, back to the Super Bowl party. I eventually went…I mean, of course I went. Screw all my inhibitions and shyness and introverted-ness. It was the Super Bowl and I went and ended up having a good time.

But that also got me thinking about the few times when I have felt completely at home amid crowds of people—raging, lunatic hordes of people—and that is during sporting events.

I find myself in a strange state of utter mental peace and bliss when I watch live sports.

It’s funny how quickly roles change among my friends when it comes to going to a sporting event. I mean, even the most gregarious of my friends don’t like going. The crowds, the noise, the pollution, the fact that you can’t see the action all that clearly because, well, crowds. Even with plays being shown on the jumbotron in stadiums, people tend to ignore those and watch the action live. That’s why we’re there, right? But doing that also means we miss a lot of the action.

“Dude, nothing beats ordering pizza, beer, me in my comfortable chair with the TV remote in my hand and the big-screen in my man cave! You couldn’t pay me to go see a game live.”

I’ve heard so many friends say this to me. And I should feel similarly, right?

But no!

As much as I have a “leave me alone, why don’t-cha” personality, the one time I love crowds and all that they entail is when it comes to watching live sports.

Everything that others hate about it, I love. The crowds, the energy, the heckling, the bad food (really bad for me, since I’m a vegetarian), the smell of sweat and deodorant and bad BO, the awful long restroom lines, and even more awful bathrooms filled with toilet paper everywhere except where it should be.

I could go on.

But, to me, there is nothing to beat the vibrancy of a sporting event. When players show off their physical prowess we, the spectators, can be enemies outside but unite in a stadium because we share the same manic love for our favorite teams. We know we look silly and a little stupid but painting our team’s colors unites us in ways that very little can. And who cares if we consume more junk food in one day than we should for an entire week? Diets be damned, right?

I become someone else when I watch any sporting event live. I don’t even have to know or like a sport to watch it. I know nothing about hockey and can barely make out the puck, but, man, take me to a live hockey game and I can cuss out the best of them.

When I lived in Norfolk, Virginia, we had no professional teams for football, baseball, basketball, or hockey but we did have the Norfolk Tides, who played Minor League baseball. I went to so many of those games, and watched every single one of my alma mater’s—Old Dominion University—football and basketball games, both men and women. And I’ve pretty much watched all the major stars of tennis live.

For someone who can be pretty quiet, a live sporting event unleashes the beast in me. I yell and hoot and holler and scream both epithets and compliments, depending on the situation and the player. I’m one of those people who others probably hate when they go to a live event!

I’ve thought a lot about how and why I am the way I am in these situations.

The answer, I think, is that my basic and instinctive preference for solitude makes the thrill of watching live sports even more poignant for me. In those moments, surrounded by the roar of the crowd and the intense focus on the game, the collective energy and shared passion seem to dissolve my usual barriers, creating a space where I can freely express myself and feel a deep connection with others, enhancing my sense of mental well-being.

This transformation has become a vital part of my mental health journey. Each game is not just an escape but a therapeutic session where my introverted self finds both release and relief in the collective joy and excitement of the crowd.

It’s here, in the midst of this unlikely setting, that I’ve discovered a powerful tool for managing stress and feelings of isolation. It’s as if the stadium crowd, with all its noise and fervor, tunes perfectly into my own needs for social connection and emotional release.

As I continue to reflect on my core sense of inner dichotomy, I want to ask you:

Have you ever experienced something like this? Where the environments you least expect serve not just as backdrops but as active participants in your journey toward mental wellness? Are there any unexpected activities that have opened new avenues for your personal growth and mental health?

I’d love to hear how unexpected experiences have impacted you, perhaps changing your understanding of yourself and your needs. Please comment and let me know!

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