Sunday, May 17, 2009

Why Men Need Sports

Many little boys (and little girls) seem to be born to play sports. They grow up strong, lithe, athletically inclined and full of the energy and drive to play.

Somewhere between that and adulthood, all too often it somehow translates into weekends of wearing a jersey for a sport they don't play, decorating their house/car/truck/garage in the colors and themes of a team they're not on and talking about, planning game strategy for an activity they've never done.

Hours upon hours, translating into months and years of their life are dedicated to a tradition of eating snacks, congregating to yell at televisions and huddling in the cold and sweltering in the heat to show support for people they've never met in person and likely never will. 

And we can blame this all on our ancestors.
Since the very beginning of humanity people have lived in family units that combined with their neighbors formed communities. Call them tribes, clans, bands or social groups, but together they made up a collection of people who typically shared family blood (if not at first then eventually when their children grew up and married their neighbors grown children), a common land and common goal: survival.

Some groups focused on cultivating the land, others on collecting natural resources, creating useful items and generating trade. They worked together to defend each other against predators and invaders (or even natural disasters). They lived together, played together and bonded. They were loyal to the people they knew and trusted them to band together when anything dangerous  would come their way and share what they had for the survival and greater good of everyone. 

Other groups found that they were better suited to conquering other people's lands and subjecting them to taxes, slavery or other ways of reaping of what was sown without their personal effort. They were unified by their intentions to take over.

Both groups had to rally their people to prepare them to invade or defend. They would form leaderships based upon experience and skill. They would create strategy for holding or taking a position. They would focus on their strengths and find ways to compensate for their weaknesses. And they would train and prepare for the times when all that would define who would live and die.

In times in peace, they would build up their holdings and do physical activities to stay battle ready. They also separated themselves from other clans and tribes by choosing an emblem to represent them and colors they identified with. As larger cities and groups found it necessary to have a standing army, their armor and outfits became identical to each other. This was important not only for the bonding and unifying process, but made it much easier during a battle to know who shared their side so they didn't accidentally kill them.

Each generation that survived illness, accidents, disasters, environmental issues (drought/ starvation)
became reinforced with a need for adrenaline, energy to burn, muscle built for hard work (play or fighting included) and a urgent need to unite with others like them, be part of a common goal and hopefully distinguish themselves as a valuable asset to their community.

Fast forward thousands (maybe hundreds of thousands) of generations and the only thing that has really changed is life is gotten WAY easier. Few people die from the things they used to. Our neighborhoods are a million times larger and our need for the average person to be always battle ready has nearly become extinct.

BUT the need for adrenaline, the energy to do more than just work to live and the desire to be part of something larger than themselves and distinguish ourselves in our societies is just as programed into our genetics as it ever was. We are born ready and longing for something that is fundamental, yet intangible.   

Scary and exciting, our history of ancestral blood has people on some instinctual level craving to be battle ready with no battle to fight. In the absence of an outlet for this need for banding, bonding and battling, people become menaces to society. It translates into citizen unrest, domestic violence, random acts of violence, depression and a whole host of other problems.

This is why we need sports. Sports are mock wars.

It gives people the unity they need with other people who share a loyalty to a certain group and emblem. It gives them a purpose for their adrenaline and excess energy. And it give them a chance to distinguish themselves with physical prowess and superior skills or strategy in society.

Just like famous warriors of other countries or tribes were feared and revered by their acclaim, teams nowadays can respect, challenge or covet another teams best players.

We cannot deny the urge we are born with to kick, run, throw and use our bodies and minds to overcome other people's defenses, to prove we can overpower them and take what was theirs. Even if it's just a title and a trophy instead of their homes and precious things.

Nor should we force centuries of instincts into the bland and complacent life our machinery and technology heavy lifestyles enable us with. Not only should we encourage our children to band and bond and battle, we should keep doing it even into adulthood.

We shouldn't be spectators wearing uniforms that name someone else, sitting on the sidelines glumly shaking our fists, eating hot dogs, slurping beer and shouting to the wind. We should be out there experiencing the clash of will, the unity of teamwork and the pride of contribution! 

Each and every one of us came from the loins of an ancient bloodline that fought and struggled and somehow managed to live long enough to create a new generation. Somewhere inside each one of us is a fierce warrior who craves being part of the excitement and glory of winning and learning from losing. 

Gladly, we live in a time where we don't have to sharpen our swords at night and pray our children live to see their next summer, our lands unmolested by people who would slit our throats to take what we give our lives to have. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't actively participate in what we do have available to us. Sports. An opportunity to use what all those centuries of survival, conquest and dominion have instilled in us. Don't sit passive in the stands, watching the action unfold in front of you. Get in there and relish the chance to be part of the action!

Professional sports may garner the elites of our societies and generate pride in our shared ownership of a country, county or district. But local level sports or even pick up games between friends and family provide excellent exercise, recreation and outlets for aggression. It's a fantastic way to get to know the people around better, make new friends, develop your own untapped potential, fight depression and give added purpose to your life. Whether you're considered an average, incredible or terrible player is really irrelevant. Sportsmanship skills can still be developed that translate into other areas of life where you do excel.

So the next time you have a free weekend and were planning to spend it in front of the couch or attending a game, stop yourself. Join a local team or create your own team. You don't have to wait for holidays (Turkey bowl anyone?) to play a pickup game. And if someone at home is giving you grief for your obsession with a sports team, they might be more supportive if YOU were one of the players, instead of just a "fan".

Centuries of breeding doesn't disappear. Use what your ancestors died to pass on to you. If they could see you now, would they approve you sitting in a seat waving a flag far from the action? Probably disgust would be closer to their reaction. So do what your were built for and enjoy the fact that the winning team won't be stealing your womenfolk and putting your head on a spike if you lose.

We should be true to our genetics which have evolved to Band, Bond and Battle. 

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