Poetry and Psychology and Sports and Therapy12 Apr 2009 02:00 pm

When I was young I developed a strong love of physical activity and sports. Though small and rather un-athletic by nature I quickly developed formidable skills. My favorite sports were basketball and baseball. While size isn’t as important in baseball as basketball it still was a huge handicap in my youth. Before the age of 16 a lack of physical strength puts you at a huge disadvantage in most competitive sports such as baseball. As an example I was a very good pitcher and shortstop, but the lack of strength had to be compensated for in the speed of my pitches and my throws across the diamond.

Until people got to know me I was always discounted and viewed as an underdog in games and contests. I soon began to love shocking people and proving their perceptions of my abilities wrong. Instead of fearing competition, I always viewed it as an opportunity to succeed. In basketball I would use this to my advantage. My adversaries, being bigger and more athletic than I were supposed to win. I, therefore, had nothing to lose. When I had a chance to win I was excited by the possibility, my talented opponent, on the other hand, often choked on the pressure of the expectation that they win.

I was 4’8″ and 83 pounds when I went into high school. Though  I grew a foot in high school I remained very undersized in basketball and small for baseball. In baseball I became an excellent fielder and could throw the ball as far as anyone I played with. In pitching I had a wicked curve ball and a lot of other junk to compensate for my lack of a blazing fastball.

Yet, in both sports I flourished in competition. I practiced many hours and became sure of my skills and abilities. I relished the opportunity to make the big catch or get to the grounder in the hole, or to make the last shot or the decisive steal in a basketball game.

By the age of 12 my ability to hit the game winning shot earned me the nickname of “game”, for as the ball left my hand I would yell out “game” as the winning shot made its way to the basket. Did I make every game winning shot? Of course not. Yet, I did hit the majority of them and I always looked forward to taking the last shot as an opportunity for success.

My personal experience of the benefits of viewing crucial moments in sports as an opportunity for success rather than a potential failure has been validated by the experience of others. The fear of failure is at the heart of the term “choking” in sports. Those who feel the pressure of the moment are always bewailing their lack of success. One can often sense this tensing up and choking when watching an event of television. You can see the pressure on the faces of the players and in the hesitant manner in which they execute their plays.

Though my confidence and excitement at the prospect of succeeding powered me through all basketball contests through my college years it did fail me in much of my adult life. In baseball I was always confident and loose when it came to all skills except batting in which my fear of being injured by a pitch over rode my confidence of making the big hit. My fear of being hit by the ball limited my batting skills and I never excelled at that aspect of the game.

Likewise playing basketball as an adult became more of a social event, in which I became concerned with the reactions of others. So, in situations in which my teammates supported and believed in me I continued my old tradition of being a clutch player making the winning shot or defensive stop. Yet, my performance suffered when my teammates did not support or trust me.

The majority of my adult life I have spent my time working with “at risk” and problem oriented youth who have been removed their home and been placed in group homes or various other treatment facilities. In most of these children their is a tendency for them to focus on and perceive almost every performance situation as a failure. The more severe the child the quicker and more frequently they view themselves and their actions as failures. In a given situation they will panic or give up way before anyone else in the room even senses that a potential failure even exists.

Much of my efforts with these children revolves around having them see the positive side of possibilities. My goal is to replace performance anxiety and negative prophecy with a joy of opportunity. Instead of feeling failure, I try to engender an appreciation of identifying an opportunity for growth and improvement. Though it is true that we seldom learn without making mistakes and that personal growth is dependent on improvement, it is often hard for us to look at poor performances as an opportunity for future success and as a natural part of the growth process.

Yet, the growth in self esteem and success of the children I work with is often directly related to their ability to see social and academic performances as an opportunity for success rather than a breeding ground for failure. Once they no longer have the expectation or feel the pressure to be perfect, they are able to accept the assistance and benefit by the criticism of others.

In my personal life I’ve generally done a good job in terms of viewing personal mistakes and interpersonal conflicts as opportunities for growth rather than failures or dead ends. This willingness to not only accept but revel is life’s imperfecions and challenges has rendered me a relatively happy person. It allows me an opportunity to enjoy the endless process of improvement while keeping my expectations high.

While my personal and social life has been a constant source of joy and happiness I must admit my view of the world and humanity in general has lagged behind. Though it is easy for me to appreciate life’s imperfections it is hard for me to view the path of humanity in a positive light. Instead of seeing our mistakes and wicked policies as opportunities for learning I have a tendency to dwell on our inhumane acts and violence. I guess it is because I focus on what has been lost and what tragedy awaits our fear and stupidity rather than acknowledge what we’ve accomplished and what could be accomplished in the future. It is hard for me to accept mass murder, war, genocide and torture as bad decisions made by fears of failure and poor self esteem rather than evidence of impending doom. My trust of myself and individuals is far greater than my trust of groups and collectives. Many of the people I’ve worked with personally have engaged in actions as heinous as any government, yet I’ve been able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I’ve been able to help instill a healthier view of themselves and others.

In modern capitalism you have a system which promotes and rewards such pernicious qualities as greed, wastefulness, self-centeredness, hatred, elitism, deception, exploitation, fear and mistrust. This is not to suggest that other social systems would be free of these qualities, but only to point out that our current system accentuates, fosters and rewards these characteristics.

It seems logical to me that we need to move towards a world in which its societies limit fear and a sense of failure by focusing on what we can gain rather than what we could lose. We need to build social structures which emphasize opportunity and personal growth and de-emphasize perfection and the prospect of failure.

Yet, maybe it is only I who needs to change and begin to see the opportunities the world is moving towards and focus less on the bad choices we have made.

One thing is for certain, and that is the areas for growth in terms of human society are vast.

The following lyric and song are pertinent to this topic.

Go to Music section and go to Opportunity Lost CD and click on mp3 icon to hear song.

Opportunity Lost

I’d like to feel a part of this life
I’d like to have a child, home and wife

Each time I settle down I gaze so far ahead
I see the pendulum swing this way and back again
I feel lonely riding the crest of the wave
‘Cuz my friends just keep bobbing left in its wake

Some like to dream others work till they drop
Some complain with zeal others swallow till they pop

If life’s a mystery than solution is such a chore
For what’s found ends the quest mystery demands more
I just love to smile feel the sun on my face
I wish the human race could be run at a comfortable pace

As the tidal wave approaches I move far ashore
I plead with my friends to fish no more
As I lie in bed awake yeah, feel my body aching
For I sense disaster coming soon

I stumble thru the darkness feel for the door
Hope the knock I hear is not just the winds mighty roar

Everybody’s fervent prayer hanging heavy in the air
If we try hard we can make it come true

Let the winds take you away don’t fight it now its OK
I pause to see what’s coming I shudder at opportunity lost

Let’s not waste our time with hating when we should be celebrating
I’ll share my fondest wish with you

Everybody’s fervent prayer hanging heavy in the air
If we try hard we can make it come true

Let’s not wast our time with hating when we should be celebrating
I’ll share my fondest wish wish with you

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