Where do you find your joy in sports? Watching? Playing? Being a part of a team in any small way?
Though not my preferred venue, 100,000-plus people watch football on Saturday afternoons in Neyland Stadium. I happen to prefer those thousands of high school football fields across the country, big and small, on Friday nights. Friday nights have special meaning for me.
For 39 years, I was on the sidelines on Friday night somewhere. In the early years, it was all of the local schools. Alcoa, Heritage, Maryville, William Blount. I was on the sidelines when Greenback won their first state championship.
Later, after we grew our staff of athletic trainers so that each school could have their own athletic trainer, I focused on Maryville High, the school where my kids were attending.
I found great joy in all that. The practices. The preparation. The coaches and players. The bus trips. The pre-game meal. All the rituals surrounding the game.
I had my own rituals. Some with coaches. Some with players. One of my favorites was when I headed toward the field for pre-game warmups. I would always go toward the Cedar Street entrance where I knew I would find Don Sentell and Lynn Brown. There was joy in pausing to shake hands with two men who I respect greatly.
And then I would walk by Super-Fan Adam Koontz, who has probably attended more consecutive MHS football games than any other fan out there. Adam would always ask for an injury report, my prediction for the game and then he would give me his take on the game, often with some advice for one of the coaches.
I miss that. I found joy in the victories. I found joy in the fact that I knew my job and did it well. I found joy in the fact that the players depended on me for their health and safety and the coaches depended on me to take the best care of their players, always giving them updates on any injury.
I have a confession to make. I haven’t been to a single game this year. Not one. I will. I’ve promised my student trainers that I would be there for their Senior Night. But I’ve never sat in the stands for games other than when my son played at Clemson, and I just can’t do that now.
I do get it — those fans that never miss a game, sitting in the stands cheering for their team. I understand the joy that they get from that, regardless of the team or the venue. But I can’t get it out of my system — I would much rather be down there with them.
And then there’s the joy from playing a sport.
For some, it’s just the chance to be a part of the team, to be part of something bigger than themselves. That’s OK. But I’ll tell you those are not the ones that will be on the field. If that’s enough, it won’t be enough.
Joy from playing comes from working hard and then realizing the fruits of your efforts. Joy comes from winning and yes, joy can come from losing, if you know that you’ve done your best and were beat by a worthy opponent.
Joy comes from knowing that you prepared well and are ready to test yourself on the field or on the court. Or on the course or on the pitch or in the pool. Joy comes from the effort, the energy. Joy comes from those exquisite moments when you are in the arena, exhausted, knowing you gave it your all.