Sports Wisdom (Or, Why We Watch the Games)

Why do we watch sports, other than to see who wins? Political and baseball author George Will gave one outstanding response: “Sports serve society by providing vivid examples of excellence.” Sports are a 21st century version of the classic American literary dramas that test the character of the common man in a battle for his soul. The evidence of their power and popularity is the $26 billion spent on sports ticket sales, three times the combined money spent on movie and live theater tickets. Unlike today’s movies and television shows that have predictable endings and teach us little, sports are a mix of artificial dramas with real results. The greatest performers have spoken eloquently, even philosophically, about their accomplishments and have much wisdom to offer us fans if we use their experiences to our benefit.

The last 100 years of sports have provided us with a murderer’s row of modern day philosophers: Wooden, Lombardi and even Yogi Berra, sports’ version of a zen-master who, if he had lived 4,000 years ago, would have been the first to ask, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” Unlike the elitist thinkers of the distant past, our sports philosophers have gained their insights through accomplishments rooted in the same world in which we live and from the same activities in which we participate, which makes their observations especially relevant to our own lives.

Values such as discipline and character are common to the great teams or individual-sport athletes. Rare is the team or athlete who has succeeded without such solid core values, the same values that are important to us if we wish to succeed in our lives regardless of our endeavors.

John Wooden, college basketball’s greatest coach, who led the UCLA Bruins to 10 championship seasons in 12 years between 1964 and ’75, knew something of discipline, the hallmark of all his teams. “Discipline yourself and others won’t need to,” he preached to his players. More good advice for any parent, business executive or leader is, “The purpose of discipline is not to punish but to correct.” Many parents would be better, and their children would benefit, if they followed this simple notion reminding us that discipline and punishment are not the same and only discipline leads to the development of correct and proper behavior. Regarding character, Wooden commented, “The true athlete should have character, not be a character,” and, “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

Vince Lombardi, regarded by some as the greatest coach of any sport of all time, instilled his strong beliefs in his dominant Green Bay Packers teams of the 1960s. He is best known for the quote, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Lombardi never said this but did say, “Winning isn’t the only thing—but wanting to win is.” He knew what made a team successful: “Individual commitment to a group effort--that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” That is sound wisdom rooted in life’s experience, and it’s a good bet that the best run American companies, and the most successful families, function according to this concept, and the poor ones probably have ignored the Lombardi recipe for success. It’s an even better bet that his observation reflects how America became a great country.

Yogi Berra, the all-star catcher for the New York Yankees teams that won six World Series in the 1950s, said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” Our futures will be better if we heed the wisdom of our greatest sports stars as told through their memorable quotations regarding what they have learned about sports and life in general.

Author's Bio: 

Bill Cairo is the author and publisher of the soon-to-be released book about great sports quotations, the stories behind them, and the wisdom and inspiration we can gain from them: "The Story Behind the Glory--Winning Quotes from Sports Greats on the Game of Life."