To a lot of athletes, kindness is uncool. This is a problem that not only manifests itself in the macho attitudes and atmospheres of high school sports such as football and basketball, but is also reflected in the fights and bouts we see during NBA, NFL, NHL, and MLB games. Tempers flare, and athletes are competitive people by nature. They’re just out there trying to win; you can’t blame them. It’s as simple as that.
But what if it was NOT as simple as that? Wild idea, right? At least it seemed that way to me, until around a year ago. I grew up playing every sport imaginable, and thought I had settled on baseball, coming into high school expecting to play four years.
Yet after my freshman season, I had enough. There seemed to be such a negative energy within the competition, both within our own team and the teams we played against. From my experience, no one was very kind, and it was a little too cutthroat out there, especially for freshman baseball.
I drifted next toward basketball, a sport I always meant to try given my 6 foot 6 frame. The winter of my sophomore season arrived, and … same deal. To my disappointment, the attitude towards kindness was exactly the same to me as it had been in baseball. I was distraught. I loved the sport, but could not handle being around such a stark lack of kindness for hours at a time. With spring rapidly approaching, I was convinced to come out for track and field, and give it a shot.
I was immediately drawn in by the sport and have been clinging on ever since. I had finally found a sport at my high school whose team was kind and got along. But, I quickly realized that the kindness within track and field was rooted much deeper than that. At track meets, everyone is your friend. I have met more kind people at track meets than anywhere else in my life. While I initially thought the sport must be attracting people of extreme kindness (which is certainly partly the case), I quickly realized what was actually happening. In the atmosphere of track, it is COOL to be kind. And when you are in an atmosphere that recognizes being kind as the cool thing to do, you realize just how awesome people can be.
When you are in an atmosphere where kindness becomes the norm, you realize that it is indeed possible to be competitive and kind at the same time. For example, at my last track meet, we had 26 high jumpers vying for the top seven spots in order to move on to our section finals. Yet, every athlete out there was 100 percent supportive of the others and cheering everyone on. I was getting tips and pointers from the athletes whom I was competing with, and trying to beat.
If you are an athlete in other sport, try it out. Instead of being aggressive, make a new friend – I’ve made at least 10 from opposing schools at track meets. Instead of yelling at an opposing athlete, give a pointer or cheer them on. It’s much easier to be competitive and kind than you would think. And once you try it once, it’s pretty hard to stop.