OPINION: Professional sport isn’t real life it’s entertainment

I was talking with a guy I used to play with in Italy recently and, after all the usual catching up, we got down to how he was still devastated after losing to the local rivals last year. “I feel it every day still,” he said. “I can’t wait until we play them again. We can’t lose to those s***s a second year in a row.”

The rugby rivalries in Italy are blood & guts stuff. Like a lot of places really, but in Italy, it’s more of a blood feud than a sporting contest and the more local the rivalry, the more vicious it is. This is my father hated your father, your uncle punched my uncle territory.

And while losing is always an option, as it is in every sport, perspective on those losses is not something that is easy to come by there. Win, and you’re a hero for the year. Lose, and you’d better win the next one.

Professional sport isn’t real life. It’s entertainment. One look at the grim reality of real life puts the pressures associated with professional sport into perspective. Who could look at someone who’s homeless, or really sick in the hospital and then conclude that beating the opposition in a game of ball on the telly at the weekend is more real than other people’s real, serious problems?

Nobody could, because, objectively the real problems are way more important than the entertainment problems of professional sport and it’s not even close.  That’s why perspective is the enemy of the professional sportsperson.

To work in professional sports is a gift. To be a professional rugby player or coach is a dream. But if you were to apply perspective fully, none of us would be here because why would anyone ever get paid for horsing a ball around a field when there are much more important things going on in the world?

A professional sportsman has to be an expert at duality. They have to be able to switch between two realities at the click of a door opening. You’re a relentless, manically driven berserker killing machine at work, and a regular guy at home. That’s the only way it works. If one side starts bleeding into the other, you’ll blow up both.

Winning is all there is until you step off the bus, get into your car and click that door to get home to your family, where winning and losing doesn’t really matter. That’s where the real fun of professional sports is. That duality.

Yes, there’s pressure, as there is in any job, but it’s like having a secret identity where everyone knows who you are. You get to be a family man at home, and a maniac at work and at the weekend, you get to smash your enemies in front of thousands of people.

There’s real freedom to be found when you release yourself from the anchor of perspective.  Yes, it’s all a game. Yes, there are more important things in life, obviously. But why not allow yourself the freedom to believe that there isn’t anything else? That this is all there is when you’re in work?

The biggest winners in the game can walk that line between the home self, and the work self. Free yourself from “it’s only a game” by realising that, because it’s only a game, you can be someone else there.

Every minute you spend working on the field, hurting and handing out hurt to others, is to allow you the space for the family time at home. Every nice moment at home with the family is payment for all the hurt you’re going to hand out at work the week after. 

You chase glory by forgetting perspective for a few hours every day. Buy into the madness of true belief, and there are very few who stand across from you.

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