THE BLOG
09/06/2013 05:05 pm ET Updated Nov 06, 2013

Are Sports Really Fun?

Why do you play sports? Why do you watch sports?

When you ask both kids and adults these questions, the answer is usually some variation of "It's fun!"

Yet if a visitor from another galaxy watched how we act on our sporting fields, courts, golf courses, and in our stadiums and arenas, that visitor would never guess we were partaking in sports for fun.

Imagine what our celestial guest might witness...

  • Angry youth sports parents yelling at volunteer coaches, teenage game officials, and worst of all, screaming at their own kids for not playing better or doing what they - enlightened sports gurus that they are -- would do if they were in those tiny 10-year-old bodies.
  • Kids that are pouting more than smiling during games, whether it's because they got benched, made a mistake, or were yelled at by their coach (as if they were multi-million dollar major leaguers who just botched a cut-off play).
  • Double-digit handicap golfers out on the golf course for "recreation," cursing at themselves, slamming clubs, complaining to their playing partners about the state of their games, and then going home grumpy to unsuspecting spouses and children.
  • Fans, who spend thousands of dollars for tickets, parking, concessions and souvenirs, screaming at the players, coaches and officials on the field, flipping off fellow fans, and turning purple in the face over the poor play of "their" teams.
  • Coaches determined to turn play into work, convinced that the only way to help their players perform better is to strut around like drill sergeants instead of being teachers.

You get the idea. We're all too uptight -- all in the name of fun!

Okay, I can hear you loud and clear. Sports are the most fun when you or your team is performing well and winning. I get it. Winning is a fun experience. But is that the only reason you're into sports? If so, you're going to be bummed out a lot. In every game, one team wins and one team loses. So, if you're going to make sports a big part of your life you're going to have to figure out a way to deal effectively with losing.

And get this: You may think if you perform well, you'll be happy. But research says you should flip that around. In other words, if you learn to be happy and have fun you'll perform better. Yep, studies show that athletes who focus on having fun vs. performing well are more relaxed, creative, and "in the zone" more often. In short, they enjoy sports more, and as a bonus, perform better.

Here are six quick tips to help make your sports experiences more fun:

  • Smile. Lighten up! It's a game, for Vince Lombardi's sake, not the economic crisis, health care reform or the Syrian conflict. This applies even if you're a pro athlete. Remember Magic Johnson smiling his way to multiple MVPs and NBA titles?
  • Make Your Own Scoreboard. Focus on effort, not outcome. Are you (or your youngster) giving your best effort? Are you (or your kid) bringing a good attitude to the field, court, or course? If so, you're winning. Those are the only two things you can control. You can't control how well your opponent plays, the weather, or referees. If you're a golfer, you know that some days your drives are going to land in divots or take a bad bounce behind trees. Try letting go of outcome wishes or expectations on the tee box. Swing free and accept that the ball's going to come down somewhere. You'll be happier, have more fun and probably shoot lower scores.
  • Trust Your Soul, Ignore Your Ego. Your ego is that voice in your head that screams at you, "You (or your kid) is not measuring up. You're going to make a fool of yourself. You'll be a laughingstock." Your soul is the voice that whispers, "Just relax. Be yourself. You're fine. Whatever happens, happens. It's just a game." Turn off your ego. Turn up your soul.
  • No Competition. No Game. In sports, it's easy to see the competition as the enemy. But in reality, we're in this together. We're all One in our love of sports. So, appreciate the other team for helping you get better, pushing you to give your best, and bringing the drama to sports. Play your guts out -- with sportsmanship -- and then shake hands and have a post-game drink or snack together.

Competition can be bad when it's win-at-all-costs (WAAC), profit-at-all-costs (PAAC), cutthroat, and treat-your-competition-with-disrespect. In short, when it's driven by ego and greed.

However, competition can actually be a spiritual experience if it is engaged in with sportsmanship and respect, and with the view that competition makes us all better if done with integrity, with caring for both teammates and opponents, and when we push each other to strive to be the best we each can be. In short, when it's driven by the soul.

  • Remember When and Why You Fell In Love With Sports. Think back, when did you first fall in love with sports? What was it about sports that grabbed you and wouldn't let go? Reflect on your answers a couple times a year (or at least before you go chasing after the referee while screaming your guts out after little Connor's or Abby's basketball game).
  • Think Camaraderie, Not Winning. I truly believe that the best thing about sports is that sports connect people -- often for life. Sharing the sports experience with others -- wins, losses, and ties -- is what it's all about.

"Almost everyone feels happier when they're with other people," observed sociologist and Flow author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Enjoy sports with friends and family whenever you can. And if you aren't with people you know, strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to you at the stadium, or the other three in your foursome at the golf course.

In the end, what you'll cherish most about sports are the relationships you've developed. You'll finally realize that the scoreboard you spent so much time worrying about really wasn't that important.

And that realization is the biggest win of all.

Ken Reed is Sports Policy Director for League of Fans (www.leagueoffans.org)