As the spring season grows closer, fields are being lined, nets are being hung and young players are practicing their skills. These are all normal steps in the preparation for a season of practices, games and championships. Each of us has our own role to play in this system: player, spectator, coach or referee. That role heavily influences our perspective on the process and the game itself. The game of soccer is always the same, two teams, two goals, a specific number of players and specific period of time. It is a finite game with a result that is measurable.
The sporting culture is based principally on the finite game. We are enamored with the result and the perceived spoils that come with it. Players, coaches and spectators focus on the result of the finite game, often as if that was the only thing that mattered. The unfortunate thing in youth sports is that the hyper-focus on the finite game has made us forget about the ultimately more important infinite game.
Infinite games are not played to win or lose. They are played in order to keep playing. “Playing catch” is not a competitive endeavor. You don’t throw the ball to make the other person miss. The enjoyment comes from process and the intrinsic benefits that come with it: progress, togetherness, etc. Life is another infinite game that we play. The goal of life is not to get to death. The experience of living is the benefit that playing the game provides.
The value of the finite game is in its contribution to the infinite game of life. The players, coaches and spectators who only see the finite game will eventually find the game to be empty. It is only when those infinite game benefits come out of the finite game that it is truly valuable. Trophies, ribbons and plaques are worth only as much as the memories of those who were touched by the process.
If the goal is only to win on that day, then the victory is a loss. It is only when the component pieces of the win are ingrained into a person’s soul that victory is truly accomplished. Teamwork, focus, progress, sacrifice and a slew of other infinite game lessons are the reason that we play. Trophies are hollow wood, metal and plastic if the spirit that earned them does not live on in the hearts and minds of those who earned them.
The true value of today’s game shows up in the coming years.