By Al Malinowski EBS SPORTS COLUMNIST
Many students in Montana have recently made the decision to participate in fall school sports. Inevitably the question will be asked by an interested friend or relative, “Who do you play for?” The answer to that question is more complicated than it seems.
I’m always fascinated to learn what motivates someone to commit to a sports team. Often the initial drive centers around individual achievement: making a first basket or becoming a starter. However, choosing to participate is the first step to becoming part of something far greater than the athlete may expect.
Coach Herb Brooks, who led the United States Olympic hockey team to a gold medal in the 1980 Olympics, believed “When you pull on that jersey, you represent yourself and your teammates, and the name on the front is a hell of a lot more important than the one on the back.” Brooks was reminding his players that in joining a team, individuals defer to the best interest of the team and the priority shifts from “me” to “we.”
Athletes don’t have to abandon the “name on the back” to be successful. In fact, I believe those who acknowledge their responsibility to positively represent their families while also prioritizing their team may provide the most inspirational performances. We all like to win, but winning is the result, not the goal. A high level of effort and a positive attitude is the goal, and according to Babe Ruth, “You just can’t beat the person who never gives up.”
I recently had the opportunity to observe a Big Sky Broadway theater rehearsal. After the actors wrapped up the rehearsal of a scene, “Head Coach” John Zirkle asked the performers if they felt their efforts had been inspiring. I was struck by his terminology and immediately recognized the parallel between theater and sports with respect to the connection of attitude and effort to inspiration.
Every one of us who plays sports have had the urge to quit at some point. Fortunately, most of us conquered that impulse. I am convinced that the responsibility to play for our teammates and positively represent our families and communities provides the motivation an athlete needs to overcome adversity. While I’m no psychologist, I believe knowing we are a critical and participating component of something bigger than ourselves positively contributes to our own individual mental health.
At any age, athletes often overlook their capability to inspire others. Years of witnessing inspirational moments authored by our local athletes has proven to me that those athletes who commit themselves to playing for their teammates, community and family inspire others with their attitude and effort. Those athletes tend to overcome adversity, rather than embrace it as an excuse. That approach may not always guarantee a win, but it will result in success.
Al Malinowski has lived in Big Sky for over 25 years. He has coached middle school and high school basketball at the Big Sky School District for 22 of those years. He believes participation in competitive athletics has been critical in establishing his core values.