calm the eff down

I love sports – football/soccer, baseball, cricket, running – but being a fan can be hard on my mental health. Anger, frustration, disappointment and just the occasional championship; it’s hard to maintain equanimity in this way.

I got up early this morning to watch Leeds United’s game from England before I went to work. I’ve been a Leeds fan for over 50 years, and it’s great that I can at last watch them regularly. Unfortunately, they were dreadful today and lost, 1-0, a game they could have won with their normal level of quality.

Bleah. Off to work.

Work was boring; not many customers, but it did give me time to catch up on the Dodgers game. The Dodgers are, far and away, the best team in baseball this year. They lost 2-1, but they did lose to one of the best pitchers around and almost won at the end.

Bleah. So it goes.

After work it was off to Providence Park to watch the Portland Thorns play San Diego. Portland is in first place, but had a bad game midweek. Unfortunately, they also had a bad game tonight. They were clueless on offense, and the defense made two mistakes that cost the two goals we lost by.

So yea, by now, I was not a happy sports fan. The ref tonight was not good; they did not cost the Thorns the game, but they made it a lot harder for them to get back in it. Sadly, the NWSL has a long history of poor refs doing damage to games. That only adds to the frustration.

On the train home, I put on some music and took stock of what was going inside. I tried to see what my body was doing and where the anger was inside me. I knew what I was feeling was temporary, and I didn’t really want to put up with it longer than necessary.

And at some point, I remembered something I have thought before: Neither Leeds nor the Dodgers nor the Thorns lost on purpose to hurt me. The players on all those teams have far more at stake in the matter than I do. Of course, most of them can have a direct impact on the outcome; I cannot. I have only the option to sit, watch, cheer – and suffer.

Being a sports fan is like getting to enjoy one bite of your birthday cake and then having the rest thrown in the trash. There’s a lot of anguish that goes into it. Sometimes of course, there is a lot of happiness and excitement. Both the Dodgers and Thorns could end the year as champions; that would be awesome. The Dodgers are favored to win, and the Thorns a bit less so but still counted among the favorites. Winning would be exhilarating.

Lost would be gut-punch.

I love sports, and I love that my favorite teams are doing so well right now. That’s not always the case. And even when they are playing well, it doesn’t mean they’ll win every game. Baseball has 162 games, so it’s easier to let a single one of those games slide by. Football is a much shorter season, so each game is more intense.

These are all good opportunities for me to both enjoy the moment fully, which I think is a good mindfulness practice, and to develop the ability to not let the negative outcomes drag me down. Some people think sports are a waste of time and money, but most of life is a waste of time and money. I think baseball does more good than the automobile or insurance industries. Life is about knowing what you value and what you enjoy, trying to make the two align, and then living them fully.

There will always be negatives, whatever the life is you choose. The key is to being there in the moment as those negatives occur, watching and acknowledging them, and then having the mindfulness tools to not let them control you. “Hello, bitter disappointment; yes, that sucked but you need to move along. I have a life to live and some happiness to experience.”