From Bad at Sports to Bad at Watching Sports: A coming of age story about a young man learning to sit on his couch, drink beer, and yell at his television. The year was 2009. The world was in recession. The new Star Trek was released. And Brett Favre, long-time quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, joined the Minnesota Vikings. After a stellar 12-and-4 season, the Vikings and Brett Favre lost to the Saints in the NFC Championship game, missing a chance to go to the Super Bowl for the first time in 32 years. Now, 8 years from that game, the Vikings host the Saints in a brand-new stadium, with a new coach and a new quarterback.

Vikings cufflinksIt’s funny to realize what we become over time. Not that long ago, I paid no attention to pro sports. I’ve recently wondered whether I simply got tired of seeing the Vikings lose time and time again or if my high school band program’s beef with the sports teams rubbed off on me. Perhaps my attendance at a division 1 school who at the time had the worst losing streak in college football led to my disinterest. Whatever the cause, I’ve noticed a problem with my behavior while watching the Vikings and wondered how it got like this – how could it have ever gotten this bad.

But let’s take a break from the Jacob of today. It’ll be nice. We’ll reflect on some embarrassing experiences I had as a child, and how I went from being bad at sports to being bad at watching professionals be way better than me at a sport I never even played.

Growing up, I attempted to play in all the big sports but football. I tried softball and baseball, soccer, basketball, and even hockey. Each one ended poorly for me. Not only was I not one to practice, but somehow I got convinced that I was capable of being the very best. More often than not my overzealous attitude would get myself, or most likely someone else, injured.

Our story starts with five-year-old me, breathing life into a league called Micro-Soccer. No referees, no real rules, just a bunch of tiny children running after a ball. After a few years, I moved up into a real league. Referees, sponsored teams, and the true bane of my existence: rules. The coach loved me. I played almost every game, until that one fateful day. The whole game I kept hearing the ref yell something about number 11. I must have assumed that I wasn’t doing anything wrong or I would have noticed before I heard very distinctly, “Number 11, NO TRIPPING!” from the ref. I looked down and to my surprise I was number 11! He must mean me! Turns out when it comes to getting the ball away from someone, you can’t just trip them and take the ball. As the realization set in that I had been playing it wrong the whole time, so did the embarrassment. I wasn’t some kind of rule breaker, I was good at soccer. Now self-conscious, I went back to playing, only to discover that soccer is very difficult. Turns out I was just really good at tripping people. What I’d give to have that be a professional sport. I also gave basketball a pretty good chance, playing on a team with all the kids from my neighborhood who were the same age. After inadvertently giving a friend (one who wasn’t keeping his eye on the ball) a bloody nose with the ball, I decided not to sign up again. I also gave baseball a try, after several years on a softball team with the kid who became our high school quarterback. I quit baseball, however, after a solid hit to the shoulder blade with a baseball during practice. Despite my usual trouble at-bat, I knocked one into the outfield. I hit second and kept running at the coach’s behest, only to be beamed just shy of third by the shortstop, who obviously missed the third baseman’s glove. I never did make it to third base that day, and neither did my dreams. One of the staples of growing up somewhere as cold as South Dakota is ice, and from it, ice hockey. I was young when I played hockey. Really young. The ‘league’ I played on played only one game a year in between periods of a Sioux Falls Stampede game. Everything else was just training. We learned to skate, we learned to handle the puck, and we learned to spend as little time as possible with our butts on the ice. It all came down, though, to that one game. Five minutes of some of the most intensely riveting hockey playing anyone had ever seen. It was my chance to prove I was the best. It was my chance to prove that I had the makings of a pro hockey player. With five seconds left and no scores on the board I saw my chance. I picked up my stick and hit the opposing player straight to his forehead. He fell to the ice and I knew this was it. I took off down the ice with my newly captured puck out in front. But then the buzzer went off and the curtain fell on the performance of a lifetime. The score remained tied. My heart sank, but my dreams sank even faster. I hadn’t proved anything. I’m fairly certain the coach convinced my mom that it was best if I do something besides hockey after that as the next year I started Taekwondo.

It’s safe to say I never got too invested in any of the sports I played as a child. Despite their somewhat disappointing endings, each one is now only a funny anecdote to my past. It brings me back to the question; how did I get so bad at watching football? It seems like every week instead of enjoying the game for what it is, I find myself up in arms over a call by the refs or penalty against the Vikings. Can it really be as I believe – that the Vikings haven’t deserved a penalty all year, but the refs have somehow missed a penalty on every play by opposing teams? What should be an exciting social event has become, I’m certain, painful for everyone around me. I can’t honestly blame them, however. No one enjoys spending three and a half hours listening to someone verbally abuse their television as if it will somehow convince the TV to show them what they want to see. Maybe I have gotten too invested in watching the Vikings.

It seems that when we get so invested in the outcome of something, we often become closed to the idea that any other outcome may be acceptable. The more invested we get, the harder it becomes for us to see anything besides what we want to see, and the easier it becomes for us to get angry or frustrated by an outcome that contradicts what we wish. Who am I to say that I know better than a referee working for the NFL? Or one of the judges for an event in the upcoming Olympics? As John D Rockefeller once said, “It is one thing to stand on the comfortable ground of placid inaction and put forth words of cynical wisdom, and another to plunge into the work itself and through strenuous experience earn the right to express strong conclusions.”

With these words in mind, I pledge to enjoy football for what it is, accept willingly conclusions that differ from my desired outcomes, and find other places in my life to apply the same principles. -Jacob Broin