Why I Retired from Competitive Sports

A few years ago, I officially announced my retirement from competitive sports.

I was on a kickball team at the time. I know, it’s not really a competitive sport, but we were in a league with matching t-shirts and referees and rankings and all that. Although we told ourselves we were out there just to have fun, we weren’t kidding anyone. We wanted to win.

Therein is the key: When the goal is winning, everything changes. When a teammate flubs a sure catch, you’re disappointed. When the referee makes a bad call, you’re mad. When the other team scores 10 points in an inning, you’re deflated.

And most of all, for me personally, when YOU mess up, you feel like you let everyone down. Because you’re trying to win, and if you get in the way of winning, you have failed.

Keep in mind that we’re talking about kickball here. The same sport that pretty much requires you to drink a beer on the sideline.

Now, some people truly don’t care about winning. They truly just want to have fun. I share that goal, but as long as the idea of winning is on the table, I still beat myself up when I make a mistake. It’s in my nature.

I’ve played competitive sports my entire life, and I can replay just as many mistakes and near misses as awesome plays and goals in the highlight reel in my mind. It’s very, very hard for me to let go of near misses and mistakes when it comes to competitive sports.

Basically, even in casual kickball leagues, I’d walk away from the games more stressed and frustrated than when I arrived. That’s not what sports are meant to be for men in their upper 20s.

So I retired from competitive sports. I briefly came out of retirement last summer to play in a soccer tournament with the guys with whom I grew up playing soccer; it was worth it to see them, but I wish we could have just played against each other for a weekend.

The toughest part about this self-discovery is that I LOVE team sports. I love working with players with different strengths and weaknesses to find the optimal configuration. I love the challenge of guarding the best player on the other team. I love how every game is different. And honestly, I love that the pressure isn’t always on you to succeed. Sometimes you can take a back seat to other players when you need a breather, and that’s okay.

Thankfully, pickup sports offer the challenge of team competition without the angst of competitive sports. So I’ve played pickup sports for years–mostly frisbee after college, then soccer and football, and now pretty much just soccer. I feel at home on the field, and playing a game after a long day at work reduces my stress level instead of adding to it.

I’m guessing that a lot of people enjoy the camaraderie of showing up with the same team every week. Do you still participate in competitive sports? Are you able to just have fun?