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?

11 thoughts on “Why I Retired from Competitive Sports”

  1. I’ll agree with you on the benefits of pickup sports. Our soccer games are great in that everyone plays with a sense of competition, but no one seems overly stressed about keeping score. I actually find myself congratulating the other team when they make great plays rather than berating my own team or myself. It still irks me to play with others who don’t play with effort when the implicit understanding is that everyone is playing hard, but I never leave feeling defeated and I enjoy playing for an underdog team just as much as playing for a stronger one.

    I don’t think I’ll ever fully retire from competitive sports–the drive to win outweighs any negatives for me–but I can understand and appreciate why you (or anyone) would.

    • Trev–I like what you say here about applauding the other team when they make a good play. I think that’s a good sign that everyone’s having a good time. I do that all the time in pickup. Everyone is just so much less critical of each other than in competitive sports.

  2. I play coed rec softball on Tuesday nights. It’s a non-company sponsored work league that can get fairly competitive. We do league standings after every week with playoffs at the end, so there is some drive to do well. However, there are always the guys who take it too seriously, and we’ve had a few games become tense when they really get upset over a bad call or play. I don’t understand how a softball league where a guy drives around in a golf cart selling beer can be so cutthroat, but what do I know? I always try to lighten the mood as much as possible, usually by incorporating some of the following techniques:

    * Crouching down really low at the plate when I’m up to bat (I’m almost a midget anyway) and yelling to the pitcher, “Find my strike zone now, bitch!”

    * If I’m about to get thrown out at first, or if I hit a pop fly, I wait until they are about to make the catch and then scream (as I’m running), “YOU’RE GOING TO DROP IT!” I could see this backfiring, but it usually elicits more laughs than anything.

    * Making a lot of crude insinuations about how so-and-so is really on fire tonight, and how he’ll get all the way to 3rd base if I have my way. *wink wink*

    * Apparently the person behind the batter on deck is “in the hole.” Those jokes just write themselves.

    * We are the red team, so I wear a tight red v-neck tshirt and do my best exaggerated Pam Anderson Baywatch run on my way back to the dugout (trust me, it’s way more funny than sexy).

    * Sometimes I play catcher, and I do a ton of hilarious trash talking to batters.

    If all else fails, I just flag down the golf cart beer vendor and buy a bucket for the grouchy ones. It worked like a charm last week, and I did a victory dance when I finally got one guy to crack a smile after he’d been in a bad mood all night. I figure I’m not really bringing any softball skills to the table, so I might as well bring humor, boobs, and beer. I’ve got plenty of all three!

  3. I play on one organized (albeit beer league) softball team, and we definitely don’t take ourselves too seriously. But sometimes the other teams do, which can dampen the mood slightly.

    My pickup games of ultimate frisbee every week with friends are always lighthearted and more fun!

    • Emma–Yeah, that’s always a struggle. Even if your team is completely focused on having fun, if another team isn’t on the same page, it changes the atmosphere of the game.

  4. Wow. Well, I first have a question: what other sports did you play?
    On my Facebook page, you may have seen those immortalized moments of glory. I may not have been the best at all sports, but I played softball and tennis fairly well. I like softball quite a bit but there is nothing like picking up a racket and slamming a serve. Instant gratification. Plus, wearing a really mini was a plus. Matter of factly, the Williams’ sisters are heroines of mine. Hitting a ball at lightening speed, as well as defending a clay or grass court, is a rush.

    • Tennis definitely is a fun sport, and I applaud the miniskirt. I used to play a fair amount of racquet sports (tennis and racquetball), and I ran track in high school, but mostly in my adult years I’ve played soccer, frisbee, football, and kickball.


Leave a Reply

Discover more from jameystegmaier.com

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading