BORN TO LAX : PLAYING FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME

"Let us live so when we die, even the undertaker will be sorry." - Mark Twain, borrowed from the book "Born To Run" by Christopher McDougall

BORN TO RUN

I just finished reading an amazing book entitled "Born To Run" by Christopher McDougall. I have never liked running (although this book inspired me to start trying it again), but it is a great read for any athlete.The non-ficton book is a fascinating story about ultra marathoners, the history of running in human civilization and about a small group of indigenous people called the Tarahumara, who live in the nooks and crannies of the Copper Canyons in Mexico. The Tarahumara's greatest joy in life is to run, and they can do if for miles on end. They have participated in ultra marathons in the United States and they are able to outrun the most highly trained running champions of our society with little more than handmade rubber sandals on their feet.

FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME

The book relays stories of when the Tarahumara take part in these 100 mile ultra marathons, they are visibly confused by the competitive nature of the events. They only run because they love to, hence the title, "Born To Run". However, they are remarkably good at it and usually end up winning these competitions by a landslide! However, when they see Americans behaving in competitive ways and manners, they are simply confused. Just as we are bewildered by people in the middle east using suicide bombers in the name of God, they are shocked by our fixation on winning. When McDougall compares these people to a race organizer who put together these ultra marathon events, he notes, "The Tarahumara saw racing as a festival of friendship; Fisher saw a battlefield." They run, and run FAR, because they love to run.

When they are children, they play a game with a ball as they run, called rarajipari. McDougall explains the game as, "The playing field levels the playing field so everyone is challenged and no one is left out. The boys and girls were all hurtling up and down the hilly trail, but no one really seemed to care who won; there was no arguing, no showboating, and most noticeably, no coaching. Angel and the schoolteacher were watching happily and with intense interest, but not yelling advice. They weren't even cheering. The kids accelerated when they feeled frisky, downshifted when they didn't, and caught an occasional breather under a shady tree when they overdid it and started sucking wind." Clearly, the adults in this culture model a way for their children to simply enjoy what they are doing!

WISDOM OF RUNNING     

Mcdougall learns of  a highly respected long-distance coach Coach Vigil, who studied the Tarahumara for a long time and with intense interest. He noticed that the two most defining characteristics that separated the Tarahumara runners from Western runners was their sense of joy and love for running. That's it...joy and love. It was not about training, or shoes, or diet, or genes, or even blood doping. It was simply that they loved to run. "That was the real secret of the Tarahumara: they'd never forgotten what it felt like to love running."  This coach also realized through his studies of the runners, that their love of running also translated into their every day life. Vigil noticed with one of the top Tarahumara runners that, "His love of life shone through every movement."  

The Tarahumara seem to understand that running for them is a metaphor for their human experience. McDougall quotes one of their people, "'We say the rarajipari is the game of life...You never know how hard it will be. You never know when it will end. You can't control it. You can only adjust." They learn about running from life and they learn about life from running.

HOW DO WE PLAY COMPARED TO THE TARAHUMARA?

Okay, so enough of my book report (I have not written one of those in YEARS!).  How does this all compare to our society and how we play sports? More specifically for this blog, how do we play lacrosse?

Well, for starters, I will say that if I am going to write about this, then I am the KING of the pot calling the kettle black! For my entire childhood, I trained to be a great goalie so I could win, so I could recruited, so I could be the best and so people would cheer for me. Don't get me wrong though, there were a lot of times, especially in games, when I absolutely loved the game and position that I was playing. But, for the most part, I missed out on all the joy and love for my chosen game because I was so busy trying to win awards, achieve and accomplish!

To start, let's look at how the Tarahumara play and run as children compared to the youth lacrosse games and tournaments that our children play in. While the Tarahumara children are running and having fun together, our children are competing and trying to win. Hell, even our parents are getting into arguments on the sidelines with each other and with the referees! Our coaches (myself included) are yelling at the kids to play better and try harder, while the Tarahumara adults just watch over and let their kids play. We tell our kids to keep going and to not ease up, while these indigenous children learn to listen to their bodies and know when to take a break. These two experiences could not be more opposite and it really makes me wonder how we became this crazed over competition. It's no wonder why some of my favorite memories growing up were when my brother, friends and I would just play in our backyard with mini-sticks, no rules and just run around playing lacrosse for fun!

WHAT DO WE LEARN COMPARED TO THE TARAHUMARA?

As we get older, we too learn about life from athletics in a totally opposite way. We learn that life is competition and that it is a dog-eat-dog world. We must give our blood, sweat and tears to the world so that we can accomplish, so that we can be great and everyone will finally take notice of us! We learn that there are losers and winners, and that life is all based on the outcome of what we put into something. It's a sad and isolating way to live and it is no wonder to me why so many retired athletes struggle so badly with life after their careers are over.

Meanwhile, the Tarahumara people learn that life is about the journey and that if they learn to love and enjoy every step of that journey, even the hard times, then that is what it is all about! Somewhat ironically, this type of awareness also leads to great success and fulfillment in the world, without being focused on it at all! It seems to me like a much more healthier and joyful way to live.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

1. Encourage our kids to do what they enjoy! If they love playing lacrosse, try to give them all the means to play lacrosse for fun as much as possible. If they don't love the game, then let them try other things out until they find what they love to do for themselves!

2. Stop focusing on the wins and losses. Our behavior as coaches and parents has become abhorrible on our playing fields. We should all be coming together on these days, meeting new people and letting our kids have fun with the experience.

3. Make lacrosse fun again! Refs can stop calling every little thing and let the kids play. Parents and coaches can stop yelling. Kids can stop worrying about how well they are playing. Throw a ball out and come up with different games that the kids can just play in and have fun with. Coincidentally, this is why I am starting to realize that box (indoor) lacrosse is so great for young players. There are walls that keep the ball in play and everyone gets more touches, so they have a lot more fun with the game.

4. Bring these lessons into our own lives. Many of us are inspired by people who live everyday as though it is their last and only do what they love, instead of grinding it out just to get by. Do something today that you enjoy doing and let that be enough. Practicing that mindset can seep into the rest of our lives.

5. Try to cheer or at least appreciate the other team. The other team is just like your team. Hopefully, they play lacrosse because they love to and they are simply a challenge for you to test your own abilities. That should be a fun thing and we should feel grateful that there is another group of people who wants to play the game that we love with us!