When competition gets ugly

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

Two snapshots from two Massachusetts communities:

1. A dad enjoys watching his son's hockey game. The game disintegrates into a brawl between the two teams. The dad steps in to break it up. Wham! Another dad head-butts him.

2. A mom - volunteer secretary of the local Little League - cheers on the team of her 11-year-old son until he and a player from the other team tumble into a fight. The mom steps in, not on a peacekeeping mission. Whack! She kicks the boy fighting her son.

You may be thinking. "I can top those." Maybe you saw or heard about a similar episode, only worse. Maybe it took place in your own community. The sorriest part of this spectacle - even if you didn't think of a "topper" - is that these stories aren't the rarities they ought to be. They show up way too often, first on the playing field, and then in the morning papers.

The good news is there's a renewed effort to get sports back on a surer footing - one that will let players and parents, coaches and athletic directors, reclaim the joy, the upside of competitive sports, and free them of the downside, where healthy competitive impulses morph into hurtful actions.

A bill recently filed with the Massachusetts legislature hopes to come to the rescue. It aims to incorporate sports psychology into the sports curriculum of middle and high schools throughout the state. (One only hopes it will somehow benefit not just the kids, but their parents as well.)

The site www.getpsychedsports.org champions both the new curriculum and the legislation. One of its three guiding principles is: "When we recognize harmful thoughts as they happen, and then change them to helpful ones, we change our mood and hence, our performance or behavior."

Yes! The key for healing is in the transformed mental environment. Just as the website suggests, recognize harmful thoughts before they devolve into harmful actions, and exchange those thoughts for helpful ones.

How? Actually, a source that far predates sports curricula with or without a psychological component, is worth considering. The Bible is an invaluable resource. Again and again it illustrates how, through a more spiritual perspective, thought changes and circumstances improve. Rage cools. Passion quiets. Conflict dissipates. And the gains aren't just for the person doing the praying. Prayer casts a wide circle of light and a healing calm.

For instance, Christ Jesus once dispersed an angry mob about to stone an individual. He did it with almost wordless prayer. What did he pray? We don't know. But we do know the Master routinely turned to the Supreme Lawgiver as in control and as perpetually imparting His peace. The crowd couldn't help being touched and transformed by Jesus' perspective. Harmful thoughts yielded to helpful ones.

The Psalmist says, "Great peace have they which love thy [God's] law: and nothing shall offend them" (Ps. 119:165). That's a promise and a demand anyone can take to heart. Fulfill the demand of loving God's law - a law that holds each of us in right relation to Him - and you inevitably reap the promise of feeling greater peace and finding it easier not to take offense, no matter what the other party yells.

There's another plus. Adhering to the Psalmist's counsel doesn't diminish your competitive edge but sharpens it. A clearer mind, one that's less in the grip of resentment, annoyance, or fury, allows for performance at a higher, more focused level, whatever the sport.

Think of God as divine Life, the source of all agility, energy, skill, and vitality. It's the law of Life that the Psalmist tells us to love. And that's the most natural thing to do. The law is native to you, is inherent to your being. In a sense that law is pressed right into your mind and body, and therefore steers you to better choices whether you're cheering from the bleachers, or competing on the field.

Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy used the phrase Christian Science as a term for God's law. She wrote in her main work, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," "Christian Science impresses the entire corporeality, - namely, mind and body, - and brings out the proof that Life is continuous and harmonious" (page 157). Life, including the part of life known as sport, can be enormously rewarding. With this spiritual perspective in mind, it can also be harmonious.

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