Playing a sport under duress changes the experience. The amount of change depends on the type and intensity of duress.
Starting from the low end of the scale: the Duress of Indecision. A friend calls with an invitation to golf Saturday morning. A girlfriend calls with an invitation to snorkel La Jolla Cove at the same time. You want golf. You want sweetie time.
The Duress of Indecision 2. Going to a gym to get in shape. You want to get in shape. You don’t want to go to the gym.
The Duress of Getting Along. Playing softball on your company team. You don’t care about the game, don’t care that much about the people, just tending office politics.
The Duress of Getting Along 2. Playing bocce at a family reunion. Tending familial relationships while wishing you were home sucking on a cold beer, watching the Chargers crush Oakland.
The Duress of Time. Whether to squeeze in one more lap around the track knowing you’ll be late for work.
The Duress of Choosing Between Sports. Whether to blow off a neighborhood basketball game in favor of volleyball on the beach.
The Duress of My Way or the Highway, aka, Playing for the Man. College sports, particularly the professional college sports of basketball and football. You play because the coach, who seemed so nice a few months ago, will pull your scholarship if you don’t.
The Duress of an Unhappy Spouse. Spouse hates the time you spend on: football, baseball, fishing, hunting, camping, watching sports on TV.
The Duress of an Unhappy Spouse 2. Spouse complains about the time you spend on sports. Complaints are loud. Complaints appear to be perpetual.
The Duress of Choosing to Placate or Choosing to Go Ahead and Watch the Game. See above.
The Duress of Deciding How Hard to Play. Do you give this game, this moment, everything you have? Do you accept the risk of pulling a muscle, twisting a knee, wrenching your spine? If you decide not to risk everything, how much are you willing to risk? Ninety percent? Eighty percent?
The Duress of Underperforming. Agreeing to throw a fight or point-shave a basketball game.
The Duress of Playing Well. Anytime you play any game in front of a new girlfriend.
The Duress of Playing Well 2. Anytime there is something on the line you care about, which includes, but not limited to: a championship (no matter how trivial the league or opponent). A tradition. A teammate. A friend. A spouse. An organization. A club. A trophy. A neighborhood, city, county, state, nation. A title. A tribe. A cause. A brand.
And there is duress when you’re: Playing to make the cut. Playing to win a prize. Playing to collect a paycheck. Playing to benefit a charity. Playing to earn respect for self. Playing to earn respect from others. Playing to find out if you can do it. Playing to find out if you want to do it. Playing to pass the time. Playing before it gets too dark. Playing before the cops show up. Playing after closing time. Playing for time. Playing through. Playing around.
Playing under the duress of pain. Sharp pain. Throbbing pain. Flashing pain. Burning pain. Tissue pain. Broken-bone pain. Muscle pain. Aching pain. Stinging pain. Back pain. Ligament pain. Chronic pain. Cramping pain. Pounding pain. Gnawing pain.
Playing under the duress of a stomach ache. The duress of hay fever. The duress of a passing cold. The duress of a knock-you-down flu. The duress of injury. The duress of rehab.
Playing under the duress of bad times. The duress of age. Duress of depression. The duress of bankruptcy. The duress of loneliness. The duress of a bad job. The duress of losing a job. The duress of taking a job that won’t cover the bills. The duress of divorce. The duress of poverty.
Then, there is self-inflicted duress. Playing under the duress of wanting to do better. The duress of wanting to keep track. The duress of not knowing what to do. The duress of expensive equipment. The duress of expensive travel. The duress of not enough time. The duress of too much time. The duress of training too hard. The duress of wondering if you’re training too hard.
You’ll always run into duress of some kind. Every sport, every game. There is, however, one exception. That’s when you’re playing a game, doesn’t matter which one, and you’re focusing on the game with absolute concentration. Without warning, everything else falls away. Worries, planning, thinking about what just happened, thinking about what’s happening next, thinking about how you’re doing, thinking about anything at all, all of it falls away. What’s left is the game.