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Are Sports Conducive to Recovery? [Opinion]

competition and recovery

I am a big sports fan. I like to play sports, although I don’t do that as often as I used to, and I follow all of the major sports. I talk sports at work, and listen to sports talk radio and sports center on T.V. just about daily. I think that I am aware of the arguments in favor of sports for a variety of healthy lifestyle reasons. But recently I have given some deeper consideration to sports as it relates to recovery.

Some weeks ago I went to watch a basketball tournament put on by a local radio station for the participants of local recovery programs. As with just about any basketball game, there were players who denied that they did something that they obviously had done, there was arguing and complaining to the referee, getting upset, blaming, and even those minor tantrums that are so commonplace that most sports fans just accept them now as part of the game. What struck me was that, ironically, this sporting event brought about blame, resentment, fault-finding, attempts to control, and blatant lies. Nothing resembled “let go and let God,” or practicing the serenity prayer, or taking personal inventory and, when wrong, promptly admitting it. No amends were made, although there were certainly ample reasons and opportunities to do that. Admittedly there are plenty of times during the course of the sport when it would be detrimental to the other participants to do that. However, there were plenty of times when ownership of one’s deeds would hurt nobody, and amends could be made. Even if it does hurt your team, does that make the case to not admit when one is wrong, or does it make the case that sport is not conducive to recovery?

I brought my observations to my supervisor who has served in this field for several decades. He asked me if I didn’t think that there is an exception to be made under these circumstances. I pointed out to him that Step Twelve indicates that we should try to practice this principle in all our affairs. It doesn’t make any exception to sports. This seemed to take him back a bit, and he ultimately agreed.

It seems an interesting contradiction to ponder. So I brought the idea to a didactic group of about forty clients in early recovery, expecting resistance and perhaps anger. To the contrary, after I shared my observations many in the group actually agreed, some of whom had played in the tournament. Some of them even pointed out that they often would go out drinking after playing sports, and so by virtue of that alone, playing sports can be a triggering event. While that can be said just about anything we do, I think that it is indeed a valid concern.

I also think that competition necessarily creates stress, and we know that stress is something that a recovering addict should be working to avoid. Conversely, much of the literature and daily readings in the recovery would speak of peace being a goal, and a reward, of recovery. Yet I think that any insightful objective assessment of competition should recognize that peace is not what comes from sports.

It is fair to say that when a person or team wins that more often than not there is an energy that is not what we would call humble. On the other hand, when one loses, I think that egos-which in the recovering person are typically low-suffer to some degree.

Finally, many of us in recovery are called upon to walk a spiritual path as part of our journey. I think that spiritually we are asked to recognize or remember that we are all connected to the same Source. We are asked to recognize and/or remember that we are one with The One. Walking a spiritual path promotes unity, and not separation. Ultimately I think that it is fair to say that competition is essentially the opposite of cooperation, and that it follows that sports is counter to recovery.

Go Vikings!


Send your opinions to The Phoenix Spirit. This piece was first published in our January 2008 issue.

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