It’s been 136 days since I began my experiment to not watch any sports for a year.
So how’s it going?
Well, it’s been fun, hard and revealing to say the least. And here’s a collection of thoughts, findings and questions that have surfaced so far.
It’s Simply Complicated
For the most part, some days it’s easy and other days it’s hard not to watch sports.
I’ve noticed that the degree of ease and difficulty has fallen into and been dependent on these three categories:
- My current emotional state; to what degree do I need sports to help me escape from or cope with any given life situation?
- My engrained habits; how much of my body and brain’s auto-pilot has been trained to just flip on a game without even thinking about it? (Apparently I do have some degree of sports addiction.)
- The impact on my relationships; How do I connect with people and what have I learned from this crazy choice I’ve made?
The Big Games: A Big Deal or A Big Waste of Time?
When it comes to the big sport events I’ve started to keep a tally of how many I’ve not watched. In a funny way I’ve actually become somewhat proud of myself that I’ve been able to do this and take this experiment this far. Like running a marathon, this experiment has become a true test of endurance and in some cases I feel like I’m developing a new not-watching-sports muscle.
So far I’ve not watched the Super Bowl, Olympics, Final Four, NHL Playoffs, MLB opening day (yes, I consider that major sporting event for the last 30 years of my life). Yes, I have missed watching these games, but on the other hand, I’ve not. Why? Because I’ve been able to finish books, write, run, spend time with family and do other things that have more meaning for me.
This is a strange and unsettling discovery that I’ve had to wrestle with. I’m at odds with that feeling because I’m not quite sure what that means.
I’ve had to ask myself…are the Big Games really important to me or are they just a big time suck holding me back? If they are important, then why? What do I get out of watching them? What do I lose if I do? Who do I lose if I don’t watch the Big Games or any live sports?
To be honest, there’s a part of me that really loves to watch live sports but there’s another part of me that loves the feeling of doing those other things. I’m not quite sure on the value or significance of this conflict of feeling. But I know it’s turning out to be a thought that I must unpack and understand. And hopefully I’ll have more clarity as this experiment continues.
What If…We All Didn’t Watch Sports For A Year?
I’ve also started to think about the financial impact of this sort of experiment. What would happen if everyone in America did this for a year?
That said, I heard this enlightening commentary by NPR’s Frank Defourd about the supporting the home team from the comfort of your couch. In it he mentions that the fact that sports teams don’t make as nearly as much money when people go to the ballpark as when people watch on TV at home.
So, yes, I’m probably making a very (very) small dent in the revenue department of major sports teams, but, I wonder…what if more people didn’t watch sports for a year? What would be the financial impact of that?
Besides the money, other thoughts have popped into my head like…
Would the world be a better place if we didn’t watch live sports? Would we all see sports in a different way? Would this new perspective empower us to value the relationships and connections we have with other because of sports? Would we end up watching more live sports after we’ve realized how much the act means to us and others around us?
Heck, I know this experiment is starting to do all those things for me.
One of the things I’m being forced to do is to think more deeply about why I do watch sports, how live sports has changed my life and how live sports is both a healthy and unhealthy emotional escape.
Why Do I Get Emotional: It’s Just Live Sports?
I’m being forced to think and go deeper to understand why I get all teary eyed and emotional when I tell people about my first time watching a Cubs game at Wrigley Field with my dad. Or why I feel within myself a visceral mix of emotions (joy, excitement, sadness, grief, etc) when I tell them about my fondest memories learning how to yell “Green Bay sucks” in sub-zero weather at a Bears game when I was eight years old. Are those buried emotions, and not actual live game itself on TV, the driving force behind my desire and need to watch live sports?
Besides the emotions and psychological fodder that has begun to bubble up, the other habitual and social challenges.
I’ve learned that it’s nearly impossible to avoid watching sports in our culture. Sports are everywhere; on our minds; at the core of most social interactions. Sports even define our worldview and for some it’s a religion deeply rooted in fabric of our lives.
Yes, I knew all that stuff before I started doing this experiment but now I’ve had the chance to step back and think about what all that stuff really means. And I’ve been forced to ask myself the tough questions. Is the amount of live sports we watch good? Is it bad? If so, why? And what do we benefit by watching hours and hours of live sports?
How does live sports help us make sense of the world around us? How does it help us we cope with life’s struggles?
Yes, there are many good things about watching sports but, like all good things in life, watching sports has a dark side and I’m realizing that too.
Watching sports can help us avoid things we must do. Watching sports can slyly and subtly make us too sedentary (mentally, physically and socially) where all we do is play the spectator too much and never get off the couch to join in the game. I do have to say that I’ve enjoyed playing sports more now that I’m not watching as much.
Of course the goal here (no pun intended) is to strike a healthy balance and aim to find the right mix of watching and doing. And that’s what I’m trying to figure out what that means for myself.
Confession: My Eyeballs and Live Sports
I have to be honest and say that my eyeballs have caught glimpses of games over these last several months.This is because of the simple fact that I can’t cut myself off from the world and the world is full of sports. I’ve been at sports bars to connect with co-workers and friends, and it’s nearly impossible to not let your eyes fall for a split second on live game. But in those situations yet another thought has intrigued me.
In these situations I’ve both realized how much a welcomed distraction sports are to relationships, especially in those awkward moments where nobody has anything to say and we’re all just watching the game, sipping our drinks and then a dramatic play happens and we all cheer together or comment on how great the play was, maybe do a little smack talk, swap some hive-fives and then the next conversation starts.
I’ve also realized how hard it is to truly focus on the conversation when a billion sports games are flashing and flickering all around me on giant flat screen TVs. Again, is this truth a good thing or bad thing? I also know that what’s happening in these social sports situation is nothing to just gloss over and avoid. There’s something big happening here.
So to answer some of these questions and make sense of my own experiment I’ve turned to the experts.
In the book the The Secret Lives Of Sports Fans Eric Simons explores this crazy sports-watching obsession we have. It’s been great to read the book and fascinating to read his work and put a sociological and biologically context on my own experiment. I’ve been learning just how genetically wired we are to love sports and why it’s important to be aware of the chemical process that’s going on in our bodies when we watch sports. On future updates, I’ll be sharing more about how that book is shaping and enlightening my own experiment.
Family and Friends and The “Fake Sports” Conversation
I’ve taken special note of the responses and reactions of family and friends. When I first started out my family and friends were aware of my experiment and they would ask me about it and want to know why I was doing it. In some cases some family even went so far as to not watch a game because they didn’t want me to “break my vow.” Yes, they actually called my experiment a vow. Like I’m a monk on a religious quest. I thought that was interesting.
But now that nearly 6 months have gone by, those same people have largely forgotten. So what I’ve had to do is either gently remind them that I can’t when they ask me to go hang out and watch the game.
Or if I find myself in a “hey, did you watch that game last night” water cooler conversation I’ve been testing out a “fake sports” conversations sub-experiment and pretending like I did watch the game. I carry on the conversation using my past sports knowledge. Why do this? I want to see if they can figure out that I didn’t watch the game and I want to see just how much of an impact not watching sports has on relationships beyond family and friends. I also want to so what I might discover about the role that watching live sports plays in initial interactions with those around me. To be honest those “fake sports” conversations have been some of the more expectedly entertaining and fascinating parts of this experiment and I’m looking forward to sharing more of what I discover.
Those most people have forgotten, I do have to credit my younger brother Ken for keeping my experiment always on his mind. While at work he continues to send me texts of game scores and messages with pictures of Wrigley field asking me if I remember what that place was.
Thanks, Ken. Those texts are priceless. Your playoff beard is coming in nicely too. Maybe I should have grown a no live sports beard? Maybe next time.
The Real Reason I Watch Live Sports?
One of the hardest, most fascinating and revelatory parts of not watching sports has been the impact it has had on my relationships.
Even though I’m an introvert (I recently discovered and accepted this), I still love connecting with people. I love relationships. I love getting out of my own head and into the hearts and minds of others. So I’m an introvert that loves to be an extravert? I’m not even sure what that means?
What I do know is that by doing this experiment I’ve begun to think more about how I’m wired up and how watching sports impacts and has influenced the type of person I am and the type of person I have become. In some cases I’ve realized that I could actually care less about the game that’s on TV and I’m watching it because I want to connect with people.
In some cases I’ve realized that I also watch sports to prepare for interactions with people. What does that mean?
Well, here’s what I think that means. If I’m meeting someone for the first time I always try to find a common ground. And in most cases, live sports is that common ground. But now that I’ve removed watching sports from my life I’m finding that there’s an awkward pause. Do I tell them what I’m doing or do I have a “fake sports” conversation with them?
It’s been a 50/50 split. Sometimes I carry on the fake sports chat or sometimes I tell them about my experiment. And I’ve been surprised in both situations.
Sometimes people are interested and they ask me about it and other times they say “oh, that’s cool.” And then nothing comes of my “no live sports” disclosure and we then try to talk about other things.
Other times I’ve had some really great chats about why other people watch live sports and they start to ask me what I’ve learned and then they end up sharing a live sports story about themselves.
What’s been both fun and challenging is my process for picking which people I tell and which people I have a fake chat with. Those type of situations have been interesting to experience as it’s shown me the level of skill or aptitude certain people have for being able to talk about more than just the game and instead go deeper to explain what the game means to them and why they watch sports.
And I really want to know the significance of the awkward pause. What does that say about me? About that person? What does this tell me about the connection I have or don’t have to those around me? What does this say about the role that live sports plays in how we all relate and connect with each other?
This No Sports Experiment has been both beautifully strange and utterly fascinating to me and I’m still sorting it all out. I’ve actually have more questions now than when I started this experiment. There’s just so much to it and each day a new thought and revelation rabbit hole pops up that I love to jump down into and explore.
That said, there’s been lots more that I’ve learned but I wanted to share these initial insights with you to see what you think and I’d love to get your take on this too.
That’s all for now on this update and I hope you’ve enjoyed it. My 19-month old son Calvin just woke up and it’s time to be a dad and hang out, run around the house listening to Wilson Picket’s “Land of 1,000 Dances” and Gold Frapp’s “Ooh La La” over and over again because that’s what we do on Sundays, besides watch sports. Well, maybe not this year, anyway. And maybe I’ll tell him all about this crazy experiment when he gets older.