Losing the fear of losing

A thought on sports and what drives the passion for following it.  From Northword magazine, Aug 2007


Losing the fear of losing

By: Russell Bowers

I’ve been re-watching a favourite movie lately, The Tao of Steve. It’s about a guy who seems to be a slacker, but justifies it by adopting what he believes is a Buddhist approach to life: he wants nothing, and therefore gets what he wants.
That’s tough to do because so many of us fear not getting what we want, let alone need. It’s probably at the heart of much of the strife that we cause for ourselves, or seem to have heaped upon us.

There’s an area of my life where letting go of fear became quite freeing. It starts on New Year’s Eve, 1975, as two of the country’s great passions at the time came together to recruit my 7-year-old imagination.

The Soviet Red Army hockey team came over to play an exhibition series against a handful of NHL teams. This night, the opponents were “my” team, the Montreal Canadiens. The Cold War was the backdrop, an extension of the classic 1972 Summit Series. Once again, it was our way of life versus theirs, with history keeping score.

But that night history recorded a tie, each team scoring three goals. As a kid, the political subtleties were lost on me, but I did fear that my team would be defeated. At the end, with no clear winner, I remember being relieved, and even entertained, but there certainly wasn’t the joy of victory.

I became a big hockey fan, and became emotionally connected to a group of players over whom I had no control or influence.

But in the front yard of my house, I could become those players, and that was something I could control. I could be Ken Dryden in net, Larry Robinson on defence, or Guy LaFleur streaking in for a goal. And the first four years I watched hockey, my team won the Stanley Cup each year. That’s just how the world worked. Their success validated my front-yard exploits.

Speaking as a guy, from a remote and fond area of the He-Man Clubhouse called My Brain, sports are a possible vocation. As a kid, I believed I could become a player. Just practice, and one day it would be me in net: Bowers, Number 42!

As the years sailed by, and the prospect of becoming a prospect skated out of sight, my relationship with sports shifted. Listen in on any discussion guys have about hockey, and you’ll hear them discuss what teams should do, which players to trade or sign, coaches to hire or fire. As little boys miss their chance to become players, they grow up to be imaginary Managers.

As a kid or a current fan of a team, what keeps one watching? It comes back to the fear of losing. And you’re helpless to do anything about it: it’s in the player’s hands.

When they win, we can release all that tension and fear, and celebrate. If they don’t, well, it’s disappointment and maybe even anger. But the off-season heals all, and by next year we’re invested again, because the team is part of one’s life.

But in recent years it’s occurred to me that the team I cheered for in 1975 doesn’t even play hockey anymore. Dryden, Robinson, and LaFleur have all retired. I don’t have dreams to be Huet, Rivet or Koivu. If the 2007 incarnation of the Canadiens win or lose, it leaves no feeling with me. I don’t have the fear.

I still enjoy hockey and talking about it. But a four-minute highlight package is all the sports I need most days. I can still enjoy the entertainment value of any sport and appreciate it for the fun it is.

It’s amazing peace of mind when you don’t try to fix things to fit your will—especially when you know you can’t. There’s a prayer that asks God to help us accept the things we cannot change. And so, like a slacker Buddhist, we don’t fear losing if we don’t desire any particular outcome. If we could just be ourselves, everybody just might get what they want.

The comedian, Roseanne Barr, said it more succinctly: “I finally learned to shut up and mind my own business.”