COMMENTARY: In sports, winning isn’t everything or the only thing

Thursday, May 31, was a tough day for Cleveland Cavaliers fans.

On the first night of the NBA finals, the Cavs had the perfect game plan to limit the firepower of the most potent offense on the basketball planet, that of the Golden State Warriors. The Cleveland offense held their own, led by LeBron James and his 51 points. Near the end of regulation, what should have been a charge on the Warriors became a blocking foul on Cleveland, followed by a mental error, a missed free throw, and a missed buzzer shot, all of which led to a stunning defeat in overtime. The Cavs, who had fought and clawed their way to the finals, lost in four straight.

Once again, I asked myself: Why spend time on sports? This goes for athletes, for coaches, and for fans who spend so much time (and money) watching, screaming and worrying. After all, it’s not life or death; it should not affect our general well-being as a job or key relationships do. I did find some answers to this pressing question; most of them include life lessons:

1. Sports have a lot to do with self-improvement. When you learn the basics of a sport, you can see yourself getting better at it, feeling more confident, and that may carry over into other areas of life. Golf, bowling, track and field, and archery give proof through scores and times that you are getting better or having an off day. Being a better person with a better attitude might also be part of the mix.

2. Sports keep you young. If you are playing one, it may help keep you in shape. If you are a fan, it will keep you in touch with young people and their zest for life. It may also connect you to your own child or grandchild.

3. Sports teach you how to lose gracefully. I once played on a men's basketball team that didn't win a game over a couple of years, but we learned to take it in stride and simply enjoy each other's company.

4. Sports help you learn from your mistakes. My friend Bob Helmers (local tennis great) always says, "Either you win or you learn something." Sergio Garcia, one of golf's finest, finally won a major event (the Masters) at the age of 37 after 70 attempts.

5. Sports teach teamwork. This is especially true for football, soccer, basketball, lacrosse, hockey and volleyball, but even in the individual sports like tennis and wrestling, players practice together, challenge each other and support each other in order to achieve a team victory.

6. Sports teach you how to set goals and try to achieve them. Whether it involves moving from JV to varsity, lifting a certain weight, or reducing your cross country race time to under 20 minutes, you must figure out how to get there.

When I watched our high school baseball team win a state title recently, I took great pleasure in their joy and their accomplishments, partially because I had taught half of the starting lineup. It was the culmination of years of hard work for the players and their coaches, coupled with a lot of poise, confidence, and just plain heart. Hope springs eternal. And even those Cleveland Browns deserve a chance to redeem themselves.

Jim Brooks, a teacher and coach at Chaminade-Julienne High School in Dayton, is a regular contributor.

When you learn the basics of a sport, you can see yourself getting better at it, feeling more confident, and that may carry over into other areas of life.