Last weekend I attended a marathon as an observer. I am not a runner.
This weekend, we spent two days as spectators at a golf tournament. Nor am I a golfer.
Both events, even though I was not a participant, were fun to watch, inspiring and challenging. Lots to learn from observing people, and watching the athletes as they work to achieve their goal. Whether it was one more mile to the finish line or an errant golf ball that just did not go where it was supposed to go, the struggle was how to handle the challenge or disappointment.
There were the very few at each event that were there to win, who knew they had the speed or the skills necessary to be the one at the top. For me, it was exciting to see how many were there to work at developing their own personal levels. Their motivation came, not just from competition with others, but from deep within themselves, bettering their time or their score, achieving a new personal level.
The university golf teams at this tournament were young men and women from several states, matching their skills against each other and against themselves. Our son, participating with his university team from Arizona, played at a golf course near our house. We were able to attend two days, riding along in our golf cart, quietly watching and offering words of encouragement. He is fairly new to the sport and new to competitions like this, learning a lot about himself and the skills he needs to develop.
At the golf tournament, we saw lots of frustration: golf clubs thrown, exasperation at missed putts, exhaustion as the eleven hour day wore on, endurance stretched to the limit. Others were able to laugh at their mistakes and encourage those around them, still able to keep up their confidence and work through the next hole.
The strongest impression I came away with was the value of personal strength and inner motivation. Even at a competitive event, the real competition is with yourself. It has to come from within. A mental challenge. A physical challenge. An emotional challenge. Especially in a more individual sport like golf or running a marathon, your worst opponent is yourself.
Sometimes we have to hit the ball out of tall grass (but first we have to search and find it, knowing it dropped somewhere in that area).
A water hazard can block our path.
Boredom sets in if we have to wait, and wait longer. We just want to play, to get going, to keep moving. Instead, we wait and watch from the sidelines.
The small steps may be our downfall. We can cover the distances, but fall behind at the little details, the putting.
The goal, sometimes, is not even visible, hidden around the corner, out of sight. We have to hit the ball knowing it will take several steps, several hits ahead before we even see the flag, the putting green.
The spacious views of the golf course, tucked in the middle of a crowded, busy industrial area were a reminder to find the beauty, even in hidden spots.
There are lots of life lessons in any sport. Perhaps that is part of the reason sports are so popular. Spectators are reminded to work hard, to tackle the challenge of meeting their goal. For me, it was a reminder that I need to be much more than a spectator, to be sure I am meeting my challenges with strength and focus.