by: PHIL HAWKINS - The Kicktators came first in spirit and became a family of sorts despite a winless fall season. On Thursday evening, my city league kickball team – The Kicktators – wrapped its season up with a 12-9 loss against the league champion Bunt Pirates. It was our sixth straight loss to end the fall season, and the second season in a row where we have put up 0-6 in the win-loss column. In the three seasons of Salem’s inaugural amateur kickball program that started in the spring, our team has accumulated the worst record in the league, going 1-17 since April. But you wouldn’t know it from looking at our team Thursday night.

The Kicktators were in full celebratory mode throughout the game. Folks came to the game dressed in knee-high socks, tutus and face paint. We were hanging off the fence and screaming at the top of our lungs to support our fellow team members. Despite our 12th loss in a row, we were playing together, getting better every week and dedicating ourselves to a physical activity when we could otherwise be sitting on a couch watching television.

This is what makes sports great. It’s about bonding with a group of friends over the course of a season to develop a sort of pseudo-family. It’s about supporting each other and having fun, even in the face of mounting losses. It’s about committing to an enjoyable physical activity on a week-to-week basis even when life gives you dozens of excuses why you could be doing something else.

I think about my kickball team whenever I look over the high school sports standings each week and see teams in our coverage area at the bottom of the standings, looking for that first win of the season. Some of them will never get that win. Others will, but in the end, it doesn’t truly matter.

We tend to focus on wins and losses as the standard for success in sports because they’re such a tangible representation of a team’s ability on the field. It’s understandable in professional sports and in the college ranks when these wins mean so much more because there are jobs and millions of dollars on the line. But in high school, there are more important things at stake than just money.

Few people at the prep level have the skill and talent to carve out a professional career from playing a game. Most coaches are judged not be the wins and losses at the end of the season, but by how they guide and mentor student athletes throughout the rigors of a season. Kids learn many vital lessons that they carry throughout life when they play sports.

First and foremost, they learn how to have fun. Obviously, kids don’t need to be taught to play – it’s something they do every day. But not every child knows HOW to have fun. It’s important to learn how to enjoy yourself playing a game while not doing so at the expense of your opponent.

Athletes in high school learn to dedicate themselves to improvement. They learn to devote considerable time and energy toward bettering themselves at something they have a genuine interest in. Through practice and commitment, they learn that it takes countless hours to produce minute levels of tangible improvement. But through every success and every failure, they learn a little more, and this knowledge and skill accumulates over time.

When kids practice a sport, they aren’t just learning how to get better at dribbling or catching a ball. They’re learning how to get better at something they enjoy, and that is a skill in itself. It takes time to become good at something, whether that is serving a volleyball or building a family.

And on a physical level, athletics help people to live happier and healthier lives. Your muscles don’t care if your training results in a win or a loss. Your heart doesn’t know if you hit a personal record on your last run. Wins, losses, records and times are all temporary things that fade with time, but the physical gains that athletes produce when they play sports can last a lifetime.

This is what I see when I attend high school games during the week to take pictures and report scores. I see wins and losses, yards and goals, times and kills. But I also see the benefits of sports on them socially, mentally and emotionally.

I see the next generation learning skills they will use throughout their lives as they grow into adults.

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