This is really a post about the lessons we learn from sports. But I figured more of you would read it if I used Golden Knights in the title! Plus the past nine months has been a crash course for many of us in Las Vegas on some of the lessons, and that’s because of our beloved hockey team.
Sports can teach us so much. We know this from a long history of experience as a human race, and most of us have experienced it in our own personal lives. Many of these lessons we learn as children. Maybe we grew up playing sports, and learned the values of teamwork and discipline and intentional practice. While playing sports, we learned how to celebrate victories, and hopefully we learned something about losing with grace.
Or maybe as children we fell in love with a sports team, and learned the special ecstasy, agony and stress that comes from following a team that you don’t play on. Often that is more difficult – I recall way more tears when the Dodgers lost when I was a kid than any team I ever played on if we lost.
Residents of Las Vegas has learned a lot from sports this year. We have yearned for pro sports in our city for so long, wanting to feel al those things I mentioned earlier but for our “own” team instead of a team from another city (we all adopted them – for me it was Dodgers, Lakers, Broncos…until cable TV then it was Braves, Lakers, Broncos). It wouldn’t have really mattered when it came to pass, we would have been excited and ready to be “real” fans. And it wouldn’t have mattered which sport. But…I said from the beginning that hockey was a great choice for our first pro sport, several reasons:
- No built-in bias or expertise– if the first sport was NBA, we would all; be jaded from years of loving (and hating) the Rebels, and we would spend the whole game yelling at the refs.
- Exciting sport to see live, without a lot of built-in expectations.
- Approachable players, generally more humble and grounded than other pro sports.
- Community tie-in, new ice rinks for kids to learn to skate, etc.
And what I or anyone else couldn’t have predicted was that this was the absolute best time to get a pro sports team, given the events of October 1. But it took the team and the community to understand the gravity of the moment, and jointly embrace the healing power of sports.
We have learned how sports can heal. The night of October 7, our second regular season game in Arizona, we were at a birthday party at someone’s house. We had already shown each other all the highlights from the amazing victory in game 1 the night before in Dallas. We had already started doing what fans do, discussing our favorite players, whether we could win again, etc. Then we all followed the game on our phones. It didn’t look good most of the game, but then we stole it at the end – again. I remember the feelings then, such a warm feeling, shared among friends, a bit of relief from the worst week of our lives. The funny thing is, the stress of following that game is so small compared to the stress of a playoff game! Sports can teach us perspective also I guess. On October 10, the team somehow let us live out some of the stages of grieving, with an emotional pre-game ceremony allowing us to cry and hug and a spirited blowout to bring some cheers and joy (and more hugs).
We have learned how to be better neighbors. Sometimes, in some neighborhoods of Las Vegas, the transient nature of the city can lead to a bit of isolation from neighbors. I’ve been encouraged by comments from Vegas Golden Knights players saying that they know all their neighbors already. And how many of us have met new friends – in our section at the arena (again, more hugs), or at our local watering hole watching the games, or just walking around a mall and fist-bumping another fan with some gear on. And what did we used to talk about at the hair salon, nail place, coffee shop or water cooler?
We have started to learn how to be fans. We never had to before; too many of us loved the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels when they won and conveniently forgot about them when they lost; that’s not being a fan. But a pro team is built for the long-term, and once we learn it with the Golden Knights, I hope we all embrace it with our other teams. You don’t’ wear the jersey more when they win, you wear it more when they lose, or during the off season. This has to be our team, always. We are learning.
We have learned how sports can be additive to a community. Obviously the post-October 1 support is what most people see, but let’s remember the less-sexy yet just as meaningful things: Open practices, giving everyone a chance to interact with the team even if they can’t afford season tickets or have a work shift during most games; two new sheets of ice to teach our kids about skating and hockey; monetary support for those in need in our community through their foundation; promoting the “other side” of Las Vegas to national news media.
We have learned how to be optimistic, because time and again the Golden Knights have won games that they seemingly were meant to lose. Either because they were playing a “superior” team, or because they were trailing, or because we had our backup-backup-backup-backup goalie in net.
We have learned to have fun – flamingos, batmobiles, scarves, outdoor parties, chants, songs, mascot shade, irreverent social media. Allgood elements of fun with sports.
We have learned how to celebrate. Namely, you do it together. Hug someone you don’t know (obviously), make up your own dance to the goal song (wait, was that just me?), make new friends, adjust your water cooler talk, show off each other’s gear, buy your new section neighbor a drink. Celebrating is boring if you do it by yourself. I think we got this one down pretty good based on what I see around me and all the watch parties we’ve had for playoff games.
And now, we get a lesson in how to lose. Start by not making excuses. Give credit to the other team, take ownership of your own mistakes. Shake the other team’s hand graciously. OK to cry, thinking back on eight months of a helluva ride together, and all it has meant to us – but they should be tears of joy, knowing how much we have enjoyed this ride. And then, start working on being better next season.
That goes for the fans too. Now the other teams know about us, so it’s time to get to work in the offseason, we have to be better fans next year. I want you to rest now, but start gearing up in September – if we have to, we will organize a training camp, vocal exercises, dance training, hug practice, whatever we need. Only one thing left for us – it’s Cup in 2. Actually, one more lesson from sports – it’s about the process not the result, and you can’t look past the present moment to the next game. So let’s just enjoy this for now, let’s spend the proper amount of time reminiscing on the greatest season in sports history. We deserve this Las Vegas, a proper reward for us learning all these lessons and passing with flying colors. Congratulations Golden Knights, and thank you for all you taught us this season.