As I sat at home last night watching the second coming of Real Madrid's Galacticos saga unfold, I was suddenly overcome with a melancholic sense of disillusionment. You've seen mottos such as "For the Love of the Game" and "Fairplay Awards" being doled out, but you begin to wonder whether that really is the case.
As the level of sophistication in every walk of life has increased with time, the same is now true of sports as well. As I've grown up, I've come to terms with the fact that what they say about "wanting to do in life what you love the most" is mostly a dream never realized.
The handful of people who end up making a career out of professional sports and then get a chance to represent their country at some stage is probably the luckiest bunch of people on this planet.
However, even their innocence tends to get corrupted with each new zero that gets added to the size of their contract. Egos inflate, heads grow, and the brain becomes numbed to the pleasures of playing for the sake of the game, and also to the sensitivities of the fans.
Life mostly doesn't allow you the choices you want to make, hence the adage that life isn't fair. You find, to your chagrin, that instead of making a choice between pursuing your tennis dream or your cricket dream, you are being forced to choose between becoming an engineer or a doctor, or in today's glitzy world of Wall Street, a financial analyst.
Life is very much a struggle to climb Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which in this day and age has its pinnacle topped with a mound of wealth. A career as a sportsman is not so much different.
Imagine you're looking in on a child's growth through his toddler years, through to his teens, and eventually when he settles down into his life's routine, having chosen a career he never would have thought of in his younger years.
- He's three years old. His father brings home a bat and ball set. He is introduced to the wonderful concept of a complex array of ways to connect bat and ball and achieve the desired result that makes his father beam with pride.
- He's five years old. He is obsessed with the world of sports. Give him a soccer ball, a cricket bat, or even a tennis racquet, and he'll be with Maradona, Imran Khan, or Boris Becker in his head. But even if you give him a balled-up piece of paper, a discarded piece of wood, or even a ball but no racquet, he'll still be with these guys in his head.
- He's eight years old. Grades start becoming an important aspect of life, but he always has time for his first love, i.e. sports. The highlight of his day is an evening of cricket or soccer with his dad in the front yard. He begins the countdown to 6pm each day so he can see his father walk in through the door, returning from a tiring day at the office, yet still willing to oblige his son.
- He's 11 years old. The amount of homework he's getting from school is really piling up. He forgoes his afternoon nap to complete his homework each day. He is then free for his evening of sporting activity with his neighborhood friends, because unless homework is complete, his mom won't let him step out of the house.
- He's 14 years old. He packs a mean tennis forehand and begins blowing away people at his high school. He also possesses great all-around skills in cricket and is usually the first to be picked for any cricket match in the neighborhood. He starts getting picked for games that will be viewed by professional cricketers. But this is where the first cracks in his ambitions of becoming the next sports star to do his country proud begin to appear.
- He's 15 years old. He's studying most of the time, as the course material has suddenly multiplied over the years. He's finding limited time for his sporting activity, and his friends start inviting him less and less for their evening sojourn of cricket. He's beginning to realize that a career in sports is not written in his future. He wants to fight back, rebel, but his parents help him through this difficult phase by providing other distractions.
- He's 18 years old. He's now in college. He's reliving his sports-playing days, and has picked up his tennis racquet once again. He starts lightly, competing among friends (some of them who've been high school champions), and finds that after a few weeks he's mastered them completely. He's looking for ways to convince his parents of the merits of playing on the varsity team, but succumbs to the studying associated with a college education while trying to keep hold of his scholarship.
- He's 22 years old. He's officially graduated, but not able to choose the career he had wanted since childhood. He's sacrificed his dreams at the altar of a career as a financial analyst. He has no time for even watching sports, much less playing.
- He's 25 years old. Married to his college sweetheart. Living the life of a Wall Streeter at a time when Wall Street is the street that matters most. The day flies by without him even getting a chance to catch a glimpse of anything to do with sports.
- He's 27 years old. Blessed with a son, his life begins to revolve around this new arrival's whims completely. He starts looking for his favorite sports team's clothing and accessories for his son, because his pride and joy would be unconfined at the sight of his son in his favorite team's kit.
- He's 29 years old. He comes home from work. His body keeps insisting he is tired, but his mind and heart conquer the lethargy in order to see his son (who has been waiting for him to return all day) happy while kicking a soccer ball around. His eyes threaten to water up as he recalls his father in the exact same position seemingly eons ago. Where have all the carefree days gone, he thinks to himself.
- He's 30 years old. He sees his son kicking around a soccer ball with above-average skill for his age, but feels wistful and at odds with himself on whether to allow his son's zest for sports to bloom into a passion, then see the wind blown out of his sails when he realizes that his first love is not his destiny.
He knows that all that has happened in his life is for the best, because he is still good at what he does for a living. He still loves sports with as much passion and takes time out to watch his favorite teams and players competing on television. His love for sports has grown into something shorn of the innocence of his childhood days.
It is literally a case of, "if you love something, let it go, and if it comes back to you it was meant to be yours, and if it doesn't, you'll always have some of the most wonderful memories to cherish." Better yet, in this case, it's a given that one gets to relive those memories with his very own child as well.
I would like to dedicate this write-up to my parents, who have helped me through every step of my life and still continue to do so. There are dreams, where you always win, and then there's the real world, where your parents are there to support you to no end.