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The Opportunity Cost of Playing or not Playing Sports

Have you ever asked yourself, “Why can’t I play this sport to the level that I’d like?”  Have you also observed folks very proficient in a particular sport and noticed that they have no life outside the sport?  This two-way phenomena is known as opportunity cost.  From our Economics 101 text book, opportunity cost is defined as:  “The loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.”  It is the chief reason why people underachieve in recreational or competitive activities, and why some who excel in those same activities, may suffer from the failure to take care of themselves in other areas of their lives.

Opportunity cost is not good or bad, it’s just a judgement call each of us make every day about many things.  The opportunity cost of an avid football fan who watches 15 hours of games every weekend might be that he has a poor golf game.  The opportunity cost of a mom or dad shuttling their kids to youth soccer games, practices, and tournaments every hour of every week might be the inability to work, socialize, or exercise.

To get more clarity, I’m reading Dr. Bob Rotella’s “How Champions Think.” This book gets in the minds of competitors from several sports who’ve made it to the top and identifies some common recurring themes.  Single-mindedness is huge.  These folks dedicate a good portion of their lives to mastering a craft and it often comes with significant opportunity cost.  There are ruined marriages, neglected children, repetitive stress, and burnout, and they are a bit disturbing to read about.  If you’re looking to become a champion, this book provides an uncommon but necessary view.  Rotella advocates for single-mindedness, but points out it takes very special individuals to manage the competing factions that this level of dedication requires.  He cites Jack and Barbara Nicklaus as two of the best in handling them.  Unlike a lot of marriages and relationships with tour players and spouses, Jack and Barbara understood how their significant other needed to operate and made it work so that Jack enjoyed the greatest golf career ever, and mostly Barbara raised a wonderful loving and understanding family.

I also just finished Bob Ladouceur’s “Chasing Perfection”.  Ladouceur was the head football coach at De La Salle High School in California and led his teams to 12 consecutive undefeated seasons and accumulated a record of 399-25-3 during his tenure.  I wanted to know what his secret sauce was.  In one passage, he discusses the desires of other kids to transfer to De La Salle and become part of the winning tradition.  Most of these transfers washed out when they discovered the level of dedication and demands he placed on his players and coaches for single-mindedness and preparation.  These were eerily similar in effort and opportunity cost to the athletes Rotella describes.  This book is an eye-opening read.

As an avid golfer, I’ve dedicated more than my fair share of time to gaining and maintaining the skills I need to play to a certain level.  I have also suffered the opportunity costs.  Let’s face it, golf is a game that requires a lot of time.  Each of us has a level of dedication and desire that we need to apply to satisfy ourselves, and mine is more than the average player, but doesn’t come close to the extremes I’ve recently read about.  I would be very uncomfortable ignoring key factions of my life to become the best player I could be.

Have you experienced this dichotomy?  What’s your level of dedication and single-mindedness?  Suffered any significant opportunity costs?

About Brian Penn

Avid sports fan and golf nut. I am a lifelong resident of the Washington D.C. area and love to follow the local teams. Also worked as a golf professional in the Middle Atlantic PGA for several years and am intrigued by the game to no end. I love to play and practice and am dedicated to continual improvement.