Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the championship game of the College Insider Tournament (CIT). Haven’t heard of the CIT? It’s a third-or-fourth tier NCAA Men’s Basketball postseason event, held for schools not qualified or invited to the Big Dance or even the NIT. My alma mater, Murray State University, was invited to participate and seized the opportunity. I’ll admit, I was cynical at first. My default thinking has always been that if you can’t win the “real” championship, what’s the point of playing? Murray State didn’t win the conference regular season or tournament championship, leaving very limited postseason hope. An invitation from the CIT, if I had been the coach, would have been dismissed as a borderline insult. I would have been wrong.

Murray State hosted four games in the CIT. Our town rallied around a young and inexperienced team that got on a roll and dominated its opponents en route to the championship game. During that game, my thinking changed.

The question that came to my mind over and over as I stood to cheer the Racers: Why do we play? If Murray State can’t win the Big Dance, why are they playing? Why, really, do you play? Why do you coach? 

Over the next few weeks, I’ll share my journey of growth in this area. I’m still a work-in-progress, I’ll admit, but I think I’m getting closer to where I need to be.

For now, just ponder the question. Why do we play? Maybe you’re from the school or program that really does have a chance every year to win it all. Even so, why do you play? Maybe you’re from the school or program that will need a miracle to compete at that level. Why do you play? Maybe you’re the parent or coach of players who are big and talented and can dominate most everyone you play. Why do you play? Maybe your children or players are small and struggle to compete. Why do you play? 

Answering that question gets to the heart of the value of sports. Answering it will be eye-opening, convicting, inspiring, and life-changing. 

Answer the question. Stop avoiding it. Stop the cliches. Look yourself in the mirror and answer the question. Why do we play? Why do you play?