Do you consider yourself a die-hard sports fan? Cult level? If so, you may want to have a listen to what Gotham Chopra has to say. The renowned reporter and filmmaker argues that sports is a religion, basing his conclusion on interactions with top athletes and fans from around the world. In this podcast, we sit down to discuss the uncanny connection between sports and religion, the good and bad that can come from practicing the faith, and Gotham’s new book, ‘The Religion of Sports‘.
The Sports-Spirituality Connection
Gotham is a real-life example of sports’ religion-like ability to bring people into the fold. As a first-generation American, he struggled to fit in with others in his hometown of Boston. But one thing they all had in common – and could believe in together – was the Celtics and Red Sox. The Patriots and Bruins, too. Local teams served as a shared interest that would help him assimilate into American culture and make friends.
“I think that’s where I got my first taste of what it means to be part of something bigger than yourself. I used to go to Fenway Park and Boston Garden, like, veritable cathedrals, you know, in the religion of sports. That’s when I really fell in love.”
Of course, the connection he’s made between sports and spirituality may be due in part to his upbringing. Gotham Chopra just so happens to be the son of Deepak Chopra, the world-renowned teacher and author in New Age medicine.
His journeys around the world as a filmmaker and storyteller have further informed his insight on life. He’s seen how sports can be a source of inspiration and empowerment, uniting people from all walks of life in a common goal: to win.
Learning from Failure
One of the most challenging aspects of sports – and probably also why they’re so addictive – is the fact that it’s easy to fail. No one gets on top by being lazy. The stakes are always high, and it’s up to players to take the moments they have in front of them and make something great happen.
We’ve seen some spectacular moments over the years that show what’s possible when things go well. What we don’t always remember, though, are the moments of failure. As a player, it’s sometimes hard to take those setbacks and use them as stepping stones forward.
But that’s exactly what great players do. They accept defeat without letting it define them and learn from their mistakes. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, they use their failures to become better versions of themselves.
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In a statement that shows just how close to the world’s best athletes he is, Gotham says “Tom Brady always tells me, it’s not the 7 Super Bowls that I won, it’s the 3 Super Bowls that I lost, from which I learned the most. And that’s a common theme you see with even the greatest.”
Don’t like football? He has another example.
“I’m working with Serena Williams. She went to 34 Grand Slam finals. It’s the 11 that she lost that she thinks about the most, and taught her the most. She always says, if it wasn’t for those 11, I wouldn’t have won the 23.”
Using Mindset as a Competitive Advantage
While laborious hours in the gym and on the field certainly help, there’s something to be said about the role of mindset in athletic success. Pick any of the world’s superstars from any sport off of a list and they’re likely to have at least one thing in common: a strong mind. Some might say a goal is impossible, and it very well may be from an average person’s perspective. Mental strength is key to pushing past the limits we set for ourselves as human beings and achieving things that go down in history.
More star-studded examples?
Serena Williams always thought of herself as the girl from Compton. She never had a place on the court, and it was up to her to prove she deserved one.
Meanwhile, Tom Brady apparently thought of himself as the 199th pick up until the very end. He found ways to reframe his outlook and convince himself that he was the underdog to continue pursuing the unthinkable in the face of massive success.
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Even Steph Curry, who being the son of an NBA player had a head start compared to many of his peers, never got complacent. He was constantly focusing on improving and pushing himself to be better.
The Value of Dedication to Craft
Gotham has used his many interactions with the world’s top-performing athletes to ask the question we all would: “What makes you so good?”
Individual stories differ, but the prevailing theme remains the same – and that’s grit and willpower.
For one, most of these athletes have spent more time honing their skills than anyone else. They trained longer and harder, all while mastering the mental side of it as well.
These same people also made sure to eliminate any distractions while focusing on their craft. They wanted to be the best and worked extremely hard for it.
Serena Williams wouldn’t be able to tell you how many times she woke up in the morning not wanting to go out and hit balls, Gotham says. Yet, she wouldn’t be able to tell you about a single time that she didn’t.
Obsession and Dangers of Greatness
Like any religion, sports has the potential to become a cult. There’s a line to be drawn between passion and obsession, says Chopra, who’s worked directly with world-class stars who have crossed it before. When you commit so seriously to something and make goals your entire life, it’s easy to become consumed by it.
Though the rewards can be great, there’s always another side of the coin. Gotham says he sees athletes struggle with balance a lot. Their ability to juggle greatness and fame alongside the parts of life that don’t directly relate to sports can define both on and off-field performance.
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To that end, he emphasizes the importance of mindset once again. If you can find a way to make your craft an expression of who you are, and not the definition of who you are, then balance is much easier.
The lessons we learn through sports—working hard to improve, being competitive, sacrificing personal gain for the good of the team—are universal values that help individuals thrive no matter where they are. I highly recommend giving Gotham Chopra’s new book a read for more insights into this fascinating topic.