The ancients did not, in general, go in for team sports. When we were home schooling, we kept this in thought. Our sports were two: running road races (the proverbial 5K) and riding horseback. Both these sports allowed our kids to challenge themselves, enjoy the competition experience, track their progress and measure themselves against others. Both these sports, as it happens, were also “classical sports.”
Going back to Greece and Rome, and the original Olympics, we see track and field, running races, chariot racing, and boxing and wrestling, and that’s about it. Soccer goes back only to medieval times in Europe. Football is only a little over 100 years old.
I recently enrolled my 17-year-old daughter in riding lessons again and when she asked why, I said, “because horseback riding is a spiritual experience. You will see.” Long an aspiring artist, she had been experiencing “artist’s block,” and hadn’t been drawing for months, or a year. She came home from riding lessons and resumed work on her drawings, produced some unusually good work, and got accepted into the studio of a working artist. Coincidence? I don’t think so. It’s like I said, riding is spiritual.
For myself, cantering along in a circle, turning the horse in the other direction and making a lead change, there’s a moment of transcendence, when the horse and I seem to be of one mind. When you sit on the back of a horse, you have a different perspective. I like to think of the ancients when I ride, soldiers going to battle, or travelers, going from town to town, or noblemen like Nestor’s sons and Telemachus in the Odyssey, driving their chariots. I feel connected to them, footfall after footfall, my horse is the descendant of their horses, and I am the descendant of the ancients as well.
I come home and I feel better, and the effect lasts for two to three days. Work doesn’t seem so difficult, I am not tempted to say with joking exasperation, “there’s nothing on the internet!”* As the song says, “I can see clearly now.”
Runners talk about the “runner’s high” and I there’s something spiritual about running as well. I know team sports are The Thing in America. But for some of us, the classical sports of the solitary athlete continue to hold sway.
So, think about yourself and your sports activities. Do you run, swim, walk, do yoga (I do that, too) or play softball? Isn’t it true, that you become a better version of yourself through sports? The ancients believed that you did. And so do I.
*This really means, “I checked my twitter feed and none of my friends are there on right now.”