Where has the first week of camp gone? In just a few short days, this group of new campers has come together as a community, building friendships that will last well beyond the summer and growing as Jewish athletes. The amount of compassion, kindness and ruach (spirit) that we’ve seen from campers and staff alike, on and off the field, reminds us each day that #The6 really is home away from home.
Since Tuesday, we’ve jumped into learning about and living our core values. During the first three days of camp we’ve focused on Intention, Growth and Leadership which happen to be a perfect tie-in to this week’s parsha (Torah portion) called “Balak”.
Balak is a king who felt his power threatened when the Israelites camped on land adjacent to his kingdom, and rightfully so. The Israelites had, in sports lingo, spent the off-season rebuilding under new leadership and have a strong record leading into conference play. Balak hires a conjurer named Balaam to curse the Israelites and save his kingdom.
We can think of many instances where coaches and athletes have resorted to unfair, underhanded means of avoiding defeat: think Tonya Harding, Deflate-Gate, and any number of stories about performance-enhancing drugs. These stories are a strong reminder of the destructive nature of “winning at all costs”. Specifically, when we feel the pressure of winning or having a perfect game, to remind us of the reason we started playing in the first place: for the love of the game.
Back to Balaam … not only does the conjurer refuse to curse the Israelites, he actually offers a blessing instead. You might remember the prayer song “mah tovu ohalecha, Ya’akov – how lovely are your tents, Jacob!” and these are the words that Balaam spoke. Instead of speaking the curse which would have earned him lots of money and fame, he chose to see beauty.
So what does this have to do with the love of the game and Jewish sports camp? It all comes back to our values this week: Intention, Growth and Leadership.
Intention is all about how we go about conducting ourselves every day; intentions are the means to an end of achieving a goal. Winning may be your goal but if the way in which you go about it – cheating, not playing fairly, having poor sportsmanship or not giving your all – isn’t with the “love of the game” at the center, you’re missing the point of being an athlete.
So how do we get from wanting to win to actually winning in a way we can be proud of? We have to be open to taking risks and even failure. Growth, and more specifically, a commitment to learning and improving, is how we bring our intentions to life. Losing is simply another opportunity to learn so don’t be afraid of a loss, instead try to be grateful for the opportunity to have played the game you love and try to learn something new for next time.
If we commit to living each day with intention, knowing that we may stumble and fall along the way to achieving our goals, we are already embodying the values of a great leader. Our final value of this week is Leadership and whether you’re the one giving the inspiration speech at half-time or quietly leading by example, YOU have the power to change hearts and minds. That is why it is so important to lead with integrity, giving the best you have, selflessly.
Here at #The6 we are preparing our campers to be the leaders of tomorrow; looking for opportunities to grow and learn, feeling gratitude for each moment they get to spend playing the sport they love and never sacrificing their values to win at any cost.
On this Shabbat, may we notice the blessings in our lives, like Balaam, and may we remember why we started playing in the first place – for the love of the game.