One of the very first lessons any athlete learns is- your best might not be good enough. It is an incredibly humbling lesson. When you have that knowledge, it changes you. But it is also an equally intoxicating lesson.
Because somehow it also keeps driving you to keep returning for more. This is a lesson that binds a Messi to a lowly non-league footballer. They both share the knowledge and experience of their best not being good enough. Yet they will come back the next day for more. Because another lesson every athlete also learns and shares in experience with his fellow athlete is- anything is possible. This is the beauty of sports. This is why they sometimes equate sports to a drug.
In other fields it might be that your hard work is always justly rewarded. That you are the unparalleled genius in your field. Peerless. Or that things follow an established pattern and if you follow that pattern, you will get your reward. Hard work always pays off; doesn’t it? But not always and certainly not in sports.
Other fields too may share this unpredictability. But seldom does any other field throw up fairytales and cruel lessons as rapidly and as regularly as sports does.
Here a tiny little man can run rings around much bigger, faster and stronger men and conquer the world. Here you could lose just one league game all season and still lose the title. Here anything is possible. The only certainty is that there is none. Records will be broken one day. Legends will be eclipsed eventually. Success can be chaotic. Arbitrary.
Success could depend on a slip. One additional run that should never have been awarded in the first place. Rain.
Really, sporting failure and the nature of the said failure could very well read like the most innovatively cruel and fantastical ways drawn up by a sadistic fiction writer.
So there, Sports does change you.
It is the relentless, eternal pursuit of human excellence. When you watch your heroes slip, and your dreams shatter, sports can destroy you.
But then you watch your heroes get back up and go again, it changes you just a little bit.
And when you watch them achieve excellence, finally, stupendously, against all odds, it changes you again- from a doubter to a believer.