In a recent ESPN column titled, Masters 2022: Tiger Woods adds element of joy to his game for his career’s final act, the author Kevin Van Valkenburg, Senior Writer made the statement: “He is — at long last — having fun.” I would argue that Tiger Woods had fun throughout his entire career.
In my research on champion athletes, fun is always present it just manifests differently. I identified 5 stages of fun.
- Participating is fun
- Improving is fun
- Learning is fun
- Competing is fun
- Winning is fun
The participation stage being most critical as that is the stage that keeps the young child and future champion wanting to come back and play. It is the stage that we all remember when playing sports as kids and that makes us smile. During the participation phase it is about doing something that is fun to do. However, as the stages of athletic development move along the outcome becomes fun and the process becomes work.
Every champion athlete experienced that initial joy of playing sport and deep inside every great champion that feeling still exists. However, for the elite/professional athlete playing sport is no longer just about participating. Winning and winning regularly as an outcome is fun, but the process is not often fun. Interval training, missing your kids birthdays are not fun and being on the road 200+ days per year is work. The effort required to become a champion is massive, the physical toll is painful and the impact on what most people consider a normal personal life extremely disruptive.
Walking up the fairway talking and smiling to supportive fans, does not win 15 majors in golf. In the case of Tiger, it is essentially the outcome of his massive success. In a sense, the support he receives is just another victory in the career of one of sports greatest champions. For the record, I would guess that Tiger has had an enormous amount of fun throughout his career.