Jungian Psychology and Sports

It has always been intriguing to me that there is not much in the Jungian literature relating Jungian psychology and sports.  This is interesting because dreams fairly commonly use the theme and images of sports for important symbolic messages about our lives.  I have seen sports-related dreams regularly in both men and women. In fact, these dreams appear even with people who do not play sports.   It seems that the psyche expects us to be involved deeply in life with all of the emotion, thrill, and risk that we can find in sports. Sports serve as a perfect symbol to bring this to our attention.   And like the old televised ABC Wide World of Sports introduction used to say, “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” is one that resonates as true when we are engaged in a life that entails both risk and depth.

We know that the Self wants us involved deeply in life.  Dreams not infrequently use sports       metaphors as drawing us into the “game of life.”  For example, a 27 year old man who was a runner, and who recently lost a cousin whom he was close to dreamed:

I was running around a track with my cousin, and there was a cornfield in the middle of this track.  I was thinking of going there.

This man had been feeling stuck, and lost in his life.  This dream was suggesting that he needed to enter the cornfield to feel more engaged with life.  Plants often symbolize growth potential in dreams,  so by entering the cornfield, he was leaving behind the old, dead part of himself, and turning toward something new, and potentially growth producing.

In another dream, a female college student dreamt: 

I was playing volleyball for the college.  I was surprised that I was playing.  I was actually one of the better players, even though I hadn’t played much.

In her outer world, this woman had lost confidence in her life.  She had low self-esteem. The above dream suggested that she needed to re-enter the “game of life,” and in fact, the dream was even suggesting that she was one of the better players.  Working with this dream allowed her to be more present in her life and her self-esteem improved.

In addition to having sports dreams as metaphors for life, sometimes you can actually engage in sports to work through certain emotions and to grow as a person.  In other words, sports can serve as symbols that the psyche provides to help us in managing our emotional lives better.  At a phase in my life when I was going through a time in which I had a lot of anger, I was frequently thinking about the game of hockey.   My psyche gave me images of hockey, I believe, as a way to work with this anger in a constructive fashion.  In fact, I even wrote a poem about it then:

Hockey. Puck. Stick. Ice.  
So solid.  So simple.
Crash. Boom. Bang.

Blood. Sweat. Tears.
The gaping wound drips red, crimson blood on the ice.
Crash. Boom. Bang.

Grace. Skill. Ballet.
On the ice.
C
rash. Boom. Bang.

Soon after writing this poem, I took up playing hockey again after many years of not playing. I found that I was able to express my anger while playing hockey, and over time, the anger diminished, and just as importantly, I found much joy and satisfaction in resuming playing this game, and in the camaraderie that often comes with team sports. 

If you find yourself thinking, watching, or dreaming about sports more frequently than is normal for you, there may be something deeper going on.  Pay attention to this.  This could be your deeper Self wanting you to be more deeply engaged with your own “game of life.”

© 2011 – 2012, Dr. Jeff Howlin. All rights reserved.

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