Like much of the nation, I have spent hours glued to my TV the last couple of weeks, watching the blowouts, upsets and last-second shots that are part of the annual men's and women's college basketball tournaments.
The fun and spectacle of these tournaments make this one of my favorite times of year. Even when my chosen team loses in the first round, I can always find another school to support.
But this year, the college tournaments haven't been my favorite March basketball.
Rather, I've been much more interested in the games played in my area that involve teams made up of members of local congregations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"Church ball" has a bad reputation with many LDS people, and it does sometimes get a bit rougher than you'd expect, especially for a sporting event that's played in a church building.
But I love it!
I had the good fortune to play on this year's team with five or six other men, guys ranging in age from their 20s to 50s, from my local congregation. It was a blast. We won enough during the "regular season" to qualify for the regional tournament. Once there, we won our first two games — both of them nail-biting, one-point victories worthy of the month's proverbial madness — before losing in the semifinals on Saturday.
It was a tough loss to take, as we were just a game away from playing for the regional championship. But as I looked back on the experience after the defeat, I couldn't keep the smile off of my face.
That seemed strange to me at first. After all, we had just lost ... and it was a rather convincing defeat. I should have been upset.
I did engage in some post-game analysis with the other guys on the team, talking about what we could have done differently or commenting on the fact that our shots weren't falling that day. But we quickly moved on to discussing plans for getting together during the "off-season" for pick-up games in our own church building.
And that's when I realized why I was happy, easily summed up in one word: brotherhood.
When I write about work-life balance, I naturally talk about experiences with coworkers at the office and with my family at home. That's completely appropriate, as my family and my job are two of my top priorities in life.
But this year's basketball experience has confirmed for me that spending some time with "the guys" is also important to the balanced life I'm trying to build.
That probably sounds obvious. I think most men and women like to get away from their daily duties now and then to spend time bonding with their friends.
This desire can lead to work-life balance problems if a man or woman spends too much time with friends instead of building family relationships. Such is always the case when we're trying to pack many activities and experiences into a limited amount of time.
Taken in moderation, though, I think these brief times away are important to keeping moms and dads, husbands and wives on the right track in all of their relationships.
For example, I've written before about my Friday lunches with old Deseret News buddies. I still look forward to these weekly excursions, and when they don't occur due to scheduling conflicts, I tend to be even grumpier than usual. There's something about hanging out with the guys over lunch every week that puts me in a good mood.
It may sound strange, but I get a similar positive vibe from singing in my church choir. While both men and women participate in the choir, there is a clear camaraderie among the men in the group, as we struggle through sections of songs and joke about our inability to hit some of the notes. When we pull everything together and perform during a Sunday meeting, I get that great feeling of accomplishing something cool with a group of friends.
I've noticed the same thing with my wife. She often makes time to get away with friends or female family members, and I know she appreciates those opportunities. For example, she recently attended an event with her mother, her sister, her sister's three oldest daughters and our three daughters. I can only imagine the non-stop chatter and laughter that was part of that night out, and I know the four women of the Kratz household were all in a great mood when they returned home.
The Kratz men were in a pretty good mood, too, as my 8-year-old son and I used their absence to go to the auto parts store, make a McDonald's run and watch a couple of episodes of the new "Cosmos" series on TV. It was a different kind of male bonding, but it was definitely a great evening.
So what's the lesson in all of this? Yes, we're all busy with work, and the 24/7 nature of our connection to our jobs makes it hard to get away. And yes, our families should be our top priorities and the main focus of our efforts to build better work-life balance.
But we shouldn't discount the benefits of the occasional night out with the guys or gals when it comes to keeping us on an even keel. We all benefit from the feeling of brotherhood or sisterhood that comes from such activities.
What do you think? Do you have some regular activities you do with groups of friends? How have they helped or harmed your efforts to build a balanced life?
Send me an email or leave a comment with your ideas, and I'll use some of your responses if I revisit this issue in a future column.