As I was watching my daughters play soccer this weekend I started thinking about the spirit of competition and how organized sports help mold individuals into lifelong leaders. Of course it’s easy to get bogged down in the ins and outs of the sport and to forget about the way that sports give people many outstanding attributes that they might not otherwise possess. I am happy that my girls play a competitive sport, and I started listing in my head the positive lessons I’ve noticed my girls learning. This also made me think about my sport of running and the positive changes I’ve made in my own life through my involvement in my sport. So, what do sports teach us about life?
1. How to win and how to lose.
Obviously, one of the first things learned is how to lose and how to win. A competitor should be graceful when he loses as well as when he wins. When we lose it’s easy to become upset, and honestly, a bit of upset after a loss is a good thing. For, the goal is to come out on top; to perform well; to enjoy a victory. Often times; however, despite our best efforts, we lose. In these moments it is important to remember the bigger picture. To remember that a loss should not deter us from continuing to work hard for what we want. It is important during losses to continue to honor the spirit of competition; to respect your opponent and to allow them to make you better. Conversely, sports teach us to win gracefully. Nobody likes a gloat. The truth is, as trite as it sounds, we win some, and we lose some. It’s certainly more fun to win, but we must always remember that we cannot win every time. Besides, if we did win every time, would the victories be as sweet? I think not. Emily Dickinson in the poem “Success is Counted Sweetest,” asserts that “to comprehend a nectar, requires sorest need.” In other words, to truly appreciate victory, we must experience defeat.
2. How to handle criticism.
Perhaps one of the most beneficial things one learns from playing sports is how to handle criticism. This is something that I, to this day, struggle with. It is important to realize that it is not humanly possible to achieve perfection. We all have things we need to work on. If a person criticizes the way we do something, it does not mean that we are not good. It simply means that someone has made an observation about the way we do something and offered their opinion regarding it. That’s really all it is. An opinion. It may or may not be relevant to us, but people are entitled to their opinions. In a sports situation, if a coach offers an opinion regarding the quality with which we are performing, the opinion is relevant to us. It is not as if we are perfect; we have coaches nearby observing things about the way we perform that we might otherwise never have realized. If a coach takes the time to articulate an observation he has regarding our performance, we should take that as a compliment. If the coach didn’t think we had it in us to improve, he wouldn’t waste his time on us. In sports, it’s important to take criticism in stride and to avoid getting our feelings hurt and getting emotional when someone offers us criticism. Additionally, handling criticism from coaches ensures that we won’t let mistakes define us; instead we will learn from them.
3. How to persevere.
Playing sports teaches us how to work hard, deal with discomfort, overcome obstacles, learn from struggle, push our body’s limits, get back up after falling, and to never give up. In short, sports teach us to persevere. These qualities are obviously necessary in athletics, and they certainly spill over and apply to the rest of our lives. In any given situation, resilience and determination are great contributors to success. When we fight through hard times and push past discomfort, we get to the good stuff. All great things worth having in life take effort and don’t come easy. The good things are worth fighting for and require perseverance, right? Sports teach us to develop that part of the brain that is in charge of perseverance, and the sooner we learn to fight for what we want, the more successful we become.
4. How to share, work together, and celebrate others.
Playing sports also teaches us how to share, work together, and celebrate others. One cannot hog all of the limelight and never share. There is enough room for all of us to shine, and instead of trying to prevent others from shining, we should cheer others on and motivate them. By cheering on teammates we are building them up and celebrating them. The simple fact is that one person cannot do everything. When we share and work together we achieve so much more than when we attempt to do everything on our own. In order to share the limelight and work well with others, we must be willing to ask for help and receive it, and we must trust others. The ability to share, work well with others, ask for help, trust others, and cheer others on are all integral attributes of leaders. They are also attributes of great community members. Truthfully, they are simply good attributes of human beings.
5. How to set goals and have a positive attitude.
Playing sports teaches us to set goals, and this builds confidence and a positive attitude. Achieving an athletic goal we’ve set for ourselves requires us to believe in ourselves, and each time we succeed, we become more confident. Naturally, we will fall short of our goals at times, but we learn to take those losses in stride, soldier on, keep a positive attitude, and keep fighting. Setbacks will happen, but good athletes do not let those setbacks destroy them. A good athlete takes every experience, good or bad, and learns from it. It is truly the way that we respond to setbacks that dictates our future success. A positive attitude, even when we are struggling, will keep us working toward our goals.
6. How to make sacrifices.
Sports teach us how to make sacrifices. In order to pursue our passions, we must prioritize our lives and carve out time to dedicate to them. This might mean that we sacrifice idle time in order to squeeze everything in, and making sacrifices requires self-discipline. As an adult, how many times have you had to sacrifice sleep to squeeze all of your responsibilities in? How many times have you had to turn in early in order to be prepared for the following day? Playing sports forces us to get accustomed to making tough decisions regarding our schedules and our priorities if we want to accomplish our goals. Isn’t that the nature of being a successful adult? If we lazily retreat from responsibilities will we achieve all of the things that we aspire to? Most definitely not.
7. How to show respect.
Sports teaches athletes to respect authority, not because they fear authority, but because they realize that their coaches want what is best for them. Showing respect is not limited just to coaches, either. A well-rounded athlete respects their teammates, opponents, officials, and themselves. Let’s face it, there comes a time in every athlete’s life where he doesn’t agree with a decision a coach, official, or teammate makes. It’s bound to happen. A respectful athlete, even when he is displeased, will show courtesy amidst frustration. Clearly, this spills over into the athlete’s off-field life as well. There will be a time when the athlete will face a spouse, boss, coworker, etc. with whom he disagrees. In sports, athletes are placed in this position with regularity, and hopefully they learn to maintain their composure and remember their manners.
8. How to hold yourself accountable, keep on learning, and take care of yourself.
Athletes are privy to team practices, strength training, and a wealth of professional coaching knowledge, but it is up to the athlete to apply all of the knowledge they gain through these experiences. A successful athlete puts in extra work on their own time. He practices on his own because he wants to improve and he does not want to lose any momentum he has gained through his practice sessions. When athletes put in extra work they are learning to hold themselves accountable. They are learning that if they want something bad enough, they must work for it, even when no one is watching them. Every single time an athlete takes a coach’s instruction to heart he is learning and becoming better. He is conditioning his mind and body and developing himself immeasurably.
9. How to see the bigger picture.
Athletes know that there’s more to life than just the game. They know that family, friends, faith, and education are what holds the true meaning to life. Athletes; however, have an intense passion for their sport. Engaging in their sport brings them great happiness, purpose, confidence, and health. The sport certainly enriches their lives, but it should not be the be all and end all of their worlds. It is important for athletes to be completely engaged in their activity and to take the necessary steps in their lives to accomplish their goals, but they must remember that there is more to life than the sport. Involvement in sports enhances our lives, but it shouldn’t run our lives.
I am intensely proud that my daughters are involved in a competitive team sport. I truly feel that they are learning lifelong lessons out there on the soccer field. They are confident and poised and they don’t allow themselves to give up. I know that their involvement with their soccer club has been a huge contributor of the fine women they are becoming.