I don’t want to suggest that playing sports is necessary to prepare you for, or succeed in, life. But if you’re willing to absorb and learn from the life-lessons that participating in sports teaches us, you will realize that there are a lot of parallels between what you do — and learn — on the court or field, and what you do at home, school, work… and life.
Competition is a given in sports. Athletes compete against other athletes, teams, and the clock. You will be competing for the rest of your life, internally (with yourself) or externally (with others)… get used to it. The competition may involve your grades, class rank, a position (or starting spot) on the team, a scholarship, a job interview, a promotion, or even a diet. Developing a healthy attitude and perspective toward competition can make life’s challenges less overwhelming.
Even most individual sports, such as tennis, golf, and gymnastics, exist as teams. Learning to function and succeed as part of a group is vital (unless you plan to spend your life in a cave, by yourself, in some remote part of the world). Communication, collaboration, and delegation are skills that teachers, coaches, and employers value. You don’t have to give up your identity or talents to work effectively as part of a group, but you may need to learn to compromise.
Winning With Grace
Sometimes you will win. There’s nothing worse than seeing someone gloat after winning. Humility demonstrates both class and respect for your competition. My Dad used to tell me to act as if I had won before, and expected to win again (Fred was not big on victory celebrations; definitely a life lesson I passed along to my own children).
Losing With Dignity
Sometimes you will lose. A sore loser is no better than an arrogant winner. Sure, losing hurts, but nobody wants to see you pout or sulk, or hear you complain or make excuses. Learn from, and be willing to use, past failures as stepping-stones to future successes.
Dealing With/Overcoming Adversity
In sports, as in life, there are times when you will have to “play from behind.” It’s great when things go smoothly, but it’s not realistic to expect that things won’t sometimes take a turn for the worse. Maybe you’ll have to deal with an injury. Or maybe, for whatever reason, your team will have to play at less than full strength. In those situations, you’ll need to learn to adapt if you want to succeed. It’s imperative to keep working hard and maintain a positive attitude.
Challenges and Obstacles
Hard-throwing pitchers; strong, speedy running backs; basketball players that jump out of the gym. When they’re on your team, it’s fun. When they’re not, you and your teammates may have your work cut out for you. In life, you will undoubtedly encounter obstacles, every day. Sometimes, they will be minor nuisances, like bad weather or household appliance that need repair. Other times (hopefully they will be few and far between), the magnitude of these challenges — for example, dealing with a family member’s serious illness — will test your resolve.
Value Of Practice/Preparation
If you want to be good at — succeed at — anything, you need to work at it. No basketball player becomes a good ball-handler or free throw shooter without a lot of practice. Same rules apply for life — school, work, parenthood, etc. The more you dedicate yourself to practice and preparation, the better your odds of success.
Failure and rejection are part of life. We all learn this at a relatively young age. In sports, you will not win every time. To borrow a card-playing analogy, you can’t allow yourself to fold every time you’re dealt a hand you don’t like. Certainly there will be times to “cut your losses,” but character is built by dealing with less-than-ideal situations to the best of your ability, and making them as positive as they can be.
In sports, your responsibilities may include your studies (academic eligibility); practice and game schedule punctuality; uniform maintenance; game film study; and demonstrating leadership (team captain). In life, responsibilities become magnified — mortgage payments, bills, and parenthood. The sooner you learn to hold yourself accountable, and avoid making excuses and blaming others, the better-off you’ll be.
Respect For Others
You don’t necessarily have to like or agree with your competition (or maybe even your own coach or teammate). Develop a healthy respect for others. Respect your competition, but don’t fear them. Respect your friends, teammates, and co-workers, but don’t worship them. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but don’t judge anyone. You don’t deal with others’ issues, and they don’t deal with yours. Be patient and tolerant. Learn to live and let live. Coexist.
Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!