Life Lessons Taught Through Sport

greater purpose
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Sport provides a crash course on life. I can’t count how many times I’ve thought “this is going to benefit me down the road”. Many employers agree and are often looking to hire athletes. Below is an incomplete list of the ways sports prepare us for the future.

1. Learning To Deal With Success/Failure

In my opinion, this is one of the toughest lessons. You cannot escape sport without experiencing some sort of success and certainly some failure. This is how life goes too!

When we accomplish a task in our sport, we must deal with it appropriately. Some people may not think it’s a skill to be able to deal with success, but it is. Why? If you gloat forever, you will not be able to focus on progressing to the next level. Reversely, if you refuse to appreciate success, you will not reap the physiological benefits of this joy!

The appropriate response to success is to acknowledge the accomplishment and celebrate it with a grateful heart. After a celebration period, it’s time to debrief and move forward.

In addition to managing our reactions, success forces us to deal with pressure. With success comes greater expectations. We face this repeatedly in sport, and we will face it in our future careers too.

Handling failure, on the hand, is a more recognized skill. In sports, we learn that failure is a stepping stone. It always teaches us a lesson that can propel us forward in the future. Fortunately, we get to practice this skill frequently in the sports arena, and we get to practice it at different levels of intensity.

For example, you may mess up 15 times in a single game. It could be a missed shot or stepping in too early on defense. You need an in-the-moment mechanism to regroup and keep your head in the game. Failure may also look much more significant, such as losing the World Cup Championship game. It’s crushing, but eventually, you overcome and move forward.

People who have never played sports may not have had the same opportunities to develop coping skills. They may not process emotions as efficiently. Debriefing may be a unique concept to them. On the other hand, an athlete knows that failure isn’t the end of the world because they have had multiple opportunities to overcome.

2. Commitment

Commitment in athletics means following through. When you commit to a goal or a team, you are pledging loyalty through the ups and downs. When adversity hits, you don’t run away.

Especially in this millennial generation, commitment in the workforce is weak. Many CEO’s have complained about high turn-over because our generation fails to persist through unpleasant times. When things get tough, we tend to quit and find a new, seemingly more glorious job.

Not athletes. When we are in a rut, we don’t change sports. We figure out a way to get out of the rut, no matter how long it takes. If adversity hits, we don’t abandon our goals and quit on the season. Injury presents challenges, but it doesn’t vaporize our goals. Even when the task seems impossible, we give a full effort to get as close as we can.

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However, athletes understand that commitment and stupidity are very different things. When a situation is harmful or plain wrong, athlete’s aren’t afraid to make a change, modify a goal, or take a new path. Persistence is essential, but adaptability is an essential component of commitment too.

3. Hard Work/Effort

This may seem cliché, but it is true. I’d argue that very few people learn hard work as an athlete does. An athlete must cross every “T” and dot every “i” to get the most out of themselves. Often they are asked to push themselves beyond their capabilities. This is how adaptation occurs. We push our bodies, and then we rest and allow recovery.

An athlete who cuts corners will not have the same game-time confidence as one who knows they’ve taken the necessary steps. They know when they’ve cheated themselves and the regret is a painful motivator for the future. An athlete’s work is continuously tested via competition, so any slacking is on display for all to see.

Can your non-athlete friends say the same? Are they able to get away with half-efforts once in a while? For you, the athlete, hard work becomes a habit. It’s a part of who you are. You can carry it into all other realms of your life.

4. Greater Purpose

Athletes will eventually develop a sense of greater purpose. You may begin a sport or goal with very individualistic goals, but to persist through years of trials, you must be working towards something bigger than yourself.

At some points in my career, this meant competing for my team. At other times, this meant competing with a greater spiritual purpose.

No matter what the greater purpose is, it must answer the question “why do I do this?”. For me, the track is a battlefield of good versus evil. Will I believe that God has given me a courageous spirit or will I fall prey to doubt? Will I take the time to show love to my teammates and competitors or will I be self-focused all day long? The track is a platform.

When the time comes, my platform will transform. Whether it has anything to do with sports or not, my greater purpose will remain. Sport forces us to look inside and identify the greater purpose. This stays with us for a lifetime.

5. Trust others and trust Self

Trust. It’s so difficult to develop. I’ve struggled with this one even after years and years of sports. Athletics force us to rely on other people. Quite simply, we can’t manage it all alone.

I need a coach to write my training because I know I don’t have the discipline to stop at the appropriate number of repetitions. I’ve to trust that my coach is working to put together the best plan for me. I need a trainer to tell me how to manage aches and pains. I’ll try and run through anything (not good), so I need to trust in their return-to-play protocol.

I’ve needed to trust in sports psychologists, doctors, nutritionists, teammates, and more. At some points, I’ve done better than others. It’s no faulty correlation to suggest that I competed better when I trusted the support group around me.

Most importantly, I’ve learned that I need to trust myself. In the times that I’ve felt underprepared, I’ve needed to trust in my body’s innate abilities. When a goal seemed too lofty, I’ve needed to trust that it was possible for me. During times of fatigue, I’ve needed to trust that I could manage one more rep.

Whatever you do after sports, you will need to trust somebody. It may be a boss, family member, friend, doctor, minister, or spouse. You can’t do life alone. You certainly don’t want to do life without developing trust in yourself. Let sports be your guide!

6. Perform Under Pressure

In this day and age, sports hide no secrets. Thanks to the internet, your results are available for anyone to see. This is huge pressure. Professional sports is part of the entertainment industry. Money comes from viewers. There is a pretty good chance that your future career will not require the same type of spotlight.

If you can manage the pressure in athletics, you’re golden for the rest of your life. Athletes need to be able to focus on the task at hand rather than on the eyes all around them. How do they do this?

Some athletes during some stages of their career thrive off of the energy in the stadium. The pressure ignites a fire. Other athletes learn to stay very focused on a few key cues to help control their emotions. All of them must develop perspective and realize that the preparation throughout the process is the difference-maker.

7. Accountability

Especially in team sports, other people are counting on you to show up prepared. Even in an individual sport, your support system is counting on you. In both situations, you are accountable to yourself. If you didn’t do the work, you would not perform to your full ability.

Here are some examples. Being on time for practice is accountability. Executing the technical changes that your coach suggests is accountability. Eating and sleeping appropriately is accountability. Bringing your uniform is accountability.

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Our parents preach it over and over. “Be responsible.” If you are going to succeed in sport, you need to take responsibility for your actions. This skill overflows into life. Your boss wants an accountable employee as much as your coach wants and accountable athlete.

8. Overcome Obstacles

Sometimes we make mistakes. Other times, things outside of our control create hurdles. Either way, athletes are professional problem-solvers.

For example, if it starts to rain in the middle of a high jump competition, you’re probably not going to fold and go home. Maybe you choose to wear different spikes or adjust your plan-of-action. In fact, you may even trick yourself into thinking “I do better when it rains.” The point is, every athlete has had to figure out ways to perform in spite of some adversity.

Even oversized obstacles don’t stop an athlete from carrying on. They may catch us off guard and throw off our original plan, but again, athletes adapt. They know how to use their network to find solutions. Fighting for a goal is in our blood.

Outside of athletics, the obstacles of life seem less overwhelming. Lost a job? An athlete finds a way! They’ll probably use their network. They may budget differently and take up a temporary income-opportunity. An obstacle may be painful, but an athlete knows they can’t just sit around and mope about it. They find a way to make a way.

9. Relationship Building

Similar to my point on trust, athletes are forced into relationships. It’s the essence of sport. You can’t do it alone. Relationships are a part of life, and sport gives us an opportunity to develop deep relationships with people who share a similar goal.

Sports unite us across nations, cities, and cultures. In my years of athletics, I’ve learned to work with many personalities. To grow, we need to surround ourselves with people who think differently than us. Sports pull many different people into the same arena.

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This has huge cultural benefits for us too. We are living in a world full of hate. There is hatred for people of different religions, colors, genders, etc. Sports help to fix this. Teammates depend on each other.

On a healthy team, these differences should not account for anything other than beneficial varieties of thought and experience. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if my sport hadn’t introduced me to best friends from other nations and cultures.

When athletes enter the workforce, they are not afraid to establish a relationship with someone different from them. What a beautiful way to restore peace in this country. Trust. Dependence. Love. Equality.

In Summary

I’m not saying life is easy compared to sport, but you certainly will be more prepared for it thanks to your time in athletics. We learn a lot and develop many beneficial characteristics through participation in sports.

To become a better athlete, you are forced to address your weaknesses. This will leave us well-rounded for the future. Additionally, you learn to embrace your strengths, which adds value to any future employer. Get the most out of your sport by appreciating it for its long-term character development

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