Lessons Learned Through Sports

I grew up playing sports.  My three brothers and I were always on the go.  Whether it was playing whiffle ball in the backyard or tackle football in the nearby field, we were always playing something.  We spent very little time in the house.  Our neighborhood was our playground.

I played baseball, lacrosse, football, basketball, soccer, and wrestled.  I wasn’t an athlete.  I liked to wear a uniform.  Seriously, I was lured to sports by the smell of a fresh new uniform, hat, or helmet.  We grew up in a humble home.  We had what we needed, but we were never spoiled.  Sports allowed us to be anything we wanted to be.  They were an escape to a great adventure.

As adult, when I look back on those years, I realize I learned more about leadership through sports than I ever have from a training or professional development experience.  The lessons I learned from playing sports have stayed with me through every step of my career.  They are simple lessons, yet they have provided me with a stable base in the most challenging times.

Here are a few of those lessons:

1-Preparation is important

To be successful in sports and in life, you have to be prepared.  Being prepared means you study.  You study your craft.  You read.  You consider yourself a lifelong learner.  Every destination is the starting point to the next journey.  People who think they’ve arrived get lazy and complacent.  Celebrate success, then make your next plan.

2-You have to be willing to work hard

I grew up in an era when people said, “Hard work is its own reward.”  There is great value in sweating and extending yourself beyond your comfort level.  In some ways, the results don’t always matter if you are willing to work hard.  Success happens through fixing mistakes.  Putting your head down and giving that extra effort often leads to good results.

3-Teamwork is key

It is rare for anyone to succeed without the support of others.  Teamwork isn’t always pretty.  Teammates can disagree, argue, and push your buttons.  Being on a team isn’t always a comfortable experience.  That’s a good thing.  Few great accomplishments ever come from completely harmonious efforts.  As long as everyone has the same goal and vision, the team will eventually function at a high level.

4-Your attitude matters

If you don’t find joy in your professional pursuits, consider finding another field.  Your attitude matters.  Nothing inspires others more than working with someone who has a true passion for their profession.  Are you going to have a great attitude every day? No, of course not.  Recognize those moments and do your best to protect others from your mood or find a good listener and share your worries.

5-You won’t always win

I teach chess to elementary students.  The first conversation we have before touching a piece is about winning and losing.  Everyone eventually fails at something.  Failure is a given.  It’s all about how you respond.  Resilience is becoming a scarce personal commodity.  Spend a little time mourning your loss, then make a plan to get better.

6-You learn more from losing

Winning is awesome, but we rarely learn much from it.  Winning teams are constantly examining their success.  They evaluate their individual players and make adjustments as necessary.  However, when they lose, they use the opportunity to get better.  They don’t wallow in self-pity.  They find the teachable moments from losing.

7-Continually set goals and revise

In sports and in life, we must be willing to set goals.  Say them out loud.  Tell them to other people.  Write them down.  We all have the power to reinvent ourselves.  Whether you reach a goal or not, set a new one.  When you stop setting goals, you are making a conscious decision to withdraw from the game.  That’s no fun.  Life should be fun.  Set goals that will stretch you as a person.  Those are the goals that will give you the most personal satisfaction when you reach them.

I am grateful for the opportunities my parents gave me growing up.  They gave me the support and encouragement I needed to try a variety of sports.  With four sons born close together, they spent hours driving us to practice, coaching, and cheering us on.  Sports are not life, but they certainly make life more enjoyable.  Most importantly, they teach us lessons that can’t be learned any other way.

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