For many years, sports was all I really knew. I spent the bulk of my time playing them, and even more of my time consumed with thoughts about them. My friends were my teammates and my teammates were my friends. Once in awhile I even had family as teammates or coaches.
Looking back on those years I sometimes used to wonder what my life would have been like without them. There were many disappointments along the way and several losses that truly upset me. Today, although still somewhat involved in two of the sports, I no longer play extremely competitively.
I see so many individuals around me who played on their varsity team or took their sport to a higher level in some form. I, on the other hand, did not. I spent so much time trying to play every sport that I never really excelled above and beyond in one. For that, I will always remain a somewhat unaccomplished athlete.
Still, I sit here, contemplating what years of dedication got me. I know that despite the ache inside me from the void that sports has now left, I would never change those years. Sports, and being part of a team, taught me lessons that I have carried with me in every area of my life.
Here are a few:
How/When To Lead: Being able to take charge of a situation is an invaluable trait. It allows you to excel in your education and your workplace. It also helps those around you to stay on task and focused no matter what you’re trying to accomplish. Nothing new ever came from someone who follows.
How/When To Listen: Knowing how to be a leader also means knowing when to seek advice, help, or simply knowing when to listen. Listening is how we learn and practice empathy. It is how we connect to the world around us and find our place within it.
How To Take Criticism: When you’re part of a team you come to understand that when you make a mistake it affects other people as well. It becomes important to learn to take constructive criticism in order to correct your mistakes. The older I get, the more I realize just how crucial this lesson was. Our mistakes in real life very rarely only affect us, and it’s important to be willing to listen and work on them.
How To Lose: Winning is easy, and I’m almost positive that winning behavior comes quite naturally to most of us. Losing is the hard part, it chips away at your self-esteem without you even realizing it. Being able to lose and lose gracefully, is an admirable trait. It shows that you understand that winning isn’t everything and that we can’t all win all the time. That lesson proves to be beyond true in life generally as well.
Confidence: Sports teach you confidence. The more you know and understand both your strengths and your weaknesses, the more confident you become.
Team Work: The most obvious of all of these factors, is teamwork. Growing up while being a part of various teams allowed me to understand what it means to be a part of larger group and cause. You learn to deal with personalities of all kinds, to trust one another, and what it means to create a family of your own choosing. Maybe not everyone is your best friend, but somehow you all fit together. Knowing how to work well with others has saved me many battles already.
For the majority of us, sports will fade as we age. The real world hits and it’s a brutal awakening. Years of commitment turn into nothing but bittersweet memories and a void that will never quite seem filled again. However, what I have come to realize is that sports gave me many gifts. These gifts will not fade as I age but will strengthen and become even more meaningful as time passes by. In the end, those years of commitment have given me more than I will ever realize or appreciate.