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Everything I Needed to Know I Learned Playing Sports

Sports teach us teamwork, practice, confidence and how to fail.

I’m sitting here on my couch. I can feel myself start to become one with the cushion. Millions of others are joining me right now as I’m glued to the television watching March Madness!

It’s one of the most wonderful times of the year. I love the action and drama, the comebacks and the Cinderellas, and I especially love the brackets and contests.

I’ve never fully understood why we don’t have a national holiday to celebrate this blessed time of year. Maybe one of our mayoral candidates can add that to their platform.

But one of my most favorite aspects of March Madness is the memories. Filling out our brackets and then arguing the merits of those picks were a cherished time in my family! We would then meticulously watch and keep track of our bracket points and then ...

Oh that sweet moment when the champion was declared on the court and then in our home. Either you would be exalted as the King of the Tourney or declared the loser only to be taunted for an entire year. There was no second place, only first loser! This wasn’t by my parents design--my brother and I are just
super competitive.

We did this with other things as well, but my all-time favorite was picking the weekly winners during the NFL season. Every Saturday night or Sunday morning we would get the paper and all of us guys would go through and pick the winners of each game.

We would keep track all the way through the Super Bowl and total up all the wins and losses to see who would be crowned NFL Supreme Awesome Winner Picker! We had a crown and everything (Ok, not really. But can you imagine how cool that would have been?)

We grew up playing sports and being a part of different activities. I played baseball until my freshman year of high school. I then focused on basketball, track and band. I loved every minute of it all. And I encourage our kids to participate in these things as well.

Looking back on my experiences with sports I realize that I benefited greatly for them and from the men and women who took the time to pour into my life. Here are just a few of the life lessons imparted to me through competition.

It’s the little things that matter

They say that practice makes perfect. I can tell you that wasn’t the case for me. I was never perfect in any sport or activity I did. I was athletic enough to be there, but the only way I made several teams was because of my practice habits. I played every possession, every at bat, every sprint like it was my last.

My dad drilled that into me early on. During little league practices we would drill the fundamentals over and over and over. Never did I catch a pop up without two hands, I never fielded a grounder without proper form and I never swung outside the strike zone.

And because he taught me that the small things mattered, it carried over into high school sports, band and then into my adult life. Success doesn’t happen overnight. It often takes years of practice, of going over the fundamentals over and over and over again. And when the time comes for your child to step up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, they can do so knowing they gave their all behind the scenes.

It gave me confidence

The confidence from sports and other things like marching band (any other band geeks out there?) didn’t come from winning. It came from all the hard work, all the sweat, all the blood, and many times all the tears from striving for excellence during those long practices.

I remember one particular time my senior year during marching band. We had lost a lot of amazing musicians the year before and we were really struggling to find our rhythm as a group. I can remember a “Come to Jesus” meeting that night with many of the students on the field. It was there during the long hours of a Thursday night practice that we came together as a group to strive for perfection.

We never really did reach it, but that wasn’t the point! We gave everything we had on the field of competition and regardless of what the judges or score said, we knew in our collective hearts that we gave everything we had. And more often than not we placed. Not because of natural talent, but because we outworked those we came up against.

That gave me confidence throughout my life. I began to see firsthand that the outcome isn’t necessarily what’s important. It was how we got to the outcome. It was the journey there that was the confidence builder.

Many of my fellow band geeks are now successful men and women in this community and around the world. All of that started during times like that Thursday night practice and was cemented in our minds with each victory and celebration.

It taught me teamwork

In sports, like life, I had to learn how to work in a team. I could have been the best _____, whatever it was, but it wouldn’t matter if we didn’t play as a team. We might win some games or contests but overall I would have done nothing but alienate the very people I was with. We had to work together as
a team to accomplish anything.

And I learned quickly that working as a team doesn’t equal friendship.

On one of the teams I played we had several guys from the “in crowd.” I wasn’t part of that crowd and didn’t fit in with them very well. They made sure that I knew that. I wasn’t a pushover or anything but it was made clear that we weren’t going to be friends. But once the game started all that went out the door. We were a team and we worked together seamlessly to the same end.

You would never know that there was no love lost once the game was over because you never saw it during the game.

Your children will have to learn to work with people that are easy to get along with and people that are difficult. The quicker they learn how to do that, the greater the benefit will be.

Learning how to work with all kinds of people has allowed me to be a better leader and better person.

It gave me the chance to lose

“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” is a well-known quote in sports. And I would disagree completely! In sports, like life, failure is often times the catalyst to greater things.

Thomas Edison is quoted as saying “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”

Or think about the now famous story of Michael Jordan being cut from his high school basketball team. Do you think the drive to win would have been so great in him had he not failed early on? Maybe, but who’s to say that it wouldn’t have been.

Learning to fail is one of the most important lessons your child can learn. The ability to understand that failing is an event and not about the person, to be able to learn the valuable lessons in failure and then to see what happens when those lessons are applied to life is not something from which we should shield our kids. In fact, we should relish the opportunity to allow our kids to fail!

Life doesn’t just hand you what you want so why in the world would we allow our kids to believe that it will? Instead of making sure that little Johnny succeeds at everything (i.e. helicopter parents) we should be thankful that our kids are learning that sometimes you lose.

Allow them to lose when they gave their all.

Allow them to lose when it’s unfair.

Just allow them to lose period!

If we take away every chance for our kids to lose, we aren’t showing them love. We are setting them up for long-term failure.

I have so many good memories of my time in sports and competitions. Friendships that I carry to this day were born and solidified because of these teams. I’m thankful for the fun and friendships but as an adult. I’m thankful for all the life lessons it gave me.

It would be a shame to not afford my children the same.

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