Teamwork. Self-discipline. Sportsmanship. Ask anyone about the benefits of participating in athletics, and you may get these answers. The highs, lows and in-betweens of organized sports offer plenty of teachable moments. Take it from me, a former average high school athlete, lessons learned on the court (the field, or the track) stay with you long after you’ve hung up the jersey for good.
Here, in my opinion, are some of the lasting lessons of sports:
Hard work pays off:
For every “born” athlete, many more become proficient at their game through sheer determination and hard work. Of course, the lesson that “hard work pays off” can be learned not only from sports, but also through music and many other hobbies.
Winning does matter, but so does playing with integrity:
Despite the phrase “winning isn’t everything,” winning does matter to most people. So, I’ll be honest here. As a junior high and high school athlete, I learned that winning mattered as much to the coaches and parents as it did to the players. But regardless of whether you win or lose, the way you play the game matters, too. The ability to win—and lose—with integrity, with graciousness and good sportsmanship, is an important life skill.
Things don’t always go your way:
This is a hard lesson to learn, but a very important one. I remember the pain of working very hard to finally win a spot on the varsity volleyball team, only to blow out my knee and spend most of the season on the bench. It was certainly not what I had hoped or planned for. The life lesson is obvious here: When things don’t go your way, you can let it get you down, or you can accept it and make the best of it.
The “personal best” matters most:
No matter how hard I worked in sports, there were always people better and faster and stronger. That said, my favorite sports lesson was something I learned while running track as a high school freshman. I never won a race and usually finished near last. But, our coach encouraged us to compare ourselves to our own past performances, instead of comparing ourselves to everyone else. We learned to celebrate when we accomplished our “personal best.” That concept stuck with me; I still go for my “personal best.”
If it was fun, it was worthwhile: Daily double practices and individual games are now hazy memories in my thirty-something mind, but I still treasure the friendships and remember the good times I had with my teammates. That alone made all the hard work worthwhile.
Erika Weisensee lives in Milwaukie and teaches writing and communication courses at the University of Portland.