It Goes Beyond the Field: Two Lessons Learned from Playing Sports

Playing team sports teaches us so many lessons that are applicable to life in general. These two focus on the importance of the individual as part of the team.

Desire to improve. Any player who feels compelled to improve their game is an asset to their team. A continuing desire to better one’s skills, knowledge base, and endurance serves to make the whole team better. Putting in the work to improve anything we do is difficult and often tedious. However, any successful team player knows that there is no better way to improve the fundamentals of their sport than repetition of the basic skills. It’s not a ton of fun, it’s not exciting, and it’s not glamorous. It is work that is done on one’s own in the self-motivated striving to improve a skill. No one can simply pick up a sport and become a star on the field, Just like no one can walk into a job and rise to the top without putting in the work on fundamentals. This takes commitment. Commitment to the job, commitment to the team, commitment to the coach/boss, and most importantly commitment to oneself and the process.

Managing emotions effectively. This is a big one as it impacts everything we do. Strong emotions are a necessary by-product of caring. When one cares about something, when one puts his/her time and energy into improvement, he/she is naturally invested in the outcome. But, just as emotions are in everything we do, mistakes and disappointment are a part of every learning process. One major key to success is learning appropriate ways to manage disappointments and setbacks. To play a sport well, to be effective on the field, does not require one to play perfectly – that is impossible. It requires one to learn to stay focused on the bigger picture when mistakes are made, to work effectively under pressure and to cope with the disappointments and losses that are a frequent and natural part of playing a sport.

The emotion management skills learned in sports can be applied to every aspect of our lives. There is not a job in the world or an important relationship in our lives that does not stir up emotions, be it disappointment, frustration, sadness, anxiety, joy, pride, excitement, etc. When we have the skills to recognize these emotions and express them appropriately, we are able to connect with others to work towards solutions when possible and to share in a sense of camaraderie.

Sports push players to be vulnerable. They practice a set of skills and then step on a field, usually in front of people they care about, to be tested. This takes courage. Then they get feedback, ideally from coaches, but often from parents and teammates as well. In order to improve, one needs to be able to hear the feedback, manage the sting of his mistakes being pointed out to him/her, and work to implement the necessary changes. This is hard and it takes many skills, and it is what makes them better. This same set of skills is utilized in the working world as well as in all important relationships.

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