For many people, the value of a traditional education is clear: Knowledge improves decision-making, which is valuable for personal and professional life. However, a balanced approach to living can often include athletics and, as any athlete knows, physical education isn’t just about dominance in games and channeling aggression. In fact, generally speaking, sports teach life lessons in a uniquely memorable way, providing functional and interpersonal skills that will be useful on and off the field.
As any basketball player will quickly learn, driving to the hoop assertively will yield better results than a tentative approach. And assertive defense is most effective at flustering opponents. To play any sport well requires a great deal of confidence—confidence to make decisions on the fly and to respond to the actions of your teammates. Confidence can also help you to relax and avoid frustration, anxiety or uncontrolled aggression. No matter what sport you play, practice builds up the confidence to know that when the moment comes, you’ll be prepared to act.1
Any team sport emphasizes the team over the individual, though each sport instills a different sense of how teams work and play together. For example, football players are routinely taught to submit to the goals of the team. The pace of the game requires flexibility and a willingness to dig deep and grind out a win.2 Basketball moves much more quickly, and players have to develop a sixth sense of where their teammates are on the court and the trust to know they’ll get to where they’re most needed at a moment’s notice.3 Baseball has a slow pace and teammates’ actions can be fairly isolated from one another, but focusing on shared objectives is still the first step toward success.4
Picture a basketball player, standing in their driveway, sinking free throw after free throw until it’s too dark to see anymore. Discipline is a requirement for success in any field, and sports in particular instill the value of discipline in players from early in their careers. Practice might make perfect, but it can still be difficult for athletes at all levels to get out of bed and get to the gym or field day after day to achieve peak performance. Sport is the rare field in life where we receive immediate feedback for our actions: If you take a shot a certain way and it doesn’t succeed, you can immediately adjust your approach to improve. Because of this instant feedback loop, athletics are a perfect training ground to develop the attention to detail and discipline to improve.5
Leading and Following
In sports as in life, sometimes you have to lead and sometimes you have to follow. Sports help to develop the discernment to know whether you’re acting as a leader or a follower at any given moment. In most sports, a coach acts as an ultimate leader who sets the goals and tempo for the entire group. But even within a team, leaders emerge no matter their title or role. In volleyball, each player might be selected by their coach to fulfill a unique role on the team. But experience teaches players that just because you have a role to play doesn’t mean you won’t be called to fill in for somebody else at a moment’s notice. Leadership in sports isn’t theoretical. It happens moment by moment, just as it does in non-athletic settings. Because of this, the type of leadership learned playing games will serve athletes throughout their lives and careers.6
Athletes talk a lot about “mental toughness,” the quality that allows a player to stay focused and dig deep even when they might be physically exhausted. It’s about doing whatever it takes to succeed, no matter how spent you might feel. And there’s nothing that develops mental toughness quite like sports. It’s the energy that allows a marathon runner to sprint that last half mile. It’s the inner voice that tells the athlete to find a way, not an excuse. It’s the ability to experience failures and setbacks without becoming discouraged.
The only way to develop mental toughness is to step into situations where you lack control and push yourself to control the chaos and succeed. In daily life, it’s possible to go days and weeks at a time without having to dig deep to overcome adversity. That isn’t possible for the committed athlete, who throws him or herself into those kinds of situations every day, by choice.
What life skills are you prepared to bring into the world of sports and community athletics? With the online Master's in Sport Management* program from the University of Kansas, you can begin developing the confidence and skills to lead in any number of industry roles, including athletics director, sports manager, agent, facilities coordinator and more.
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1. Retrieved on April 13, 2018, from lifehack.org/articles/communication/7-life-lessons-ive-learned-from-playing-basketball.html
2. Retrieved on April 13, 2018, from blogs.usafootball.com/blog/631/15-life-lessons-from-football-that-should-not-be-overlooked
3. Retrieved on April 13, 2018, from basketball91.com/tips/basketball-teamwork-how-important-is-it/#.Wr0iX4jwa00
4. Retrieved on April 13, 2018, from probaseballinsider.com/10-life-lessons-learned-from-baseball/
5. Retrieved on April 13, 2018, from livestrong.com/article/533149-how-do-sports-discipline/
6. Retrieved on April 13, 2018, from journal.thriveglobal.com/the-top-10-things-volleyball-taught-me-about-leadership-af96ea670467