The world of sports introduces us to a microcosm of the dynamics at play in the larger world around us.
Growing up as a kid obsessed with basketball, I certainly wasn’t thinking about life-lessons when I was arguing with my coach about why his son was getting more playing time than me.
15 years later, I was working for a real estate developer managing a $20 million construction project and I found myself arguing with a novice project manager who also happened to be the General Contractor’ s son.
The connection couldn’t have been more clear….
This one example of so many lessons I’ve learned from sports.
In this article we’ll look at the latest science, expert opinions, and different perspectives when it comes to the life-lessons that can be learned (at any age) from playing sports.
Let’s Dive In.
14 Life Lessons Sports Can Teach Us (at any age)
1. Hard Work Pays Off (but not for everyone)
In high school, some of the hardest working kids got cut from our soccer team. Truth be told, they weren’t that good… Most of the average players that made the team were good because they were just naturally athletic. But the top players on the team were the ones that were naturally good and worked hard.
The same is true in life.
Those who work hard to strengthen their natural-advantages become the best versions of themselves and the best at what they do.
Hard work pays off, but sometimes it’s slow, and often can be difficult to see day-to-day. And if you’re working hard toward the wrong things, and seeing no progress then you may be on the wrong path or playing the wrong sport.
If this is the case you may be better to cut your losses and work towards something your natural skillset is better aligned with.
2. Some People Are Just Naturally Gifted
Sometimes people are just naturally good at certain things. Math, sports, and making friends are all skills that some people excel at while others struggle.
Some people are naturally big, athletic, can run, jump, and have perfect hand-eye-coordination with-out ever practicing.
A study published in 2014 by the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London, found a direct connection between our genetics (DNA) and our achievements. The study also found links between our behavior, personality, and psychopathology.
We can always develop skills we’re weak at over time, but we won’t be able to compete with those who are naturally gifted.
The same is true in life.
For example, some people are born leaders and can manage people with ease , while others struggle in management roles, despite company expertise. Managing people and understanding project details are two different skills.
Sort of like coaching vs. playing.
3. Practice Does NOT Make Perfect
There’s a famous saying by legendary NFL football coach Vince Lombardi
If you practice bad habits don’t expect great results.
Only “perfect practice” makes perfect.
If you’re a business owner who makes bad decisions, then your business won’t last (just ask Sam Bankman-Fried, the former CEO of FTX crypto exchange).
In sports and in life, you need to do things correctly over time if you’re going to grow and get better.
4. Teamwork Is a Critical Part of Life
Michael Jordan never won a championship until he learned to pass.
Pele had 10 teammates during his 3 world cup victories.
Even Michael Phelps had a team of coaches and mentors that helped propel him to his 23 gold metals.
This is not a new revelation as teams have been out competing individuals for thousands of years. However, in 2018 a study published by the American Psychological Association concluded that “we need teams in nearly every aspect of our lives”
If you want to be successful in life, you’ll need to learn to work as part of a team.
Businesses are nothing more than a large team of individuals working together. The more efficient everyone works together, the more efficient the business is going to run.
Your network in life is your team.
5. Failure Is Part Of Success
Legendary British self-help author Samuel Smiles famously said…
Sports teaches us how to loose with grace.
“I’ve watched the fight, analyzed my preparations & identified my mistakes…I’ve learnt my lesson”
When we loose in sports we learn to shake hands with the winner, acknowledge your defeat, accept reality, and move on to learn from our mistakes and fight another day.
Life is no different.
You will work hard towards a goal and fail. It happens to everybody. The trick is, that when you fail in life, or fail in business, you must accept it, learn from it, and move on to fight another day
6. A Good Strategy Can Beat Raw Talent
A team with a strategy and less talent, can beat a team with lots of talent and no strategy.
This is a concept that goes back to David vs. Goliath….Although Goliath has talent, strength, and raw power, David has a strategy that lead him to victory.
In the Movie “Moneyball” (which was based on a true story) a young Major League baseball manager uses a new strategy to recruit players based on statistical analysis instead of recruiting based on talent.
His strategy proved so effective it became the go to strategy for the MLB going forward.
The lesson here is not to “just show up” but to always be prepared.
You can be born with talent, and work to develop your talent into a skill, but being prepared with a ‘game-plan’ strategy is just as important….Those with a strategy in life are much more likely to get what they want out of life.
Don’t just be talented, have a plan.
7. Mindset Is Everything
It sounds cliché.., yeah we know. …But Mindset literally is everything.
Dr. Towery has found that “by understanding, adapting and shifting your mindset, you can improve your health, decrease your stress and become more resilient to life’s challenges.”
Our perception of the world around us, changes how we see and feel reality.
In sports, if your team heads into a game with slumped shoulders, poor body-language, and fear of failure, then your team’s weak mindset has likely already lost you guys the game before it’s even started.
Sports psychologist Dr. Stan Beecham works with professional athletes for a living. When asked what separated the top 1% of pro athletes he says…
8. Communication Is Key
When you’re on a sports team, everyone needs to learn to communicate effectively in order to be an successful team.
When communication breaks down, it becomes a team weakness and a vulnerability that your opponent can then take advantage of.
Each teammate needs to communicate with everyone else. Whether it’s talking, yelling, pointing, or even just eye contact. If you get beat on defense, you call out for help…. If you’re open you put your hand up so your teammate can see you.
According to Michigan State University author and communication expert Gail Innis…, developing good communication skills requires some effort and thought, but it’s one of the best ways you can help children build an essential skill for life and help yourself improve adult relationships in your life.
The #1 reason for failed relationships is lack of communication. I personally have been in plenty of business meeting where arguments break out over simple mis-communications.
9. Take Full Responsibility And Accountability
If you make a mistake in a team sport, and then try to blame someone else, you will loose the respect of your teammates. This is a lesson quickly learned in teamsports.
But when you take accountability and accept full responsibility for your mistakes you can gain respect and even increase your level of consciousness.
When you make a mistake in sports you raise your hand and say “my bad”.
Blaming others or trying to cover up your mistakes will eventually cause resentment from your teammates, colleagues, business associates, life-partner, and family members.
10. Learn From Your Mistakes
Taking responsibility is a good way to lead by example and earn respect…. But if you don’t learn from your mistakes, then you’re missing out on a huge opportunity for personal growth.
In sports, not every play works the first time around.
This couldn’t be more true in the “game of life”.
According to expert psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Knut Overbye…, it’s very important for us, as humans in society, to learn from our mistakes. by reflecting and learning from our mistakes from the past, we can correct our responses and do things differently the next time.
Human all make mistakes, almost daily. Making mistakes is not preventable. But the faster you learn from your mistakes the faster you will improve…, and the faster you will learn.
It doesn’t matter if you’re playing sports, parenting a teenager, or managing a team of professionals. Admit your mistakes, understand your mistakes, and then learn from them.
11. Competition Breeds Success
Sports are built on competition. You want to win, so you try harder and compete.
Over time, it’s this constant process of competition that leads people to acheive heights of great success.
The more discipline someone dedicates towards a sport, business, or competing in anything, the better the outcome.
- How (not) To Be A Strong Leader
Team dynamics in sports aren’t always “”smooth sailing“”… Team leaders evolve and dissipate over the years, exposing all members of the team to different personality types and leadership styles.
According to experts, consistency, accountability, and transparency are the most important leadership qualities to develop.
- Growth Takes Time…Work Hard and Be Patient
When you hear things like “hard work pays off” (first on our list) or “keep practicing” or “trust the process” what does that really mean.
Hard work, practice, and growth take time to pay off.
Professional athletes are professional athletes because they spend 8 hours a day, everyday, 7 days a week practicing their craft.
Life works the same way.
Warren buffet is the most successful wall street investor in history. His strategy is very simple. Invest in good companies, which do well over time, and never sell.
A reporter once asked Warren Buffet why no-one else copies his simple strategy?…Warren said “because no one wants to get rich slowly”.
Good things take hard work, time, patience, and more hard work in order to grow. But given those ingrediance, your investments will pay off.
- Acknowledge Greatness
Occasionally in sports there’s someone who just flat-out outperform’s everyone.
Whether it’s skill, a natural ability, or years of hard work, experiencing “greatness” is an important and humbling life-lesson in acknowledging someone who is better than you.
Acknowledging someone multiple levels better than you can motivate you to do better, and also keep you humble at the same time.
Final Thoughts: Life Lessons From Sports…
Regardless of age, there’s always a parallel life lesson that can be learned from sports. There are winners and there are losers. Some people are poor sports and other are great teammates.
Sometimes you have a good game and sometimes you have a bad day. But ultimately you overcome and keep playing.
Playing a sport at any age is a great way to invest in life.
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