Image Credit: Rand Sargent

3 Things to Learn From Sports

I was 6 years old. I vividly remember holding the hands of two of my older brothers as I skipped — excitedly — through the parking lot and into the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City. It was a blustery winter day. We were going to a Runnin’ Utes basketball game. I can’t for the life of me tell you who won that game, but I can tell you exactly how I felt that day.

I was on top of the world.

1) Sports Allow Us to Be Vulnerable

Sports let us experience feelings from complete euphoria to unmitigated disappointment and everything in between. What makes them all the more transcendent is that the things sports can teach us are far more valuable than any ‘win’ or ‘loss.’ These lessons can be hard to learn and sometimes they even stem from mistakes we make. Instead of looking at them as stumbling blocks and setbacks, however, we should approach these situations as learning opportunities and stepping stones.

See, in sports, those ‘mistakes’ might be turnovers, fumbles, gutter-balls, and bogeys. In those moments of fault, we have a choice to make: are we going to face up to our mistakes and double-down our effort? Or are we going to pack it in and call it a day, too tired or frustrated to get it right?

Me and my oldest, teaching her the game that I love.

2) Sports Can Teach Us Resiliency

The important part of sports, and of life, is developing the character to stand in such moments with a positive outlook on life and a resolution to try harder next time. Life is unfair with regard to how we are treated, but luckily, most sports help us to realize that few things are fair. We may not be gifted the most talent on the court, field, or course. There are underdogs and favorites. Passes get tipped. Shots take bad bounces. Putts lip out. But the worst thing that can happen for our confidence and our character — as individuals and as a society — is to be given a trophy for simply playing the game. This serves no purpose other than a false sense of accomplishment. It’s a huge driver of what’s wrong with our current society. The true value of sports and their impact on life comes from knowing you did everything you could to win, even if (and especially if) you don’t.

The integrity one gathers from playing hard and playing honestly, as a general rule, transfers into one’s own life. That’s the natural course of sports. If you want to cheat, you probably can. In the long run, the damage is done not to others, but to yourself.

3) Sports Are About More Than Just Sports

To me, there are few memories more vivid than the time I spent with my dad and/or brothers at sporting events. I now watch my brothers and brothers-in-law taking their own kids to sporting events. My own kids are just about to that stage in life where I can start doing the same. I can hardly wait. “Just going to a game” means so much more in the eyes of a kid who is excited about spending time with their dad or brother. Sometimes it’s the small things that make the big difference.

Me, two of my three brothers, and my dad. We went to the Utah vs Stanford game in Palo Alto. My dad, a captain of the Stanford football team in the early 60’s, played defensive back. Was so fun to have him show us around campus and tell us some stories.

To this day, my favorite moments are finding time to golf, do yard-work, or build something with my dad. We talk about sports, parenting, and life. I love it. I sense he does, too.

Too often, we measure our love for our kids by dollars instead of minutes, iPods instead of affection, and Xbox’s instead of family dinners. We can’t really expect our kids to be any better than us if we don’t do something different to promote and encourage a different outcome. That’s where sports can fill a void. Activities with kids, whether sports-related or not, can forge lasting memories. I used to love even going to high school football and basketball games with my dad. Spending that time with him helped to shape me into who I am.

We don’t need to have the latest and greatest toys and technology to be good parents. Instead of spending money on our kids, we ought to spend some time with our kids. When my little girl comes to me with a book to read or a game to play, I want to do a better job of taking the time and making her day. I won’t always have that opportunity so why not take advantage of it for the short time it’s available? One day when she’s older I’ll wish that she’d let me read to her. So, whatever they like to do, spend some time doing it with them. And if they’re excited about going to a game, then take them. They’ll never forget it, and chances are, neither will you.

So for me — and for most of us — sports offer a sabbatical from the mundane. An escape from the stress and something to look forward to. But sports are more than that. Sports are more than “a game.” More than finding out who wins and who loses, sports are about development. One person, one moment, one experience at a time. Over and over again. It’s a process. Sports can refine a person. They can make enemies friends. But most importantly, sports can change lives.