And why you don’t need to love sports to benefit from them
Sports teaches you character, it teaches you to play by the rules, it teaches you to know what it feels like to win and lose — it teaches you about life.
— Billie Jean King
“Sportsmanship” is a term so often used even in a non-sports related context because it has evolved to mean everything related to humility, fairness, respect, positive attitude, and a whole host of meanings. It is no surprise then that in various aspects of sports, there are hidden and apparent lessons that we can all learn from and apply them to our daily lives.
Winning Isn’t Always About Getting 1st Place
There aren’t a lot of places in the world where you’d see someone give up their hard-earned win just to help someone in need. The world of sports is filled with such examples. A recent one that touched my heart was when a Kenyan runner Simon Cheprot, gave up on a gold medal to help a fellow Kenyan runner who collapsed. Simon was about to cross the finish line in the Okpekpe International 10K Road Race in Nigeria when he noticed fellow runner, Kenneth Kipkemoi, collapsed. He stopped, lifted his compatriot, and carried him across the finish line.
His quote to the media after the event summarizes the lesson perfectly:
“My dad told me one day, ‘When you’re walking and you meet a sick person on the road, help him. Do not leave him’, so that was the first thing that came to my mind when I saw my friend on the ground”
Simon was later awarded US$15,000 for his kindness by the organizers and the International Association of Athletics Federations. The race promoter later said:
“This is what is called sportsmanship. Simon gave proper consideration for fairness, ethics, respect and a sense of fellowship with his competitors. He is our hero, he is the hero of the seventh edition of the race.”
Often in life, how you get to the finish line is more important than getting there first. The choices we make during the journey often reward us more in the long run than the blind chase for success and winning.
There is No Substitute for Hard Work
The one thing that is common between almost all successful sports stars is the years of hard work they have put in. Whether it is the sheer class and skill of Roger Federer and Lionel Messi or the perseverance and grit of Rafael Nadal and Christiano Ronaldo, one thing that is common between all four is the hard work and sweat.
The loosely used 10,000 hr rule invariably holds. If you put 10,000 hours into something you are likely to excel in it. To put it into perspective, that is close to 3 years of effort for 10 hours every day.
“There may be people that have more talent than you, but there’s no excuse for anyone to work harder than you do.”
— Derek Jeter
Even Fort Minor in the famous song “Remember the Name” attributes about 65% of success to will power and pain which are both a proxy for hard work.
This is ten percent luck
Twenty percent skill
Fifteen percent concentrated power of will
Five percent pleasure
Fifty percent pain
And a hundred percent reason to remember the name
T.E.A.M — Together, Everyone Achieves More
There are 100 different ways of saying this but only one message, teamwork is a critical part of all things we do in life. Whether it is at home in shared responsibility, supporting your partner in parenting, or at work in handling projects or working with colleagues, we see the benefits and importance of it everywhere.
There is a reason why Lionel Messi or Christiano Ronaldo despite being the best players of their generation, could never win their national teams a FIFA world cup. The reason is simple — the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And that remains true in most spheres of our lives once we’re able to rise beyond individual egos and collaborate to achieve greater heights.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
— Helen Keller
Your Biggest Competition is With Yourself
We’re constantly trying to outdo others and often forget that our true competition is with ourselves. While each of us is different, our constant endeavor should be to be a better version of ourselves each day.
The athletic discipline of Pole Vault has the biggest example of this.
Six-time world champion Sergey Bubka broke the men’s pole vault world record 35 times in his career, 17 times outdoors and 18 times indoors, majority of the times bettering his own previous record. His last record set in 1994 was broken as recently as 2014, a remarkable two decades later, despite the advancements in modern sport.
Yelena Isinbayeva, the current women’s pole vault world record holder, was the first woman ever to vault over 5 meters. She broke the world record 30 times in her career, 13 times indoors and 17 times outdoors. The current world record was set by her in 2009.
“The only person you should try to be better than is who you were yesterday.”
Failure is The Most Important Lesson For Success
Often, our biggest learnings come from our failures. The path to success for most of us is marked with multiple failures, and each one comes with its own lesson. Each of these failures takes us one step closer towards success and this is seen more often in sport than anywhere else.
Each of those 2nd place finishes is a motivation to push just that bit harder for the win next time.
“I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
— Michael Jordan