Reason #11: Sport — your favourite teacher

Sport is so much more than a hobby or way to keep fit. You can draw many parallels between sports and life more broadly, and dare I say many of us have learnt more from playing sports than we ever did at school?

So what does it teach us?

Teamwork

It is pretty much impossible nowadays to live a solitary existence (try as we might sometimes) and as such, it is inevitable that you are going to be put in a situation where you have to work with… “others” *shudders*, whether it be at work, in day-to-day life or in the dreaded “group project”. Playing sport helps you develop team-working skills that ensure that you can make the best of these situations, teaching you how to: encourage and motivate others, how to allocate tasks and implement strategies as a team and how to work together towards a common goal (sometimes sacrificing your own performance).

Perseverance

Anyone who has taken up a new sport, or played competitively at any point will attest to the fact that you don’t get anywhere without a certain amount of perseverance, dedication and patience. Nobody takes up a sport and is world-class day 1, it takes time to develop (and often a long time). Think about it, for a long time when you take up a sport you will be terrible and let’s face it, it will be less than fun sometimes. Yet you come back, you persevere, you don’t want to let down those you are playing with and week by week, session by session, you notice you are incrementally improving, spurring you on. You see that you are rewarded for all those mis-hits, times you fell over and goals you conceded. Effort often does equal reward, but it doesn’t always, and this is important too, because you may improve for a long time and then for no reason have a terrible game, this happens in life too but as with sport you just have to learn from these setbacks then put them out of your mind.

Preparation

Preparing mentally as well as physically is vital to ensure you perform at your optimal levels when you play sports, whether it be by psyching yourself up, stretching or picking your team. It is also a valuable lesson to carry over to your broader life and career. Planning and getting in the ‘zone’ for that big meeting, presentation or exam will ensure that you show off your best “you” when it really matters.

Leadership

At a very early age sports teaches us about leadership, whether that be by design (in the form of a captaincy) or by example (picking your team up when they are down by that burst of energy). Great leaders inspire great teams and present challenges in themselves: how do you inspire when your backs are against the wall? How do you get them bought into your strategy? The parallels with life here are pretty obvious, but sport allows you to try out new techniques in a low-risk environment.

Pressure

The ball comes to you, it’s the final minute of the game, your team is losing and you have the opportunity to draw level, everyone is watching: your teammates, your family, the guy you kinda-sorta had that thing with once but probably won’t go anywhere, everyone. You CANNOT mess this up. Pressure. Right there. How are you going to cope? Are you going to call a halt to the game to assess the situation? Are you going to crumble? Or are you going to rise to it and save your team’s blushes? Performance conditioning under pressure is invaluable life experience — maybe you fluffed an exam question and now need to get the rest right to pass, or maybe the final sell rests on your head for a massive contract, dig deep and remember how you learned to respond through sports.

Risk and reward

Very little (if anything) in life is truly risk free, as such we constantly have to make judgements and decisions to decide if risks are worth taking, sports give us a low risk environment where we can hone these skills. Should you go for that winner or play it safe? It may depend on the score in the game, your assessment of your own abilities, the fitness of your opponent, or any number of other things. You make these decisions thousands of times when you play sport, the rest of life is often a little slower and so you have more time to assess the situation, but sometimes your intuition (developed through sports) is the best decision maker of all.

Coping with failure

Some of us play sports for that feeling you get when you know you have bettered your opponent (aka “winning”), however you cannot get to this feeling without having your fair share of failure (aka “losing”). The more you play though, the more you realise that failure is part of the learning and development process — what can I improve upon? Were they just better than me, and if so, how? This is probably one of the most important lessons we feel as so many of us fear failure, we shouldn’t, and the more sport you play the more immune you will get to the feeling of it and the more you can use it to your advantage to develop. At the end of the day it’s just an ‘L’, ain’t no big deal.

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