By Tony Earp
At the end of the each season, it is normal to try to take inventory of what was gained or lost over the course of the year. Each athlete who participates in sports gains something throughout the season. Either the player improved his ability and skill, understanding of how to play, became psychologically a tougher competitor, or grew stronger and faster. These are all important aspects of a player’s development that the player will be able to apply to the next season which will help him have more success in the coming years. In addition, we hope the player loves the game more now than when the season started, and that his hunger and joy to play have both grown and are insatiable.
But what about when there is not a next season? What about when the player is done competing, and playing sports is something that is in the rear-view mirror? At that point, what will the player take with him to help him move on to the next step in life? In other words… what really lasts? When there are no more games to play, here are a couple things that will stay with any athlete who had the courage to compete and learn how to play a game:
Active and Healthy Lifestyle
This may be the most obvious, but it is one of the most important things that lasts from playing sports, or I hope lasts for all players, as it positively affects all other areas of an athlete’s life. By playing sports, players tend to learn a great deal about the benefits of exercise, eating right, getting enough sleep, and other healthy habits. This may be more true in some sports than others, but the hope is that the feeling of being in good shape, working hard, getting a good sweat, and that rush from pushing harder and a little farther than you thought was possible never goes away. In a small way, staying active is an avenue a former athlete can use to still compete, either against others or himself.
When an athlete leaves a hard practice or game, there is sense of accomplishment. A great feeling of how the body was pushed and feels stronger. Sometimes after a great game or training session, athletes feel like they can accomplish anything. It is a feeling athletes try to recreate by staying active or seeking out new physical challenges by staying active.
As a coach, this is one thing I really hope sticks for all players. I hope they stay active, and do not allow themselves to let unhealthy habits overcome healthy ones and an active lifestyle they have spent most of their lives being a part of in sports. Outside the lessons and skills of the game, these lessons, I believe are some of the most important for athletes to learn as they can be used throughout the rest of their lives.
Ability to Struggle Positively
Over the course of a playing career, all players will struggle… often. It is part of playing sports. It is expected, and over time, athletes learn how to struggle positively. They embrace the struggle, look forward to it, feed off it, and understand it is required to improve. In fact, when there is no struggle, and there is no turmoil, it can cause more unrest as the athlete becomes concerned there is no opportunity for growth. They seek out the struggle. They look for paths of the most resistance rather than the least resistance. Not because they don’t know how to work smarter than others, but they know that usually the path of least resistance does not lead them to where they want to go. As it never has before.
With this in mind, athletes develop the skills required to struggle positively. They do not get bogged down or quit when things get hard. They struggle with a smile, and they learn to do it playing the game they love. It is not something they were taught. They had to do it in order to survive on the playing field, and it is what is required to survive the game of “life.”
The Need to Help Others
Being a part of a team develops a need to help others that becomes a part of who players are for the rest of their lives. For a team to be successful, everyone must help one another to earn success as a group. A player learns to recognize success, not in just what they accomplish, but what they can help and inspire others to accomplish. To be able to help someone else achieve something they could not do on their own, is more rewarding than any other type of individual accomplishment. To feel whole, to feel successful, can only be achieved by helping others do the same.
This need to serve a greater cause outside of their own interests is part of why former athletes are often very active in their communities and serving others. It is what helped them be successful when they played, and it is what will help them be successful when they are done playing making influential contributions in their communities.
Willingness to Accept Help
This is the flip side of helping others on a team. Being a part of a team, a player needs to accept help from others. They learn they can achieve more with the help of others than they could ever do on their own. Many people refuse to accept help from others as they see it as a sign of weakness or openly admitting they cannot do it alone.
Through playing on a team, a player learns that accepting help is a sign of strength, and an indication of a greater understanding of what it takes to accomplish extraordinary things. They do not just accept help when offered, they often seek it out. Again, when talking about sports and teamwork, the willingness to help others and the willingness to accept help are two key habits that will benefit players for the rest of their lives.
The ability and willingness to compete is a necessary characteristic of any successful individual. This is not defined by an overwhelming need to win, but the courage to try to reach beyond what they are currently capable of doing, moving into an uncomfortable place, where they could fail. In short, being competitive means they have the courage to take risks. They have the courage to lose, and know how to overcome it. That is what defines a “competitive” person, and it is something I hope all athletes take away from the competition of sports.
Through sports, kids learn how to compete. They do not shy away from what is hard because they might fail. Instead, the embrace the difficulty and do their best even if it is not good enough win. They do not have a fear of failure. They have a fear of what would happen if they did not even try, and that is what it means to compete.
What it Means to Love
I saved this for last as I feel it is one of the most important things players learn from sports. It is often believed that loving something is easy and it only comes with happy feelings and the only is part of the best moments of your life. What is not talked about is the other side of love. The side of loving something that brings heart-ache and the hardest times a person will go through. With the highs and the joy comes the deepest lows and indescribable anguish.
But that is what it means to love. To love something you are willing to sacrifice for it, and even when it hurts you the most, your commitment to what you love never waivers. For something you do not love, maybe just “like” a lot, you will quickly walk away from it when things get hard or you do not get anything in return. But that is not love. To love something you give it your all without expecting anything in return.
Players who truly love to play a game learn this lesson, and learn how and what it takes to love. Often the game is their first love, and they are protective of it and committed to it. It gives them great pleasure and happiness to play, and even on their worst days, they would never want to be anywhere else. Overtime, they find out the reward for loving something so deeply is not what they get in return, but what they are able to give because of how much they love.
For me, this is the most important thing that can last from a child’s experience playing sports once all of their seasons are over.
Tony Earp directs SuperKick/TeamZone Columbus’ Soccer Skills programs. Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. He can be reached at email@example.com
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