Why I Made My Kids Play Sports
When my friends and I were kids, there really wasn’t a question of IF you were going to play sports, but rather which sports your parents would allow you to play. Every kid in my neighborhood was involved in some sort of team sport, ranging from baseball to volleyball. As we reached high school age, there were a few of my friends who moved away from playing sports and onto other interests, like video games or frequently, after-school jobs. A few of us were fortunate enough to parley our passion for sports into college scholarships, where lessons were learned as kids were refined and solidified.
I recently sat down with these friends, had a few adult beverages and tried to fix the problems of the world as we often do after some liquid wisdom. As we relived some of our glory days in high school, the topic of conversation turned to how different our activities were from the kids of today. I’m sure every generation has similar concerns about the upcoming youth, but one thing that came to mind for many of us was how many kids today miss out on the many life lessons we learned by playing sports. In a day when you can simply “rage quit” a video game, life lessons are very different.
I’m not going to pretend that team sports are the only way to learn certain life skills, or that every person that plays sports learns these lessons. I simply recognize that some skills I developed were because of my experience playing sports, and many that I lean on in my profession today. I also believe that sports offer exposure to attributes that many employers desire in their employees.
Because of this, as well as the social aspects, I spent a lot of time influencing (aka forcing) my sons to join the local sports teams when they were of age. I knew that at the end of a lot of hard work was important life lessons, as well as some fun and possible lifelong friendships. Now they are old enough to have professional lives of their own; I believe they have benefitted from their experience and developed some of the life skills below.
Teamwork is an easy concept; however, I’ve found that the importance of TEAM is often overlooked. In many sports, teamwork is everything, however there are some where one great player can make a winning team. On the football field, it takes all 11 players. I learned that lesson firsthand against the Nebraska Cornhuskers, as they used the triple option (and my team’s lack of teamwork) to roll to a 55-27 victory. You learn very quickly to rely on others to do their job, and how important it is for them to be able to rely on you. Without that reliance, people try to do multiple jobs and end up failing at both. The same thing goes for business. If you can rely on the team around you, you are able to focus on your job so that nothing slips through the cracks, and nobody is duplicating efforts.
This goes hand in hand with teamwork. If the defense on a pick and roll in basketball allows one person to go free, the culprit is almost always miscommunication. Business communication is just as important. Learning how to communicate in an effective, and efficient way, while maintaining good team chemistry is a constant learning process. Admittedly, I can get focused on efficiency, and forget the team chemistry portion of it, so it’s a skill that I continue to develop.
Most people on a team don’t get to lead. This doesn’t mean you can’t learn the skills if you’re not the actual leader. One friend recounted how he learned more about leadership in one season of college football than in many years prior or since. During a year of adversity, including injuries to their starting and backup QB, most football coaches would be incredibly frustrated, which would trickle down to the team. However, my friend’s coach happened to be an ex-NFL QB, and knew the meaning of adversity. He remained calm and looked for solutions instead of blame. Where others might have crumbled, he remained steadfast. He galvanized the team, and they closed the season with three wins, and came within one extra point of making a bowl game that year. He still dislikes kickers.
Mental Toughness / Perseverance
This one is easy to understand for anyone that has played a sport and lost. I have to say, this might be easier to learn in individual sports, like tennis, wrestling or swimming. Being able to pick yourself up, push through and try again the next time develops the mental toughness to succeed in anything you put your mind to. The importance of this in business, or even getting a job, is obvious. This is one of the greatest skills I’ve learned over the years.
One friend was lucky enough to pitch in the college World Series. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but also came with a ton of pressure. In the first inning, he was already in trouble. He was struggling with his command and walked the first batter of the inning. The next batter got on base with a bloop single into right field, and he now had runners on first and third with no outs. Instead of panicking, he leaned into his years of training and experience and was able to use the pressure situation to focus his efforts. With a strikeout, and a double play, he escaped the inning with no runs scored. He went on to throw a shutout for the innings he pitched. He now uses the resilience he learned in sports to run a successful software company and gives credit to the many lessons he learned playing baseball.
Playing sports typically consists of setting multiple goals, even if you don’t realize it. Whether it’s the goal to win a championship, make the playoffs or just get that first base hit, most kids that play sports have set goals without even realizing it. Successful athletes are those that set goals, and then work to achieve those goals through practice and effort. Successful entrepreneurs, salespeople, even students can benefit from this skill.
There are many other life skills that sports can develop, and I’m sure many of you have stories of your own about how your experience playing a kids game helped you in your professional life. I’d love to hear some of the stories, and hopefully we can sit around and share some over your beverage of choice at the next E4 show.