Let’s be real, life is hard! However, many young people miss out on the opportunities to have a safe space for them to learn life lessons that will prepare them for the ups and downs of life. When babies are learning to walk, we give them a 1-foot walking space for them to test their balance and gain their confidence. I believe that sports are the perfect safe space for young people. Sports experiences are like mini-series on life experiences.
My youth sports experiences gave me a small taste of every life experience (good and bad) that I’ve encountered. The physical, emotional, mental, and relational challenges I overcame in sports prepared me to face the challenges that life threw at me. The challenges that I faced on the court or field in the grand scheme of things weren’t a big deal. I could walk off the court and learn what I need to improve and be given a clean slate going into the next game. Life can be a beast and I believe that my youth sports experiences were the 1-foot walking space for me to gain my confidence and test my strength.
Here are just 5 of the many lessons I learned from my life training ground:
I was told, “when you feel scared, you play scared!” My basketball coaches and parents could tell a difference between the way I played when I was confident and when I was anxious. I had to learn to walk into every scenario, no matter who was there, to be confident in my ability and skills. Having that mentality changed everything! I could think clearer and I played better. I also noticed that when I walk into work environments feeling scared, that my performance reflects it as well. So, I make a conscious effort to be confident in who I am and what I can do everywhere I go.
My Junior year of high school, I qualified to compete for the 100m hurdle State championship. During the semi-final race, I looked up to see that there was only one person in front of me. I was surprised! That was the fastest I had ever ran in my life. Forgetting that I was still in the middle of running hurdles, I looked over to the lanes next to me to find out where everyone else was. Before I knew it I quickly came up on the next hurdle and had to adjust my speed to prevent myself from crashing into it. I lost my stride and all of the runners I distracted myself to look at passed me. I didn’t make it to the state finals and that was the ultimate lesson on “staying focused on what you are doing!”
I used to have these really bad panic attacks. One time, my elementary school basketball coach had to take me out of a game so my mom could help me calm down. We prayed, she gave me my inhaler and ran cold water on my face and after I few minutes I calmed down. I went back out to continue playing and my team ended up winning. But, it wasn’t the last time I had a panic attack. Each time I got better at learning to relax and push through my anxiety. I learned to control my anxieties in intense elementary basketball games and let me just say that was definitely my equivalent of the one-foot space babies are given when learning how to walk.
I have the scars to prove that I use to climb trees, trip over hurdles, do flips off of my bunk bed, get kicked in the shin, get pushed to the ground, and more. Yeah, sometimes it hurt but I survived and I got back up. What usually hurt more was what I thought it would feel like to have those things happen to me than what it felt like when it actually happened. Tripping over an actual hurdle and getting up afterward helped me build the mental toughness I needed to run over the hurdle life has (and will continue to) put in front of me. I fell before and I survived! I know that when things get bad I will be okay and can get up.
I was on my high school varsity basketball for 3 years. I didn’t get very much playing time during those years, but my teammates ensured me that I still had value on the team. No, I wasn’t the one on the court scoring 20 points a game but I still contributed. It was important for me to learn that I could make an impact on my team no matter what position I held. I learned during those 3 years that I didn’t have to be a star player to make a difference. The same holds true with any other scenario, I don’t always have to strive to be one of “the stars.” My contribution big or small makes a difference nonetheless.
What lessons have you learned from sports? I’d love to hear your story. Tell your story below or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.