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Sports: Teaching life's most valuable lessons

By Kristin Gobberg
On May 2, 2012


Most individuals strive to be greater than the people sitting next to them. They want to be the best in their class, career or group of friends. Let's face it, even if you claim not to be a high-achieving individual, you feel a sense of pride when you receive a higher grade on an exam or receive a promotion over a fellow colleague. 

Why is that? Where does this sense of competition stem from? What activity engrains this mentality? Many different answers arise -including simply human nature-but one in particular stands out in my mind as the ultimate answer: sports. 

I know-not what you were expecting. You are probably thinking it's a stretch to name sport and participation in a sporting event as responsible for an internal feeling such as competition. But I am not stopping there. Think about the many different lessons sports teach an individual.

 Starting with the obvious, these are teamwork, hard work and discipline. But I could list at least 10 other characteristics of sports that significantly affect participants.

I would go so far as to claim that playing a sport is the most valuable developmental activity, second only to education. 

Problem solving, satisfaction, accountability, respect, responsibility, time management, failure, success, friendship, commitment, honesty and integrity can all be learned from sports. You get the idea. Stripped down to its core, past all the cheating and high-paying positions, sports encompass many valuable lessons that you cannot learn anywhere else in a single activity. 

Almost every individual has been a part of a sport at one point in his or her life. Think about your life. You most likely played sports for a number of years, or maybe just one year in fourth grade because it was the cool thing to do. You can also name at least a dozen of your friends who participated in sports as well. 

Now think about the difference between the people you know who never played a sport and those who did.

 There is a slight difference. Not an astronomical one that segments or predicts the successful and unsuccessful people in life. If you didn't play a sport, I am not claiming you will not have a lovely life full of happiness and success, but it may have taken you a little bit longer to learn or grasp certain skills applicable to so many other areas of life. 

As an avid sports player myself, I am trying to be as unbiased as possible. Ninety percent of my childhood consisted of playing sports including, but not limited to, softball, golf, gymnastics, tennis, basketball, Nerf football, flag football, kick the can and wiffle ball. 

And I was pretty horrible at a few of those, but I continued to play for a short while, most likely against my will. I am not saying you have to be the all-star of your team or shoot free throws for three hours a day at the age of 10. 

I am simply saying that any participation, no matter how little, will make a difference in life. 

Wait a minute, you say. What is the different between competing in a spelling bee or playing a musical instrument as a child and playing a sport? 

Doesn't every activity promote problem solving, hard work, teamwork or discipline? To an extent, yes, every activity does this. But one significant requirement separates receiving a perfect score on the SAT verbal section and scoring the wining basket on your high school varsity basketball team: physical exertion. Although obvious, I believe this makes the difference. 

There is no greater satisfaction than using physical force to complete a task. Handymen, construction workers and landscapers know this feeling. You feel the sweat pour down your face, your hands blister or your calves ache. But through the actual physical movements, you completed a task. 

You didn't do it by staring at a math problem or typing on a computer to complete a 20-page research paper. Sure, you feel satisfaction from these accomplishments and exert effort, but the reward is much greater when your training consists of running sprints until you cramp instead of studying a textbook for hours. 

This is not limited to competitive sports. If you enjoy running, weight lifting or yoga, this applies, too. You are still competing, you are competing against yourself, resisting the urge to step off the treadmill and pushing yourself to sprint the last quarter mile. You did it. And this ability to use your muscles, tendons and limbs to complete a task makes it much more rewarding. The soreness in your quads reminds you of your accomplishments. Sounds better than staring at a letter on your English paper, correct?

 Again, I must reiterate that you don't have to be the MVP, starting quarterback or breaker of the record books. You simply have to participate. You may not know it, but subconsciously, this mere participation has shaped you and provided you with precious assets. Most Improved Player should trump Most Valuable Player. I am not trying to promote the unruly culture of youth sports where parents push their children to join as many club sports as possible and ingrain the culture of winning into their brains. Side note: winning does make a difference, but right now that is not the point of this column. 

I am forever grateful for my parents' decision to enroll me in sports starting at the age of five with swim lessons. Even when I begged and pleaded to quit gymnastics because I would cry every time my instructor made me do the splits, I still remember a tiny bit of joy the day I was finally able to climb onto the high beam myself. Thanks, Mom and Dad. 

I apologize in advance to my future children who will be forced to play multiple sports, whether they are riding the pine or starting every game. In the end, it will be worth it, and I hope they walk away with as many meaningful and worthwhile memories as I did. 

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