Winning Isn’t Everything: Lessons from Sport

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In a world plastered with posters of Lebron James and Lionel Messi, young people everywhere model their practices in an effort to become the “next big thing.” This creates a whole subculture of society where millions of youth around the country participate in sports ranging from archery and bowling to football and basketball. Realistically, only a small percentage of the population become the “next big thing.” However, sports aren’t always about toppling opponents and monetary compensation. They offer valuable life lessons rarely found elsewhere. I know I know...I sound incredibly cliché, but it’s the truth. In my youth, sports taught me confidence, perseverance, and happiness. As I’ve grown “older,” I’ve found these three qualities to be indispensable.

As an unconfident and underdeveloped young child without a niche, it might surprise you that sports proved difficult for me. Yet, these inadequacies never stopped me from trying. My mother and father constantly pushed me to try new sports and to never quit. They both excelled in sports such as baseball, track, and volleyball. My father even had the school record in the mile run. Talk about standards to live up to. I tried out basketball but I had this fascination with tripping over myself. Baseball isn’t easy when you are scared of the ball. And, soccer is fun when you use your hands. After these constant failures, I eventually I found “my calling” in track and cross country (the sport where skinny and uncoordinated kids reside). Somehow, I found great success in the sport and made many great friends. I even took down my father’s school record in the mile and continue to run competitively today. Running gave me confidence, allowed me to push myself to greater heights, and made me genuinely happy.

However, the underlying message of this journey isn't about my success in terms of running. Rather, it expresses how I failed at nearly every sport, initially. In turn, I learned about hard work and finding dramatic improvement. For example, I eventually stopped tripping in basketball and even made a few baskets (only a few). It turns out goalies can use their hands so I became “decent” at that. I slowly overcame my fear of baseballs flying towards me at high speeds (a whopping 40 mph in middle school)…okay, maybe I’m not over that yet. Running just happened to click for me, and I found drastic improvement from the hard work I learned from other sports. While I initially failed, I learned about working towards a goal and dramatically improved by the end. I viewed this secondhand as well as the same transformations were reflected in many of my friends. My high school saw massive numbers joining cross country once they saw the success, fun, and improvement among the team. While most weren’t on varsity or state qualifiers, it didn’t matter. I always watched in awe when my friends ran a personal record and gained confidence in themselves. Not solely confidence in sport, but life in general. Pushing to the limit allowed for personal growth in everyone involved.

Sports are about more than just winning and I feel many disregard this and count themselves out. This summer, my mission is to change that mentality. I’m working with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Iowa this summer, and my goal is to create athletic based programs for Club youth involving college/university athletes. Youth will have the opportunity to play sports with positive leaders and role models while learning valuable life lessons as well. At this point in the summer, I’ve taken a handful of youth to the USATF Championships in Des Moines at Drake Stadium, and have a Summer Sports Clinic set up for the end of July. I’m working on revamping current sports programs in the Clubs and love watching youth have fun and better themselves. This project resonates with me on a personal note and allows me to pass what I’ve learned onto youth in need of these opportunities.

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Upon reflection, the importance of sports in my life is quite prevalent. Through failure, and eventual success, sports instilled confidence, perseverance, and happiness in my youth. I combine this experience with my educational background and nonprofit work with youth, to offer young people the opportunities I had when I was younger. I was fortunate to be in the situation I had, others aren’t. By offering these opportunities, youth become empowered and it helps to shape leaders of the future. Sports aren’t the only outlet that instill confidence, perseverance, and happiness in children. However, it’s an option we should present to them from a young age. Now go out and have fun (and remember you’re probably better at sports than me)!