American tennis player Billie Jean King once said, “Sports teaches you character, it teaches you to play by the rules, it teaches you to know what it feels like to win and lose — it teaches you about life.”
When I joined the public-school system, one of the very first things I did was join the track-and-field team. I was not sure what I was getting into, but I did know one of the nice ladies from my church was the coach of the eighth-grade team. She told me I should join the team, and in a yearning for familiarity, I obliged. And I never looked back.
I guess you could say I was fairly athletic, and my classmates started to notice. They pressured me to join both the football and basketball teams and, knowing the feeling of exhilaration the track team gave me, I consented. As someone who had never seen a basketball before (growing up without TV or internet, on a farm in the middle of nowhere, you don’t get to see everything), let alone played the game, I spent most of my first season watching and learning. By sophomore year, I was playing on the varsity team and by junior year, I was in possession of one of the much-coveted starting spots.
My first lesson from sports was the importance of teamwork. Our football and basketball teams were plagued by players who were ineligible because of academic requirements. We needed every player we could get, and when one failed, it brought us all down. I worked with my teammates after school, and I would even ride my bike to Saturday school to make sure everyone was passing their classes.
We won some of our games during our first three basketball seasons, but we lost a lot more: We only won exactly one game my junior year. I proceeded to receive my first lesson in the importance of resilience. We continued to work hard, on and off the court, no matter what the scoreboard read. I would host weightlifting sessions after school, and my teammates would help me refine my game fundamentals. Our hard work paid off, and by my final season, we had turned our 1-20 team into the second best in the conference, even earning a playoff bye week.
Not only did playing sports teach me many valuable life lessons, it provided me with an irreplaceable brotherhood: a group of guys that would do anything to help improve each other. Even if we didn’t like one another initially, we left it all behind when we stepped onto that court, turf or track. Some of my very best friendships budded within the team setting.
Sports did indeed teach me about life. I was able to improve what I was good at and learn from what I did wrong. Sports provided a structured environment and a controlled place to relieve any stress or anger I might have.
According to Engineering sophomore Travis Dantzer, center for the University of Michigan Men’s Rugby Football Club and former fullback for the University football team, high school sports “gave me a lot of leadership opportunities… I was captain in basketball junior and senior year and then senior year for football.” When asked what qualities he’s carried with him beyond high school, Dantzer noted “the development of work ethic” as well as the ability and drive to “work really hard at something to see even moderate success.”
In the college setting, Dantzer states that sports “gave me 40 good friends, like immediately. Coach Sparks has been a huge resource to me, he helped me a lot with starting my blog.” As for the networking side of things, Dantzer says, “Most of my other friends are from church, so by playing rugby, I get to interact with a lot of people who have a lot different views than me on a lot of stuff, that I normally wouldn’t be friends with.”
“Not only has it made me more resourceful, it’s also given me initiative, I’m not as scared as a lot of other people are to just try new things, knowing that they might not work, which has really been helpful in other aspects like clubs, doing some work ventures I’ve been involved in and starting a blog and podcast,” Dantzer said.
Being actively involved in sports has numerous benefits and teaches many important life skills, including confidence, optimism, dedication and much more. The perks, though, are not exclusive to playing a sport. While nothing can replicate the lessons learned in the team setting, simply staying active and exercising regularly is a great way to gain and improve those skills.
Lucas Dean can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.