Billions of people from around the world will watch the Olympics this summer. Nations will rally behind icons and heroes. Individuals will compete against each other at the pinnacle of their craft. Sports, competition, and athletics are a corner stone of entertainment and clearly something people find important.
Even within sports, individuals such as Kobe and Peyton Manning are compelled to give everything they can to it; both acted out of a love for each of their games, playing until their bodies couldn’t do it anymore.
But despite the cultural fascination, one may ask, “What makes sports and athletics so important?”, or “Why should I participate in them?”, after all, most of us don’t make money from it. To many, working toward athletic success may seem vain, even something that takes important time away from family and friends.
I believe that there is a proper hierarchy of priorities in one’s life, of which fitness and athletic success should be below family, relationships, and vocation (an individual’s personal and positive contribution to the world). However, I also believe that many people, if not most, can benefit from deliberately working towards some athletic goals. And while I’ll I know that in competitions most people don’t win, I believe there is value in the competitive spirit.
Below I will explore the value of sports participation in such a way that it is relevant to everyone:
1. Success in sports teaches you how to be successful in life
As I’ve discussed in previous posts, athletic success isn’t just about hard work and hours spent, but about smart work, paying attention to the process, and doing the most with the time you have. In the same way success in life, family, relationships, and even your job isn’t simply about logging hours, clocking in and out, but being deliberate and using the best of your gifts and creativity to give the most to what you’re passionate about.
Vince Lombardi‘s words about Football hold true to other sports:
“Football is a great deal like life in that it teaches that work, sacrifice, perseverance, competitive drive, selflessness and respect for authority is the price that each and every one of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile” – Vince Lombardi
As far as competition goes, whether you are new to a sport or an Olympic athlete, your biggest competition is yourself. It’s true that individuals have differing levels of talent and get different results but regardless of who you are, the only way you can be your best self is with consistent hard and smart work. You can use others as inspiration and motivation, but in the end be yourself. I believe that the happiest, most fulfilled individuals, are the ones that give deeply of themselves for something that their passionate about. You only have a limited amount of time to spend on your passions and goals, athletic or otherwise, but I believe that you owe it to yourself to make sure that the time you do have is spent as effectively and intelligently as possible.
2. Sports teach values and virtue (even to adults!)
We often enroll kids in sports to teach values and virtues, however, just because you’re an adult, or even a parent teaching the lessons, you aren’t exempt from learning and practicing virtue. Virtue is not an acquired trait that you picked up long ago, virtue and values are like muscles that require being exercised and worked, lest they atrophy. Virtue isn’t limited to the examples below but sports help with:
Temperance – This includes self-control, delayed gratification, and moderation. It is a struggle to exercise these virtues in our self-gratifying, fast-paced culture, but they are imperative for any sort of meaningful, long-lasting success. Practicing these by toughing your way through a workout, sticking with a training plan, and mastering your body will help prepare you for other times temperance is necessary.
Fortitude- This includes diligence, perseverance, and courage. There will be times when achieving your athletic goals will be difficult and you’ll want to quit. Working through these times will prepare you for the challenges that arise in life.
Patience – Athletic results don’t happen immediately, and while some people may improve faster than others, everyone will get to the point where results take time. Olympic sprint swimmers spend years training to reduce their times by just tenths of seconds. Exercising patience and delaying gratification produces the best long-term effects.
Humility – Sports have tangible goals and criteria, to score the most points, cover a distance the fastest, etc. and while there is some element of luck and external circumstance, there is almost always a concrete connection between the work you put in and the result you get. There is less room to fool yourself than there is in other life pursuits with less clear measures (there isn’t a clean number that indicates how well you love your family but it is easy to look to a race time). By being honest with yourself in your athletic endeavors, I believe you can be more honest with yourself and approach other life goals with the same dedication and a similar tool-set.
Charity - Nothing gets people fired up like rallying for a team or their friends. In professional sports, teammates play for each other and players need to learn to sometimes put the good of the team before themselves or their discomfort. The value of this teamwork, charity, and selflessness stretches far beyond the playing field.
3. Sports are pro-social
As an adult it’s important to have friends with shared interests and hobbies and sports can be a great way to find such people. Find a group that is friendly and aligns with your goals. It’ll make workouts more enjoyable, is great for meeting people, and should simply be a fun. People with strong networks of friendships tend to be healthier and happier and there is nothing like being held accountable by teammates to achieve higher goals than you’d be able to alone.
4. Sports are good for your health
This is the most obvious reason why, as any doctor will recommend. The human body is designed for motion and activity, and will atrophy without it. Plus your body is hardwired to receive a rush of endorphins from physical activity. While there are other ways to accomplish the first 3 benefits, the only way to achieve health benefits and have your body work optimally is by getting active!
What have sports meant to you in your life? Do you agree that sports participation is important? Is there anything we missed? Please comment below!
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