A great athlete will have success until his body fails him. A great leader will be invaluable to any team and will be successful wherever life takes him. But what makes a great leader? Accountability, selflessness, and passion are a few traits that come to mind. Team sports provide an outlet to breed young leaders better than any leadership conference could. The challenge facing kids now is the current culture in sports. Everyone has heard the age-old phrase, “There’s no I in team!” Coaches and parents drop that quote like its going out of style, but are they practicing what they preach? If you step back and truly buy in to this selfless approach, you’d be amazed at the lessons and values gained through team sports.
If you let your kids fail and don’t constantly search for ways to justify their failure, they will have the power to deal with adversity for the rest of their lives. Sports also teach the value of hard work. Opportunities on the field are earned, not given. Are you willing to put in the extra work to achieve your goals? Which brings to mind another cliché. “It’s not about what you do when people are watching, it’s about what you do when nobody’s watching.” Are you willing to stay after practice to shoot extra free throws? Or run extra sprints? Or do the really boring stuff like stretch or film study? Sports have a funny way of revealing character. It’s easy to be the raw-raw “go team!” guy when you’re 4-4 with a diving catch on the day. How about when you’re 0-4 with 2 errors? Will you stay true to your belief in the greater good, or will you pout in the corner of the dugout feeling sorry for yourself?
There is a difference between being liked by your teammates and being respected by your teammates. I look back to my freshman year as a member of the NC State baseball team. The upperclassmen seemed like 40 year old grizzled big league vets. There were times I felt like they were picking on us young bucks and saw us as nothing more than their grounds crew and tarp pullers. As most freshman at a big school, I came in with a chip on my shoulder and something to prove. Did I always like the upperclassmen? No, not always. But did I respect them? You bet I did. They were being leaders. They were setting the standard, holding us accountable, letting us know that we haven’t earned anything yet. They were letting us know that even though coach might miss a mistake or poor choice made, they wouldn’t. The older guys set the expectations high for how every single member of the team should conduct themselves on and off the field. The journey came full circle my senior year when I was lucky enough to be a leader on the team that went to Omaha, even though my playing time had greatly diminished compared to previous years. The leaders I looked up to as a freshman helped me understand the importance of the team over my own self-interest. That is why I am so proud of my Omaha ring. Even though I had mild contributions on the field my senior year, I held the young bucks to the same high standard that had been set for me.
Sports gave me the highest highs and lowest lows of my life. But there is no doubt in my mind that sports made me a better friend, family member, and employee. If you embrace the failure sports will throw at you, learn to get up off the matt, fight to get better, and buy into something bigger than yourself, you will be a winner far beyond your playing days. You will be a leader for life.