There is a story behind every jersey. There are lessons that can only be learned on the field, the mat, the court or the track. Every athlete encounters both highs and lows, and each one has to learn how to win and lose graciously. Monumental wins aren't only used to describe championships. There is great value in personal victories, too. Ask any athlete, and they'll tell you that they wouldn't be the person they are today if they hadn't picked up their sport. The truth in that statement comes from everything that the game taught them.
1. You're only as good as your last game.
Sports are defined by competition. However, that competition doesn't always come in the form of the opposing team. Sometimes, it's your own teammates. Everyone wants that starting spot or as many minutes as possible. Everyone wants to get the chance to showcase their skills on game day. Your last performance, whether it be at a game or practice, marks where you match up against everyone else on the team. Starting lineups are never set in stone. They're fluid and they're going to be adjusted to always include those who will contribute the most, those who are never content, those who are always looking to be better. Settling to remain at the level you're at will only make way for someone who isn't satisfied with their own performance to step in and fill your shoes. This is how teammates push teammates. In my eyes, it's the best form of competition.
2. A winning team mentality starts with individual mentality.
I have seen so many teams lose a game before the first whistle even blew, simply because they counted themselves out. It is the job of the coaches and captains to make sure that every member of the group is buying into what they can accomplish as a unit and is also aware of the sacrifices he or she must make. If everyone isn't on board, successes will be limited. Likewise, it is the job of each and every player to commit themselves to living out the team's goals and attitudes both on and off the field. One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch. Physically being on the field at practice or a game does not mean that a player is mentally ready to dedicate all they've got to the game set before them. Mental discipline and mental toughness are just as important, if not more important than the physical attributes an athlete possesses.
3. You are capable of more than you realize.
Two agents are essential in pushing the body to its limits and then surpassing them: mental discipline and adrenaline. Mental discipline means holding that plank for the extra five seconds. It means running the extra suicide so that you run the first one faster next time. It means telling your body to push forward when your initial thought is to stop, because you know you'll be better for it. Often times, it seems as though it is out of our control when adrenaline is generated. However, as athletes we can generate situations in which our adrenaline comes into play to push us even harder. Being a playmaker that sets a team up to score the game winning goal when everyone is exhausted. Sprinting harder because you're coming up on the finish line and second place is gaining on you. Getting yourself to the next round of a wrestling tournament, even though you're not sure that your body can take another match. These are the situations in which our adrenaline comes out, but it's up to us to develop a sort of mental toughness that pushes ourselves and our teammates to get to that point.
4. Your attitude and actions after a loss come to shape your character.
How you learn to take a loss on the field will shape your character long after you've hung up your jersey. Wins are impressive, but what's just as impressive is the ability to lose a close game with dignity and shake your opponent's hand with your head held high. It's easier said than done. The attitude you develop after losing a match, meet or race can also influence those that potentially look up to you, which is why it is so important to be respectful and optimistic.
5. Sacrifice for the greater good of the team is often not up for debate.
Sacrifice comes in many forms. It may mean staying in the night before a big game even though your friends made big plans. It may mean waking up before the sun to be on time for a tournament or to get that extra workout in. Regardless, winners make sacrifices for the game they love, and teammates hold each other to a certain standard. This is what differentiates those that succeed from those that just show up and go through the motions.
6. Your parents are always going to be your biggest supporters.
They may quietly observe from the sidelines or be the loudest in the stands. They may have played the sport growing up, or they may not know all the rules yet. Nevertheless, just like with everything else you are going to do in life, they only want to see you succeed. Before you got your license, they signed you up for every tournament and drove you to every practice. Athletics at any level are incredibly empowering, but not so much as those that inspire us to compete.
7. No one ever got better at their craft by being complacent in their training.
You've heard it before: Champions are made in the gym when no one else is watching. It's incredibly cheesy, but it's true. The best way to train is to do so as if someone else is training harder. Because they are. Consistent dedication to the weight room or track workouts may not always be fun, but it comes with the package of wanting to compete at an elite level, and you can't get better without it. The work ethic developed from this aspect of athletics is something incredibly invaluable and not easily lost.
8. The best leaders work quietly and let the way they play empower and inspire others.
You can have the most inspiring pep talks in the world, but if the way you carry yourself outside of practice and the way you play doesn't embody what you say and inspire others to be better, it means nothing. Athletics cultivate leaders because those that are chosen to uphold certain roles on a team do so in a way that only they can. To have the confidence to step out ready to play your best game, moving quickly to the ball, staying one step ahead of your opponent or shaving seconds off of your time speaks volumes. Real leaders lead by example in attitude, thought and speech.
9. Time management is something you'll take with you long after the season is over.
Student athletes are some of the most impressive individuals I have ever come across. The myth that there are no brains behind the uniforms is being busted time and time again by every athlete striving to succeed both in the classroom and at their sport. To do so, these athletes are mastering a skill that does not come easy to many: time management. Planning homework around classes and practice is essential, and our bodies cannot perform properly on a lack of sleep. Time management, while important in the professional world, is just as prominent now as we strive to give 100% at practice and in games while meeting and surpassing GPA requirements.
10. There are going to be days when you lose your love for the game. That doesn't mean you've lost your passion.
It happens to all of us. Maybe you're in a funk and you're missing every ball passed your way. You didn't make the team you tried out for. You're starting to think that being a member of a team is more work than it's worth. There are going to be days when you can think of better ways to spend your time than at practice, or you wish you had a little more free time. But then you start to picture yourself without the sport, and you simply aren't "you". The phase will pass, and you will come to remember why you play and why you love it so much. Your team may win big, you may have a really good practice or maybe you just had a stressful day and you need to head to the gym to clear your head. Regardless of how it hits you, imagining yourself as no longer an athlete truly makes the difference.
11. Hustle will win out over skill every time.
Hustle means possession. If you're constantly the first person to the ball, the other team will never even get the chance to show how skilled they are. This is where work ethic comes in to play and extra training pays off. In a close game or a close race, it's ultimately going to come down to who wants it more. That team or individual will be pushing harder, running faster, passing stronger. They can outlive the opponent because they're capable of going harder longer. They've got heart and grit. You don't always need to be the most skilled individual out there. Hustle shines through in those that are the hardest workers.
12. Respect is everything.
Respect for teammates. Respect for coaches. Respect for opponents. It's all essential to being a team player and a successful athlete. What's even more important is to be able to display the same respect to these individuals in both intense and adverse situations, in which your emotions can potentially get the best of you. Furthermore, sports develop self-respect early on in athletes. This comes in the form of humility during great victories and continuous determination and morale at low points. Additionally, athletes must maintain both physical and mental health to increase athletic IQ and their physical ability to be the best they can be.
13. It's ultimately not about the medals. It's about the memories.
There will be awards to win, titles to chase, medals to claim and trophies to show off. However, as these things begin to collect dust somewhere, other things will stick around. They'll be the laughs you shared during warm-ups, the smile on your best friend's face when she scored for the first time, the halftime huddles when you're up by a few points and have to keep the lead. The game day jitters you got during the national anthem. The places you got to travel to play the game with your closest friends. The pre-game jam sessions to pump you up. The early mornings on the track and the late nights under the lights that we all loved so much. It's wonderful and incredible to say you were a district champion or All-State First Team, but if you didn't have a blast along the way, then what was the point?
14. One day, you won't be an athlete anymore.
The time will come, even though it may be years away. As you start to realize this, you cherish every moment you get to play, the good, the bad and the unbearably sweaty. You never take anything for granted, because it starts to sink in that you don't get to do it forever. The game-winning goals and the workouts and the bus rides will all be memories, but they become a part of who you are. You may not show up to practice everyday or dread preseason every year, but you don't leave it all behind. When the sun sets on your athletic career, you take all of everything the game has given you everywhere you go. Afterwards, you show up day in and day out to whatever you are doing, tackling it with the mentality of an athlete. You apply everything that your sport or sports have taught you to everything you do.