Playing a sport teaches you many valuable lessons about teamwork, leadership, and determination. My experiences as a volleyball player in elementary school, middle school, and high school have taught me more about life than I ever expected to learn. Here are the nine most important life lessons I've learned from my time as a student athlete:
1. The amount of experience you have is meaningless if you don’t put forth your best effort at all times.
I played volleyball from fourth grade through high school, and I was never the strongest player on my team even though I was often the most experienced. Some of the best players on my team were people who had played for a very short time. The length of time you have spent doing something is not what makes you successful – what really matters is how much effort you put into that time. If you want to succeed at something, you cannot be careless or lose sight of your goals. Pure commitment and dedication are crucial to success, whether it is in school, a job, or a sport. If you love doing something and want to succeed, you have to want it more than anything else and more than anyone else does.
2. Confidence is everything.
People will always try to tear you down. I've dealt with rude fans from opposing teams, parents who spoke badly of players, and even teammates who spoke negatively of me or other teammates. No matter who is belittling you, you cannot let it get to you. Once you stop believing in yourself and your abilities, others will sense that and stop believing as well. When a player from the opposing team senses a weak or insecure player, they aim for that player repeatedly because they know that anyone who is hesitant or doubtful will crack under pressure. In life and in volleyball, being timid or fearful is not going to get you far. Cockiness is not a good quality to possess, but confidence is vital. Believe in yourself and everything that you are, and you can accomplish anything you set out to do.
3. Your thoughts can make or break you.
My coach always liked to say that volleyball is 90 percent mental. She was absolutely right – if you do not have positive thoughts in your mind, you will not have the confidence to do well. Inversely, having too many positive thoughts can elicit arrogance. It is imperative to have your thoughts balanced, because they will either be a force behind your great success or a factor in your downfall. It is also important to fully focus on any task you are given, because the more your mind wanders towards thoughts that are unrelated to what you are doing, the more likely you are to perform poorly.
4. You can work your ass off and still not be good enough – and that’s okay.
No matter how hard you work, someone else might still be better than you and more suitable for the spot that you want and feel like you deserve. That should never discourage you from continuing to work your hardest. Never let rejection deter you from putting yourself out there and doing great things. Your efforts will be rewarded eventually, as long as you continue to work as conscientiously as you have been.
5. You must be able to put aside your differences and work well with people you don’t get along with.
It's sad to watch teams fall apart because people could not get along. Petty personal differences should never get in the way of well-deserved wins. If a team can't be civil and work well together, they have no business calling themselves a team. The ability to get along with others, at least for long enough to get a task done, is a valuable life skill. Whether you love your teammates or hate them, you are still part of a group and are expected to work well together. In the real world, you will be forced to work with people you don't like, but that will not grant you the right to be blatantly rude and uncooperative.
6. Never think you’re too good for something.
Cockiness is a tragic flaw. Never think you are above doing a task that can help you improve upon your abilities. No matter how amazing you are at something, there is always room for improvement and you should consistently aim to get better every single day.
7. The best leader is the person who sets a good example for everyone.
The best captains are the ones who consistently rally the team and never show signs of weakness or defeat. The best leaders are the ones who stay positive and encourage others to keep the same mentality. Leading by example is so powerful and can cause a ripple effect of success or failure. Once a person in power begins to show others that he or she is giving up, everyone will soon follow his or her lead. A good leader has a great work ethic and influences others to possess the same desire to succeed.
8. Practice does not necessarily make perfect – practice makes permanent.
When you practice for something, you have to practice at the same level you would if it was the real thing. If you're practicing at a level that is below the amount of effort you would give for the real thing, you're only cheating yourself out of success by looking for a shortcut. Bad habits picked up while practicing will always stick, so it is essential to work through whatever difficulties you may have while you have the chance.
9. Never lose hope when things get tough.
A game is only over when you stop believing in yourself and your abilities. When you stop caring and stop trying because you think putting forth more effort is hopeless, you are already defeated. There will be hardships you must face in life, and although it may seem easy to give up and walk away from something you worked so hard for, you owe it to yourself to power through. Tough situations can always turn themselves around and lead to a great reward, and with perseverance, hope, and confidence, they will.