I’m a big believer in competitive sports for kids. Competing in a sport is a wonderful, character building experience.
Thinking back on my own experiences in ice skating and tennis, I marvel at all the things I learned from competing in a sport.
First off, I had to learn to organize my time. If I wanted to get all my homework done and get good grades, I had to learn to prioritize and use my time efficiently. Since I had a smaller window for doing my homework each evening, I learned to apply myself when I sat down to study. The endless evening of studying (or avoiding it) was not an option.
I had to learn to plan ahead for those weekends when I was out-of-town at skating meets. You didn’t study at a skating meet. I think the need to organize and plan ahead gave me a feeling of control and accomplishment.
And then, of course, there were those days when you just didn’t want to skate or workout or play tennis. I remember doing rain dances, pleading with the skies to open up so I didn’t have to go to a skating workout. But most of the time the workouts happened and I went and practiced hard.
I learned how to push myself. I learned how to push myself in a workout even though I was tired. I learned how to push past the pain in a race to cross the finish line. I learned how to push past the nerves in a tennis match and continue to go for my shots.
Once again I had a feeling of control and accomplishment.
I learned about cheating and confronted the kind of person I wanted to be. In tennis it’s very easy to cheat. Unless you’re a pro you call your own lines and your own score. It’s very easy to call that in ball out when you want it to be out so badly. It’s a big decision to decide that you want to win fairly. It’s a decision that can affect your whole life. Too bad more parents and coaches aren’t helping their young athletes make the right choice. Boy, do I have stories about that…
So I learned how to organize my time and plan ahead and push myself beyond what I thought I could do. I began to define myself as a person and find my moral center. I felt pretty good about myself – mature, accomplished and self-confident. I was busy doing something that I loved.
In talking to friends years later, I realized that I had missed a lot of the sturm und drang of high school. All the social one-upmanship and petty gossip went right past me. I was just too busy to pay any attention and, maybe, had enough confidence in myself to ignore it.
I also had enough confidence to march to my own drummer. I loved my sports, but they often conflicted with parties, social events and dates. I chose the sports – skating meets and tennis tournaments – and have never regretted it. So did Cori. She chose tennis over parties.
I remember having to fill out a questionnaire for Cori’s guidance counsel to help her with her letter of recommendation for Cori for college. I remembering putting down that Cori marched to her own drummer. I watched Cori ignore the mean, popular girls and side-step the drinking and drugs. She played her tennis and got good grades. She stayed focused and determined.
Of course, you can learn a lot of these lessons doing other activities. But mix these lessons with endorphins and a possible lifestyle choice and you have a winning combination.