Six Life Skills I Learned from Sports

In honor of the 40th anniversary of Title IX, I’m republishing something I wrote years ago about what I learned by playing sports.

Originally published by me November 8, 2010 on

After a discussion with a friend who didn’t grow up playing sports, I realized how much sports shaped who I am today.  I honestly believe I wouldn’t be the same person if I hadn’t played sports, although that’s not to say that children can’t learn these lessons elsewhere.  However, if you’re debating whether your child should get involved in sports, here are six life skills I can trace back to my involvement with sports.  Obviously, I could name dozens, but these are some big ones.

They’re in no particular order because I believe they’re all equally important:

  • Time Management.  This is one of the first skills that comes to mind.  I was a sophomore in college when I realized that my constant involvement in sports had taught me time management skills.  I found myself with nothing to do except classes, and suddenly my school work was suffering.  Since then, I’ve learned that I am far more productive when I have a full schedule, which I’m sure comes from years of squeezing in dance lessons, softball practice (or whatever other sport I was playing at the moment), work and school.  When I know I only have an hour window to accomplish something, I get it done.  When I know I have all day to finish that same one-hour task, I procrastinate and struggle to complete it.
  • Teamwork.  This one is an obvious one.  Even sports that are individual in nature are usually team sports in competition, such as tennis or gymnastics where you end up competing as a team.  I played softball for twenty-two years, tennis off and on for about five years, cheerleading for three years, dance team for one year (although I took classes for years and still do), and basketball for one year.  No matter the sport, the moral of the story is the same: great things can be accomplished through teamwork.  We each have different strengths, which is why we can sometimes best accomplish things as a team.  Sports taught me to celebrate the talent’s of otherwise, recognize my own strengths and weaknesses, and how to put my own ego aside in order to produce the best result.  Being able to work in a team environment obviously helps in the business world, but it also helps in every relationship you’ll have in life.  I’m not married, and I don’t have children, but I would imagine teamwork is a vital part of having a healthy, happy family life.
  • Reliability.  This goes along with teamwork.  I think an important skill I learned from sports was that those around me depend on me – to be on time, to do my part of a group project, to do the research necessary before writing a blog piece or drafting a document, etc.  My life does not exist in a vacuum.  At no point in my life was this more obvious to me than when I was a pitcher playing fastpitch softball growing up.  I loved the pressure and the responsibility of being such an integral part of the game (not that every position isn’t important).
  • Sportsmanship.  This one is huge.  I can’t even begin to tell you about all the people I’ve met in my adult life who never learned how to lose.  They’re immature, irrational and generally unpleasant people.  They’re also not happy.  No one has everything go their way in life, so someone who hasn’t learned how to encounter defeat and adversity with grace has a tough road ahead of them.  They have to win every argument, they don’t respect other’s opinions because they think they’re always right, and they fall apart when things don’t go their way.  They don’t handle stress well, and sometimes it leads them to act out in drastic ways.  I can’t stress enough how important it is for kids to learn to deal with adversity.
  • Responsibility.  In the end, a lot of these play off each other and are integrally tied, but I think sports played as much a part in making me a responsible adult as my parents did.  I learned to take responsibility for my actions.  If I skipped practice and then booted a routine grounder in the next game, that was on me.  Or even better, if I stayed out all night with my boyfriend on Friday night and then was too tired to throw a strike the next day, I had to live with my decision and the consequences of my actions.  I learned that teammates and coaches depended on me, from counting on me to make key plays to representing our team/school well when I was off the field.  I learned the importance of things like being on time, practicing, being prepared (bringing the right equipment, etc.), and that whether it’s the school name on your jersey or the company name on your business card, your actions reflect on others with whom you’re associated.
  • Confidence.  This is the big one.  In fact, I think I have a whole separate blog post in me about confidence, especially as relates to young girls.  For now though, I’ll just say that I think a huge reason I never had what I would consider self-esteem issues was through my involvement with sports.  There was the year not enough girls signed up for basketball and I ended up on an all-boys team.  I learned girls really can do anything boys can do (well, almost).  Was I as good as they were?  Not even close.  But, I was able to keep up with them all season and got playing time, and I felt great about myself.  It was softball though that really shaped me growing up.  It was the sport where I excelled, and where I felt best about myself.  I dedicated myself to pitching lessons and practicing in the backyard every day, and it paid off.  I went out and gave my team a chance to win nearly every game, and that felt great.  My teammates depended on me, and most of the time I could say I gave it my very best, even if we didn’t win.  But, perhaps most importantly, I felt great about myself when I played softball.  It didn’t matter if my boyfriend had just broken up with me or mean girls at school had whispered about me behind my back, I always had softball.  I could walk out onto the field and it was all that mattered.  I felt important and special when I stepped onto that mound to pitch and my teammates always had my back.  Aside from other hobbies like music, art and drama, just to name a few, I’m not sure where else you get those feelings during those important adolescent and teenage years.

I shudder to think how I might have turned out if I’d never had sports in my life.

What did you get out of sports?


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