Lessons from Youth Sports
and How I’ve Applied Them to Traveling and My Life
I decided to write this as a tribute to my former coaches and teachers. I think that our teachers and coaches are some of the most under-appreciated heroes in our society and should be thanked more often. Education is a pinnacle aspect of society and those who dedicate their lives to educating others are essential to the development of our world. This is my way of thanking them.
The other day I was exercising a park in San Juan Puerto Rico that I newly discovered. I hadn’t exercised in sometime so this was a really refreshing experience for me. Fitness has long been a fundamental part of my life and I take pride in taking care of myself both physically and mentally, which I argue go hand-in-hand. I had finished using some of the workout stations and was moving on to running some sprints on the track when I began to think about my experiences playing sports in high school as well those from my former teachers and what I learned from them. I played American football in high school and hockey for about 12 years. I wasn’t a super star, but I enjoyed the drive of sports, especially hockey. (I know you are probably questioning the existence of hockey in Louisiana, but I should let you know that it exists. We even have a semi-professional team). Additionally, I am very fortunate to have had some wonderful teachers in my life.
I remember a coach once telling our team that at that time we were setting standards for our lives by devoting ourselves to the team, but it never really sunk in until more recently. More and more, I look to those years in remembrance of the lessons that I learned from playing them. The words of the coach were right. Whether I do it consciously or subconsciously, I have begun to realize how many of my life principles now and even my work ethic comes from those years. Daily in life, business, and even when I am traveling, I have reflected back to the principles, which I learned both in youth sports and from former teachers.
Since this topic was fresh on my mind, I decided that I would share the different lessons and take-aways that I reflected on the other day.
Don’t settle for less than you are capable of
This lesson actually didn’t come from youth sports. It came from a persistent teacher in high school. Over the years, I can remember several teachers who have said things that I remember to this day. They pushed me to do better and never accepted mediocre work from me. I remember times when I just wanted to do an assignment for completion and didn’t because I knew that the extra work would pay off. I was not always like this though. There was a time where I would have. I try not to anymore, thanks to those teachers.
Lesson: Whether you realize it or not, you are the one who limits yourself. Why just a finish a job when you can make it great? If you are capable of doing Grade A work, why give a C? I had a teacher in college who told us what he taught his kids: When you finish an assignment, you should be able to sign it and put it up in town square and be proud that it is yours. Do good work and be a person of your word. You’ll be remembered for that.
Stagnation isn’t good for you
I started lifting weights and exercising when I was young. I played hockey from the time when I was about 7 so from then on fitness has been an integral part of my life. When I started weight training, I used to think (like most noobs) that just doing the same thing all the time gets you results. Sure as a beginner doing something new for a while will get you a little way, but once you are used to it then you will plateau. The only way to continuously improve is to challenge yourself with variety. I learned this as I got older. That’s why the best athletes in the world are constantly exposed to different training regimens; and consequently the people who are the happiest in the world never stop learning and experiencing; and the most successful people in society are usually dynamic in nature.
Lesson: Challenge yourself often. Don’t allow yourself to get in a rut and stagnate. Being comfortable and situated is one thing, but being too comfortable can be detrimental to your development. I’ve noticed this in my personal life, business world, and even when traveling. I need to expose myself to new things, languages, and cultures, or else I don’t grow when traveling. The challenge of the road is a good thing for me, and to be honest that is one of the driving forces for why I travel.
Finishing through the line not just to it
There is something to be said about finished a job. I was doing sprints the other day, and as much as I wanted to slow down before crossing my predetermined stopping point, I didn’t. Why? Because I would have been cutting myself short. If you cut corners in one area of your life then you will likely do it in others. It is a contagious trend. Don’t make excuses for yourself. It is pointless to do so. My dad used to say, “any job worth doing is a job worth doing correctly.” That is true. Additionally, another coach of mine would ask rhetorically, “If you don’t take the time to do something correctly now, when will you?”
Lesson: An unfinished job is equivalent to cooking a delicious meal and not eating it. What’s the point? Do it right to it light; do it wrong do it long. Even in finishing, make sure that you are not just finishing to a specified point. Try to push yourself to finish through it. There is a difference.
This has become one of the most influential principles in my life. It has helped me in traveling, dealing with people, and even in not allowing other people to get to me. I remember the days of training when we were not told what workouts to expect for the day. We would arrive and always complete them no matter how hard the task. Sometimes we would run 5 miles, sometimes we would run 25-100 meter sprints or stadiums. There was no recognizable rhythm to our workouts. This is the same for traveling. Traveling the world exposes one to a variety of people, religions, climates, and even viewpoints. I’ve learned that it is important to be open to other things even if I don’t necessarily agree with them.
Lesson: Be ready for an ever-changing world. The world is not a consistent body. It changes constantly, perhaps daily. People change constantly, and you must too if you want to be successful.
Don’t fill your sports car with cheap gas
Your body is a temple. In fact, the average human body is a fascinating machine-like thing that seeks constant homeostasis. What the human body is capable of still baffles people even in a modern world with all of our technical advancements. One needs to make sure that they are taking good care of their body. You only get one.
Cheat meals are alright from time to time; it is alright to let loose from time to time. However, you have to remember that your body needs good nutrition and quality substances as well as meaningful rest. I started eating fairly healthy in my high school years and have attempted to keep that trend going, especially in my older years. Yet, it is not just about diet. It is about everything in life. Don’t corrupt your mind with things you don’t need to, or dwell in things beyond your control. Respect your body and it will respect you.
Lesson: Traveling is about balance and consciousness. You have to seek a balance in everything you do on the road, and be conscious of everything that you are doing. Take care of yourself. Give yourself rest when needed; splurge from time to time; be conservative when necessary. Find your happy place; your homeostasis.
Just do it; you don’t want ‘what-ifs’ in life
I alluded to this ‘what-ifs’ lesson that a teacher taught me in my 25 Lessons article. That teacher was really on point with his speech. Much like Mark Twain said, “In 20 years, you’ll be more upset about the things that you didn’t do, then the things that you did.” In life you really want to stay away from having too many ‘what-ifs’. What if I would have done this? What if I would have worked a bit harder? What if I would have taken that trip? There is one thing about life that I have learned, most of the time we can always go back to where we come from, but we miss out on a lot of opportunities daily that are irreplaceable. To me, an opportunity is an experience; an experience is to truly live.
Lesson: Very few people in life get the opportunities that some of us enjoy freely. If you have them, you should take them and make the most of them. Be appreciative and thankful, give back where applicable. Never forget how fortunate you are to be alive and well.
Overtime separates you from the rest
You’d be surprised to find out how few people are willing to go the extra mile to be successful. That’s why overtime is so interesting in sports. You get to see the true heart and character that people have; if their heart and soul is really in it. Most of the time, the one with the ‘overtime’ mentality gets the win. We used to train a little bit extra on top of our workouts. It was always something unexpected, when we thought that we could go no further. It makes a difference when you train yourself that way in anything. A great quote out there by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow says it best, “The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.”
You are going to have to imagine me holding up a small distance between my thumb and index finger when I say “this much”. The truth is, most winners win because they go the extra mile. Sure, there are some insanely talented athletes and people out there who have natural abilities, but there are many others who have worked just a bit harder to become better. That extra lap that you run or extra set in the gym really pays off over time. It may not seem like much, but doing the extra stuff consistently will inevitably put you ahead.
Lesson: It may seem exhausting, tiring, or useless, but putting in the work will get you results. You have to exercise a degree of patience with a touch of tenacity. Be positive, focus on what you want, and you can achieve. There is no substitute for hard work.
Cheating only hurts you in the end
Often when you are training in the gym or running laps around a track you get the urge to stop a few reps short or cut the corner of field just to ’round the edges’. Don’t. In the long run you are the one who will suffer. Not only that, but you will always be setting yourself up for cutting corners. Whether it is true or not, I believe that if you are willing to cut corners in one area of your life, then you are likely willing to do it in others as well. This is not a path that I want to go down. Who wants to be remembered for cutting corners? Most of the time no one is keeping track of you so you must keep yourself in check. Always remember, character is what you do when no one is watching.
Lesson: Constantly ensure that you are not settling for 3 when you are supposed to be doing 4. Push yourself to complete things honestly and fully. Sometimes it may be good to have a buddy to keep you in check.
Consistency beats spurts any day
Too much too fast equals burnout. It is a surefire recipe that works every time. What you need to aim for in life is being consistent in who you are and what you are doing. I remember people who seemed to jump ahead in strength in a short period, but in the end they were usually far behind. Just like in working out, you must consistently train and improve to build yourself up. If you do it too fast, you’ll likely get injured. I liken many things to building a house. Many of us have seen cheaply constructed houses. They don’t last. They are rushed, poor quality, and done in a spurt. Houses built carefully with quality materials have lasted 1000s of years.
Lesson: In traveling, I have learned that I definitely need to be consistent. Trying to do too many things at once is a recipe for disaster while traveling. You’ll burn out and want to do nothing but sit around. Remember the old adage: Rome wasn’t built in a day. I add: nor can it be seen in one.
In business, I’ve learned that consistently applying your principles and ideals while eventually yield the result that you seek. Be thorough and apply equally.
The mind quits long before the body
Your mind will tell you to stop long before you should. Your mind is built to make you scared, exhausted, and maybe even uneasy at times, especially when applied to new and challenging situations. Those are instincts that are important in some situations, but hurt you in many others. The good news is that your mind can also be used to give you confidence, perseverance, and tenacity. Quitting is not an option if you want to improve in something. Michael Jordan is a classic example. He was not chosen for his high school basketball team, but he also became a 5-time MVP and 6-time NBA champion. Can you imagine if he would have just quit at his first challenge?
Lesson: Obstacles are your friend, not your enemy. Obstacles make you stronger, better, and more well-rounded. Use them to your advantage. Don’t just look at them as an inconvenience; look at them and smile.
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link
Chains are an interesting analogy when applied to everyday life. We used to get told this phrase a lot, especially in my football days. It never sank in too much until now though. Chains are known for being strong and able to hold a load, but there are many factors going on to make it functional. A chain with a weak link is functional. That is, until it is properly tested with a challenge.
Lesson: Don’t allow yourself to have too many weaknesses or ‘weak links’. Be honest with yourself and identify areas of your life that you need to work on. This may include removing temptations from your life. Work on your weaknesses improve your strengths. Traveling is a great way to take some time to self-reflect and find ways that you can improve yourself. You may not like the way you act in certain situations, find that you want to improve your ability to do something, maybe even conquer a ridiculous fear. Highlight those things and make a pact with yourself to improve on them.
Dedication and devotion; it’s not just about you
Being a part of a team is a special experience for a kid. You learn a lot of values such as teamwork. Teamwork teaches kids to seek the greatest possible benefit for the most people on your team; at least, that is one of my take-aways. You learn that you all benefit from working together. Working as individuals will not get a team very far. A team who works together is like a perfectly oiled and tuned machine. Everyone has their job and does it to the best of their ability, which makes everything run smoothly and efficiently. Each job is equally important in its own way. Additionally, teamwork enables people to dedicate themselves to a cause outside of themselves, such as their team, school, religion, et cetera.
Lesson: You have your whole life to learn about individuality. Learn about giving to others and seeking win-win solutions for everyone. There is no point in trying to get a bit more for yourself in many situations. It likely won’t make you that much happier anyway. Sometimes this means that you have to sacrifice something. Learning how to say no is also an important factor. Saying ‘no’ to the right things is occasionally very necessary.
Remember where you are going, not where you are now
If I had to choose, this would probably be my favorite lesson from youth sports. Focusing on the end result takes most people far in life. Out of many of the books I’ve read, most of them had a theme relevant to this in them. The lead character, even in non-fiction books, would often reach their destination in the end because they chose to focus on the proverbial ‘light at the end of the tunnel’. In sports, no matter how hard a workout would be or how exhausted I was, I’d remember than in a short time I’d be finished and stronger for it.
In my 25 Lessons article, I wrote that ‘focusing on the apex‘ was important in life. I heard this from a motivational group a long time ago and it is here to stay.
Lesson: Never lose site of where you want to be. Even in difficult and trying times, still do your best to ensure that all the personal decisions that you make lead you to your intended destination. We can’t control the things that life throws our way, but we can control how we react and what we decide to do from there.
In conclusion, I am not sure if I accomplished my goal or not with writing this article. My intent was to write a reflective article of some of my favorite life principles and lessons learned from my former teachers and coaches.
In summation, I just want to send a sincere thank you to all the teachers, coaches, and educators in the world. I don’t think that you all get to hear how important you are often enough. It may seem that you only impact a few people immediately or never see a change in some of your students, but I can tell you from my life that sometimes things can take a long-time to sink in. I can remember almost verbatim, some stories and lessons from classes that I haven’t taken in 10 plus years. You never know when something you say will resonate with a child. Please keep sharing your lessons, devoting your time, and being great!