Growing up with three brothers and parents that loved and played sports, I spent a lot of time watching games. I have fond memories of cheering on my brothers at hockey, baseball and wrestling events, playing pond hockey with my dad and brothers, watching football games together on Sunday afternoons, watching local boxing matches with my dad, and dancing the legendary Super Bowl Shuffle of my beloved Chicago Bears.
I also played sports myself—cross country, track and field, gymnastics, and dance. (Side note, I often debated with my brothers on whether or not those were sports, but to this day, I still challenge anyone that doesn’t think dance is a sport to try an intense ballet class and see how sore they are the next day. While not everyone may realize it, there is a team component to each of those sports.)
Whether you play a sport or are a big fan of one, there are important lessons to learn from sports that can influence who you are as a person, a parent, and a leader – and these lessons are good for your kids and teams as well:
- You win some, you lose some. The last hockey and football season was a perfect reminder of this for me. It was not a winning season for my Chicago Bears, but….it was a glorious season for my World Champion Chicago Blackhawks. Did I hate football season because we lost? No—I still valued the time I spent cheering the team with my family and friends, the jokes about the number of interceptions, and the ups and downs of each game. Watching the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup with family and friends was amazing, and, just as I did the last time they won, I was on the phone with my dad for the last few minutes of the game so we could share that moment together. In life, family, and work, you have successes and “lessons.” I’ve often learned more from a loss than a win. Just accepting the fact that you win some and lose some makes the losses sting a little less and the potential learnings greater.
- Practice, practice, practice. Nothing great comes without hard work. Whether it’s reading, school work, a new skill, management, parenting, or leadership, each day is an opportunity to practice and get better. If you accept the status quo, you’ll never win a championship.
- Teamwork is essential to success. When a team is connected, communicative, and working together, big games are often won. When teams aren’t working well together, there is more anger, turnovers, and losses. Making sure your team is strong is just as important as practicing the drills. This is true not only in sports, but at home and work too. Strong teams require an investment of time, effort, and communication, but the payoff is huge.
- You can make peace with your rivals. My biggest sports rival is the Green Bay Packers, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have Packer fans as friends. While this is a lighter example, it is a good reminder that you can appreciate people’s perspective and still not agree with them. That is important to remember—especially in environments that are super competitive. In the end, maybe we would all get farther if we just worked together, but when that isn’t possible, it doesn’t mean that people still can’t be civil and peaceful with each other.
- Sportsmanship is important—and not always present. There are people that demonstrate good sportsmanship (such as the late Walter Payton), and there are people that don’t (I’ll refrain from naming names but we can all think of a few). When a player is obnoxious after scoring, it can diminish the power of the score itself. Players that lose with class are more respected that players that win without it. And in life, we will encounter both types of players.
- Loyalty is powerful. The CEO of my former employer is a huge Packers fan, and at one holiday event he was teasing me. He said that, while he questioned my judgement, he didn’t question my loyalty. If you think about it, that’s true and powerful. Sports is a good chance to teach your kids and teams that it’s important to stand by people even when they aren’t performing to the most optimal levels. At work, you can still show loyalty to someone even when you are letting them go—you can give them time to find a new job, try to help them build their network, and make sure they had a clear chance to perform to your expectations in the first place. At home, you can show unconditional love to your kids, teaching them that even when they mess up, you will still love them.
- We pass down beliefs and traditions—which can be good and bad. My family has cheered for the Blackhawks and Bears for generations. The Bulls as well. (You may notice that there isn’t much discussion about baseball in this blog post, and that’s because we’re a divided family. I choose to stay out of the feud ;) I’m passing the joy of cheering for these Chicago teams onto my daughters. We pass on our beliefs and traditions to our kids. Sometimes, that is good, and sometimes, in the case of prejudices and biases that negatively affect our interactions with others, that can be bad. Sports is a good reminder that we are taught a lot from our parents, and we are teaching a lot to our kids, and we should take a moment to pause and make sure that we’re not on “autopilot” for some of these lessons and beliefs and that they are really want we want to teach.
- Girls play and love sports too. I love sports. And I’m a girl. It’s fun to teach my girls about sports – and it’s fun to see them enjoy games. We can all learn a lot from sports – and there are many, many sports to choose from. Make sure that you’re exposing your sons and your daughters to the possibilities of sports – and let them, not a societal gender bias, decide whether or not sports are for them.
So Bear Down, and get ready for another fall sports season! What have sports taught you?