Leadership in Athletics

We all have our favorite sports icons whom we have watched play with seemingly inhuman effort, heroic character and epic grit as they sank a game-winning shot, broke tackles on the way to a score or made the clutch walk off hit in extra innings. We all have that hero we idolize. We buy their jerseys, posters, cards and wait in line for a chance to get their autograph. Why is that? It’s because sports are special, and the athletes who play them are even more extraordinary. Sports teach us a lot about ourselves and they provide us some essential leadership lessons. Athletes at all levels learn how to be a team player. They also learn valuable lessons of teamwork, perseverance, goal-setting, discipline, humility and character. We can learn a lot from our sports idols, but the real-life lessons are obtained through the blood, sweat and tears earned through playing sports.

Sports teach teamwork

Anyone who has suffered through preseason early-morning workouts, grueling practices or disappointing losses knows those events are better experienced as a member of a team. Sports offer us intense crucibles and events that bring teams closer together. Sports also teach us that success comes easiest when we work together as a team. It’s in these crucibles that all differences are crushed through the sacrifice, pain and unified commitment. All perceived differences disappear because everyone is judged based on their commitment level and performance rather than one of the many issues that can be divisive in society. Teams establish a culture; they have norms and rules team members must follow. Athletes learn how to successfully perform under these conditions and assimilate with others in order to be a part of something bigger than themselves. These lessons learned stick with athletes and help them perform on teams outside of athletics.

Sports teach how to be a team player

Athletes learn how to support each other; they learn what it means to be a team player. There is no shortage of trials and tribulations in sports. These experiences are often faced as a member of a team. Athletes pick each other up on the courts or playing field and they also push each other in the weight room. They learn how to provide encouragement or candor when needed to help their teammates perform at their best. Athletes quickly learn that they can’t do it on their own and need the help of those around them. This codependence in team sports forces even the most talented (possibly egotistical) athlete to learn that no one is an island unto themselves. Even though an individual may be great, it is the yeoman work of their teammates that facilitates the success.

Sports teach perseverance

Sports can be brutal and you can be assured that at some point you will be challenged. Athletes are always pushing themselves to be the best they can be and perform at their best. When you push that hard — you are going to see failure. Athletes learn the perseverance needed to push past that failure and strive for excellence.

Every great athlete has failed, failed and failed again. Often times these failures are publicly displayed. It forces the internal conversation within every great competitor: “Is the pain of training worse than the pain of defeat?” The fear of experiencing the pain of failure has driven athletes to heights they didn’t know existed.

Sports teach goal setting

Athletes are excellent goal setters. They learn how to set goals for the season, the off-season, practices and many other scenarios. Goals become a common language on a team and are something everyone can unite behind. Athletes carry their goal-setting ability onto other teams.

Goals must be specific and measurable. Nowhere in society is success more easily quantified than with wins and losses. If you want to be better, then set attainable goals and work diligently toward them. Those goals should be part of a larger dream that exists deep into the future that drives your passion every day.

Sports teach character

Sports build character in the athletes who embrace the tradition. They teach values, commitment and work ethic required to be competent. In sports, teams often become a family unit that are often times closer than the athletes’ own families. Being a member of these tight-knit groups comes with responsibilities that athletes have to live up to or they risk being removed from the team. Sports help build character and teach us how to be our best selves.  There is a level of accountability to the team that builds an unfailing bond. Inevitability, everyone will fail and it is character that allows athletes to look into the eyes of their teammates and acknowledge they did their best, but it still wasn’t enough.

Sports teach discipline

Sports are a grind. They take hard work, dedication, grit and a lot of discipline. Discipline to do the right things on the field, off the court, in the locker room and in the classroom. Athletes learn how to do the right things at the right time, every time. Sports reward the disciplined and that is a lesson athletes carry on to other teams.

Discipline is derived from the word disciple, which literally means “to follow.” There is so much to do in the 21st-century society that following any strict commitment schedule is rare. Sports teaches athletes to stick to their commitments and follow the lead and expectations of their coaches and teammates, even when there might be more appealing alternatives.

Sports teach humility

The scoreboard reminds us that there is a winner and a loser in sports. Athletes experience heartbreaking nail-bitters and painful, brutal losses. These are a special way to teach humility. Humility is after losing a game that an athlete has poured their heart and soul into for every minute of the contest and spent countless hours honing their craft and standing eye-to-eye with their opponent, shaking their hand and saying job well done. It’s tough to teach that level of humility anywhere else.

Sports make leaders on the courts, fields and arenas who also step up and lead on the factory floor, board room and other work spaces or places. Sports teach us leadership lessons that transcend sports. That is why we need sports; they provide critical lessons that develop our youth into confident and effective leaders.

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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.