Life skills lessons that sports teaches

The importance of life skills for success in today’s world is well known. But, how to pick up these skills? Having escorted my kids for various swimming competitions at both national and state levels, I have learnt that sports is an effective medium to pickup life skills as seen below.

Thinking skills in sports: Deciding what strategy works against which opponent or deciding to specialise in which kind of sport, involves life skills like critical thinking, decision making, problem solving and self awareness.

For example, some sports people have slow twitch muscles as compared to others who have fast twitch muscles. Slow twitch muscles are more suitable for marathon races as compared to sprints which need fast twitch muscles. Having a knowledge of this helps choose the event an athlete has to focus on for a better chance at success at a podium finish.

We have all read about how Michael Phelps has the body perfect for swimming (his arm span at 6 ft,7 inches as against his height of 6ft, 4 inches is unique as other swimmers have the same arm span as their height). He also did not miss swim practice even during Christmas and peak winter. Usain bolt has the perfect legs and knees which give him a natural advantage to which he adds his hard work which makes him a world champion.

Our own Saina Nehwal has a disadvantage with respect to her feet which are very small for her body. She has worked on this extensively to overcome hurdles to become world No. 4 despite this, thanks to her interest and passion besides her aptitude.

The awareness that just being good at something is not good enough for success itself motivates you to work hard to beat the competition as everyone is good at their game at that level. This where interest in what you do motivates you to work hard at your game. I have seen youngsters compete and win at State level swim meets with 102 degrees fever while competing. This is very common in sports as they train to endure pain which is needed for any achievement.

Social skills in sports: Team sports drills in the spirit of Team work for the team’s success. Interpersonal relationship skills are picked up while playing together for a common goal despite differences. Athletes have to get along with others who may be very different than them. This has been shown very well in the movie “Chak De India” where finally the team plays together as one forgetting their differences.

Examples: We have all read about how two different personalities like the aggressive  and temperamental Sourav Ganguly and the cautious , cool and assertive Rahul Dravid  worked together as a team towards a single goal.

Carl Long supported black Jesse Owens in front of Hitler in the 1936 Olympics. Hitler wanted the German Long to win gold but Long gave some good advice to Jesse just before the event  because of which Jesse won gold and Long, silver.

Long could empathise with Jesse  who was nervous in front of Hitler and was making repeated fouls.Sports teaches empathy,  a  life skill which makes heroes out of us even without winning. In real life too, we have to work with all kinds of people, some of them very difficult to deal with, towards a common goal. Also, showing empathy is what makes us human.

Emotional skills
Coping with stress and dealing with emotions are two life skills which form the foundation of any sports. In sports, there is only one gold, one silver and one bronze medal. The person who gets the fourth place would have worked equally hard, if not more, like the other three. While these medal winners are heroes, the fourth is an also ran. 

The ability to take failure and become resilient is second nature to sports people who would have lost more times than won. Example: Roger Federer (as any other champion) is known to have nerves of steel while competing. You can hardly see any emotion while he is playing. But, he, like any other winner, displays emotions and has been shown crying after winning. One common sight is how winners get tears after winning as they know how incredibly hard it is to win.

Often in life, it is sad that many students lose hope after just one failure as they cannot handle failure as this is not taught in any school. Every year we read reports of student suicides after results. Sports can show the way forward about how to apply life skills to life.

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