Sports: Live-action lessons on life

by Barnabas Piper

Posted on Friday, July 3, 2015, at 11:21 am

Every day I think about sports. Yes, I think about them as a fan. (The Minnesota Twins just called up their best power-hitting prospect!) But in a more meaningful way I think about all they taught me growing up. I apply them in my work, my parenting, and my marriage. I played sports as a child and teen because I loved them. I didn’t realize at the time they were a master class in life. Here are eight lessons I learned.

  1. Humility: Nobody is bigger than the team. Winning doesn’t make you better than anyone. And pride leads to apathy and failure. Stay humble and remember the value of those on your team to you and how much you rely on them.
  2. Teamwork: Stars can take a team so far, but a true unit working together trumps star power. Of course, if a star is a good teammate they become an unstoppable force. Every member has a responsibility, and if one person fails, it can either bring the team down or other teammates will have to cover for his mistakes. Later they make sure he knows not to make the same mistakes again.
  3. Practice: Now I just call this work, the labor it takes to make results happen. It was a grind as a kid and is often a grind now, but without it nothing good gets accomplished. Practice (work) is the foundation on which success is built.
  4. Preparation: A person can go a long way on talent alone, but a prepared person will surpass him. Readiness for the challenges of life is much like readiness for the blitz from the left outside linebacker. Knowledge of the variables in a plan is similar to knowledge of an opponent’s 2-3 zone. We prepare so that we can react in a skilled and timely manner.
  5. Losing well: Life is hard, almost as hard as playing on that terrible “Cops for Kidz” park league team when I was 9. The losses pile up. Learning to be gracious, resilient, persistent, and persevering is essential.
  6. Winning well: Success is worth celebrating but not rubbing in anyone’s face. And it is never, ever license for laziness. The only way to keep succeeding is to keep working. Winning that doesn’t beget work is cheap.
  7. Leading by example: The tone for a team is set by actions far more than words, especially among peers. Work hard. Work humble. Be respectful. The positive ripple effects are significant.
  8. The value of good leadership: I played for many bad coaches and a few good ones. The first group could take a talented team and help them underperform. The latter group could lift mediocrity to victory. A strong leader makes a world of difference.

Sports aren’t frivolous. They aren’t a waste of time or a bad influence. For children and teens they offer live-action lessons on life in a way that’s understandable and (most of the time) enjoyable. That’s a gift and an opportunity not to be wasted. 

Barnabas Piper

Barnabas works for Lifeway Christian Resources and is the author of The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity and Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not the Enemy of Faith. He and his wife live in the Nashville area with their two daughters. Follow Barnabas on Twitter @BarnabasPiper.

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