Sports Taught Me So Much
There are probably thousands of books out there about life lessons learned from sports, but somehow when it’s your own life, it’s different. I was never a professional athlete, but I did play several sports in high school and college, and those experiences helped make me the person I am today. Here’s what sports contributed to my story.
1. Work Ethic
I was always one of the smallest guys. When I played pick-up games with my brother, I was the youngest kid on the team, and even up through college I was shorter than my classmates. So, to compete with bigger and stronger athletes, I had to work harder than everyone else. There are things I can’t control, but I learned to make the most of the one thing in my power—my commitment to work hard. Now, in my career, I know I might not be the smartest or best underwriter in the world, but damned if I am going to let anyone work harder than me!
2. Fighting Complacency
It did take me a few years to cement my work ethic, though. If having to struggle taught me to work hard, finding success almost taught me the opposite lesson! As a high school sophomore, I became the starting point guard on the varsity. I played very well, so going into my junior season, I thought I was “all that” and didn’t really have to train going into my junior year. The first game of the season was, to put it nicely, a bit of a disappointment. I was completely humiliated. Eyes opened, I went back to the gym and trained hard every night. That feeling I had after that scrimmage has stayed with me, reminding me not to get complacent in any area of my life.
My first at-bat in college, that first pitch hit the catcher’s mitt so hard and fast I never saw it go by. I almost passed out and I wanted to go back to high school. I was sure the college level was just beyond me. But I didn’t quit, I kept playing, and I got better. I had success as a college athlete. As it turned out, that pitcher I faced in that first game went on to play for in Major League Baseball. No wonder I had trouble against him! But to this day, when I am trying something new that seems too difficult, I remember that first pitch and know that if I keep trying, I will get there.
4. How to Handle Failure
As a kid, I didn’t handle failure or disappointment well. I suppose that’s normal. But it was two of my high school coaches who taught me to grow up and accept failure with grace—that doesn’t mean giving up or thinking failure is ok! “Acceptance” doesn’t mean “approval”! It means acknowledging that it happened and moving on. They taught me that successful people fail often (in baseball, you can fail seven out of ten times and you are an All-Star), they just try again. They taught me how to step up to the plate thinking I was going to get a hit every time, and how to move on and prepare for my next opportunity if I didn’t. I now approach every underwriting case the same way. Sure, there are times I don’t succeed, but I still bring the best of my ability to every new case.
5. Being a Team Player
I was a point guard in basketball and a lead-off hitter in baseball. If you know sports, you know those aren’t superstar positions, but they are key to the team’s success. I needed to be there to do my job initiating the offense in both sports so that other guys could lead our team to success. It takes all types of talent (superstars, setup guys, role players, and so on) to make a successful team. In my career, whether I found myself working as the setup guy or the scorer, I’ve never forgotten the value of the entire team. I’ve also never forgotten the contribution of all team members who aren’t superstars but who are key to overall success.
I doubt my story is unusual. I learned a lot of valuable lessons from my early experiences, lessons I can now share with my children and my team members. But everyone has their own formative learning experiences. What are yours?
Sports taught me so much.