During a break in English class one day in high school, I was discussing after-school activities with a friend.  As I explained how busy I was with athletics, my friend expressed her opinion that sports were a waste of time and that our particular high school should not have sports teams at all.  This comment immediately frustrated me, but I couldn’t quite articulate why I thought she was wrong.

Let me provide some background: I attended a very progressive school (kindergarten-12th grade) in Baltimore, MD called The Park School.  The distinguishing characteristics of the school were the total absence of letter grades until 9th grade, the focus on conversation in the classroom and tendency for all the students to call their teachers by first name.

Students from other schools in the area used to poke fun at my school for not being a “real school.”  They observed (accurately) that we had a great deal of free time for discretionary learning.  They also heard (again – correctly) that on sunny days classes were sometimes held outdoors, with students and teachers sitting cross-legged in a circle on the grass.

Park School provided a very positive learning environment and I had a great experience both in the classroom and on the athletic field.  However, when challenged, I was unable to prove why athletics were a worthwhile endeavor.

Only with the benefit of hindsight, nearly 10 years after graduating from high school, can I confidently list the benefits of high school athletics.

1) Sports help you learn how to compete both mentally and physically against an opponent.
School can be a bit of a sheltered experience, but life involves lots of obstacles and competition. Becoming comfortable with competition early on has allowed me to compete at every level, through college and in the business world today. 

2) Sports help you learn your limits and control your body.
Whether it’s running laps in practice or sprinting down the field in a game – sports help you learn the limits of your body and how far you can push yourself.  If you never push your limits, you never know where your limits are.  Those limits could be athletic limits, mental limits, or simply how little sleep you can get and still function at a high level.

3) How to turn a loss today into a win tomorrow.
It was certainly not a lesson that I wanted to learn, but sports taught me how to lose.  I learned how to turn mistakes and losing into a learning experience.  I learned how to stand up straight and listen to criticism, watch my mistakes on film – “take my medicine” – and know what to do better next time.

4) “The will to succeed means nothing without the will to prepare.”
Games are not won on the day of the game – but rather in the weeks and months that lead up to the contest.  The team that is the most prepared is the team that will win.

5) The little things can make a big difference.
Making just one extra play, capitalizing on just one extra opportunity, doing the little things right can mean the difference between winning and losing.

6) A team can be stronger than the sum of its parts.
When you play together as a team you can accomplish far more than when you play as a collection of individuals.

7) It’s important to always have a game plan.
There must always be a game plan and everyone must believe in the plan.  Everyone “buying in” or believing in the plan is the most important thing – even more important than the actual quality of the plan.

8) Everyone has unique strengths and weaknesses.
Recognizing everyone’s different and has unique strengths and weaknesses – and recognizing your own strengths and weaknesses is the only ways to achieve the best result for the team.

9) Energy is contagious and morale can make or break a team.
Whether it’s practice for high school athletics, going on a weekend trip, or showing up to work in an office.  Arriving on time and with excitement sets the tone for the event and leads to everyone being more productive and having more fun.  Excitement is easy to bring to the table and leads to positive momentum for the whole team or group.

10) A healthy body leads to a healthy mind.
Holistic health is essential for optimal mental performance and exercise improves the function of the brain.  Personally, I’ve always done my best thinking while exercising – concentrating on running while allowing my mind to wander free and discover new thoughts and new ways of thinking.

Sitting in English class in high school, I couldn’t articulate why I thought sports were valuable, but looking back I can confidently say that sports, physical activity and athletic competition have been the single greatest contributor to my career success.  It’s impossible for me to go back in time and tell this to my friend – so I guess I’m stuck with writing it here, hoping that future generations find this and embrace sports the way I have.

The Value of High School Sports