What I Learned From High School Sports

I learned a lot from participating in extracurricular activities in high school, which is a good thing, because I spent an awful lot of time on them. I was in golf and tennis, sure, but I was also in concert band and choir, as well as the jazz band and the marching band. And I was in knowledge bowl, math league and three school plays a year.

Some of these activities are competitive, and some are not. I learned from all of them.

All the music had competitive contests, in which I did always did very badly as an individual. I worked hard, and I did my best, and I loved it, but I was horrible. When I was with a group I did better, perhaps bolstered by other people’s talent.

I was also awful at golf and moderately mediocre at tennis. I enjoyed golf practice, when a group of friends was playing with me, and dreaded golf meets, in which you had to play with a bunch of strangers. I liked tennis practice, and had a great time playing doubles (I wasn’t fast enough to be a good singles player) at meets.

I joined math league purely because my friends were in it, and I don’t think I scored a more than two points the whole time. (Incidentally 2 was also how many points I made in my 2 years playing junior high basketball.) That was okay, because my coach knew better than to put me on the team of people whose numbers counted, and I still got to go along with the group and hang out.

I loved knowledge bowl, and rattling off trivia answers as part of a team was awesome. And I was good at it, too. My team usually did well.

One of the three plays was competitive. We never did well, but we generally ran crowd-pleasing comedies, whereas to win at a contest you had to perform something artsy and depressing, preferably something where someone experiences a horrific loss or dies. If they do both, it’s pretty much an automatic win.

One of the plays was a musical. I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, so I either had a bit part in the chorus or a small non-singing part.

But when I go back and think about all the extracurriculars, I realize they taught me a lot about myself and how I interact with others, and what I like and don’t like:

  1. I liked working cooperatively in groups. If those groups competed with other groups, great! If they didn’t, also great! But I enjoyed teams best.
  2. I wasn’t very athletic or musical, but with a lot of work I did see improvements. It’s not just talent, it’s hard work, too.
  3. Some of it is talent. I sing every day and I’m still awful. It can’t be helped.
  4. Winning is a lot more fun than losing. Losing feels worse when you’re on a team, because you let down the team.
  5. I hate math. But if taking short math tests is what I have to do to hang around with my friends, I’m gonna do it, because people are more important than specific activities.
  6. I’m not too good at math.
  7. A driver to the back of the head really, really hurts, especially if the golfer has lots of muscles.

Probably the most valuable points here are the first three, with an option on 6 and 7.

#1 is why I love working in a newsroom. We’re a motivated group working to beat the clock, and sometimes, to beat other news organizations. Sometimes there’s some friction but we’re all on the same side working together, and it’s so much fun!

#2 is important, because the things you’re horrible at in life will greatly outnumber the things you’re good at. With work and a bit of cleverness you can compensate.

For example, I am horrible at remembering where I have left objects, so I leave my keys on the floor in front of my door every night so I can’t lock myself out. Another example: My thoughts tend to jump around from topic to topic, so my writing sometimes lacks transitions. I’ve been working on that in my newspaper articles–I hope you’re able to tell.

#3 is a sad fact of life. I will never be a ballerina or a professional basketball player or a musician. I can still enjoy singing, particularly if it’s in a soundproof room as far from human habitation as possible. Making people’s ears bleed isn’t nice.

Sports and extracurriculars can teach you all sorts of other things too.

You can learn how you function on a team, what parts you play well (leader, encourager, creative or steady worker, problem-solver, observer) and how other people think. You can learn how to form strategies and implement them, whether it’s a football play or determining who answers the question in knowledge bowl. You can learn how to compete against yourself as an individual in a sport like golf or math league, where you have separate results. You can learn how to win graciously and how to lose gracefully.

Through failure, you learn how to adjust the plans you’ve made, and compensate for past mistakes. Through success, you learn what works and what accomplishing goals means: new goals, new challenges, new expectations and new competition.

You can learn a lot, in other words.