How Sports Skills Translate to Life Skills

Posted: January 7, 2018 by Heather Hennessy

To become great at anything in life, or at least to become better—whether it be in music, business, dentistry, or basketball—practice is essential.  That is the earliest lesson I learned from sports, and it is a lesson that transformed my world.  At age four, I began playing soccer, and experienced my first adrenaline rush after scoring the winning point in a game.  I scored many points that season, and I understood that practice made it all possible.  That same year, in the driveway of my childhood home, I taught myself how to ride a bicycle without training wheels while my mother watched from the kitchen window.  That achievement is probably my first vivid memory of real success.

One might ask: What could a four-year-old possibly know about success?  Arguably, I knew very little.  But I knew about desire, and I knew about setting goals.  I had watched other people ride a bicycle, so I believed it was possible for me to ride one, too, and I became determined to learn.  I sensed that the only way to do it was to get on the bike and try, and that if I failed, I needed to keep trying.  Even at that young age, I understood, inherently, that you don’t learn how to do something just by thinking about it.  You have to desire that thing enough to work hard until you make it happen.  

Not only did I use this formula to learn how to ride a bicycle, but I also applied it fifteen years later when I decided I wanted to become the fastest female 800-meter runner in the country.  I reached that goal.  However, soon afterwards, when tragedy struck, I had to create a new life goal.  That is when I realized that the formula for success is not exclusive to sports; it can be applied to academia and to the professional world.  

This epiphany was the silver lining to the surrender of my Olympic dreams.  I soon found a new dream, and I had faith that if I followed my formula for success in sports, I could achieve success in my career.  Here are the ingredients of that formula:

    1. Passion Discover your interests and fuel them with desire.  For instance, when I gave up my dream of becoming an Olympic runner, I rediscovered the passion I had for TV and performing on camera.  
    2. Goals Set a goal based on your passion and commit yourself to achieving that goal.  In college, after quitting track, I decided to major in communications with the goal of becoming a broadcast journalist.
    3. ResearchEducate yourself on what it takes to reach your goal.  Not only did I take classes to fulfill my communications major, but I also sought an internship in broadcasting and studied those who were in the position I desired.  In addition, I studied the athletes who I had hoped to interview.
    4. PracticeWork hard at honing the skills needed to reach your goal.  After graduation, I took a job as a production assistant, believing my experience would lead me to my ultimate goal.
    5. Patience Endurance in the sports world translates to patience in the workforce. As a production assistant, I understood that I had to “pay my dues” at the bottom in order to reach a higher level.  Overnight success is rare; the majority of us need to be patient while we work towards our dreams.
    6. Boldness Take a risk and ask for what you want.  I knew I did not want to be a production assistant forever, so I met with my boss one day and told him I wanted to be on camera.  He gave me a shot almost immediately.  As the saying goes, if you don’t ask, the answer will always be no.
    7. Persistence When a task gets tough, get tougher.  My job as a broadcast journalist required long hours, often on the weekends.  I accepted this as the nature of the work and made necessary sacrifices to stay committed.
    8. Resilience Bounce back after failure. Overcoming obstacles and setbacks is part of success; this was true for me as an athlete, and as a broadcaster.  As the great John Wooden once said, “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything.”  It’s what we do after those mistakes that truly counts.

Above all, it is important to remember that success rarely comes easily, and if we give up when things get hard, we can never reach our full potential.  Despite the old adage, I don’t believe practice is about being perfect, nor is it about winning versus losing.  It’s about improvement, and beating your own personal best.

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