The lessons you can learn from playing sports are endless.
For me, learning athletics at a young age taught me that if you work hard, you’ll get tangible gains. Doing some training meant I’d see improvements in my running times, and for me, that was a really clear correlation between hard work and results.
That’s one subconscious lesson that kids can learn from doing sports early on in life. It’s a lesson that undoubtedly helps them in all areas of their lives as adults.
When it comes to team sports, learning to lose is also really important. As parents, we can get a bit nervous about this. We might think that it’s better for kids just to have fun, to experience positive reinforcement; some might think that banning scoring in team sports altogether is a good idea. We want to, and think we should, tell our kids that they’re fantastic all the time.
And that’s no bad thing. Telling kids they can just have fun, and complimenting them – and other kids – when they do well is a great thing to do.
But not acknowledging the more difficult aspects of sports can set kids up for a fall when they eventually enter into an adult – and inevitably competitive – environment, where they won’t be experiencing that kind of constant positive reinforcement.
One really important lesson I learnt from taking part in sports from a young age was to feel okay with discomfort. This is a great thing for kids to get familiar with – to get more comfortable with pushing themselves.
I know some adults who are still so uncomfortable with feeing that discomfort when they exercise that it’s become a real barrier for them.
Exposing kids to that kind of mild discomfort from an early stage – that feeling of being puffed out or even feeling a little sick – can be a really valuable lesson. It tells kids that they can feel a little discomfort, and still be okay. It’s a lesson that lots of adults missed out on, and as a result, are at a disadvantage later on in life.
To not win at something isn’t to fail at it. That’s an important distinction to make and to articulate to your kids. It’s just what happens. It’s far more important to learn to embrace short-term discomfort for the longer-term gains. If, as a parent, you try and make everything as comfortable as possible forever, then when those uncomfortable situations finally do arrive, they'll be a lot bigger than they need to be.
Our coach used to say, ‘Get comfortable being uncomfortable.’ It’s good advice. For anyone who ever did anything that they're really proud of, I’m willing to bet they felt uncomfortable before doing it. That’s one invaluable lesson to learn from playing sports.