Growing up I always knew that I was different.  I had interests that were obviously not common for a young girl at the time.  Instead of playing with dolls, I wanted to play with balls, and loved getting sweaty and dirty.

My favorite sport was volleyball and I remember spending summers running up and down the beaches to see if anyone would let me on the court. Sometimes the people were nice and let me play a game with them. Others, would either ignore me or laugh and tell me to go away.

I never had any big aspirations until I saw the 1968 National Women’s Volleyball team playing in an exhibition before the Olympics.  Most of the women were really tall, except for one player who was smaller than me.  Her name was Patti Bright and at 5’2” not only could she set the ball perfectly, but was also was a defensive machine.  When I saw her play she inspired me to believe that I had a chance to play at that level too.

Realizing, that I needed to get a lot better, I searched and found a great coach, who recognized that I had the athleticism and desire.  I just needed to learn the skills and discipline.   Because of his Coaching and a lot of hard work, I eventually made the USA Team in l974 and also competed at UCLA and was on their first National Championship Team and made the World University Team.

My journey with sports taught me a lot of lessons that had a huge impact on my life.  The following are usually learned on the court or the field and I believe they are the real reasons why sports are so valuable.

 

  1. The Accountability Factor. The first lesson is the most important. Being responsible for the choices we make in life is empowering. All athletes who play at the highest levels know that if they blame others for their losses, they will never get any better. Imagine what our world would be like if everyone actually held themselves accountable for their actions instead of projecting and blaming others.
  2. Athletes know that they don’t get to win all the time. In fact, a loss is when athletes are the most motivated to make important changes.  When they get knocked down, they don’t stay down, whine, and complain. They get back up and are usually stronger than before.   Most athletes are tough, and love the challenges their sport brings.  Ultimately, they end up using this Resilience to handle life’s challenges.
  3. Also, athletes are able to take criticism. Obviously, in every sport, there is a coach who is the one who must get the best out of his or her athletes, and sometimes, that means being very honest about their weaknesses.  An athlete has to be able to handle the truth…a trait that makes most people uncomfortable, but is necessary if a person really wants to be successful.
  4. Persistence equals success. An athlete spends hours and hours perfecting their skills in practice so they have the best chance for success.  Those hours pay off in the long run.  What’s incredible is that many people give up on their dreams too soon. Unfortunately, we tend to live in a “the quick fix” society.  We don’t want to wait for anything.   I always tell my students to never quit until they achieve their goal or something better.  Effort is always rewarded as doors continue to open along the path to success.  Keep Moving forward!
  5. Last, but not least, is teamwork. Being on a sports team is one of the best opportunities to learn how to get along with other people and hone communication skills.  Both are of upmost importance in any job or relationship.  In sports, you don’t have to like your teammates, but you must learn to work with them in order for the team to be successful. Besides, it always feels great when your team wins a hard fought contest, especially after putting in long hours of practice together.

 

After years of playing sports and Coaching on the high school, college and club levels, I really believe that these lessons are the real perks of playing sports.   However, as a society we focus too much on the wins, accolades, and the opportunities for scholarships which really are just icing on the cake.  As parents, grandparents and coaches, we need to keep our focus on what is really important—how our kids can be more successful in life by playing sports.  The lessons are there for the taking. Also, sports do not reward spoiled children.  Mommy and daddy cannot go out on the field and play for their kid—although I have seen some parents get really close to doing just that.

So if your kid or grandchild is playing a sport, realize that they are going to have good times, and also challenging times. You cannot control the winning or losing, but you can support them along the way and make sure they are in a situation where these lessons are valued.

Finally, also remember that the number one reason why kids play sports, is because they think they are FUN!  Why would any kid want to play a sport that isn’t fun?

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Sharkie Zartman Health Coach, Professor, Radio Host, Author

Sharkie Zartman, MA, is a college professor, a former All-American athlete, and award winning volleyball coach. She hosts Sharkie’s Pep Talk on HealthyLife.net Radio Network and is a certified health coach, speaker, and the author of five books including Shark Sense, Empowered Aging, Have Fun Getting Fit, Hey Sports Parents, and her newest, WIN at AGING. She is passionate about helping people take an empowered approach to life so they can have optimal health, happiness, and success at any age.

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