Lessons from Sports

March 9th, 2016

Baseball Stadium

Pre-Game

I am not a huge sports fan. I like playing sports but I don’t much care to watch or talk about sports in general. I will gladly go to a sports party or any live event but more for the social aspects than the actual game.

With that, it’s a bit strange that I find myself writing this post. The fact is that I think there is a lot that can be learned from the sports world. A lot of what makes sports can teach us and help us improve our growth and learning processes.

I want to take some time to point out what I think are some important elements of sports and how those elements can help us with growth and learning.

Consistency and determination

Runner in rain

Sports players do what they do with great consistency. They keep going out there, week after week until the end of the season. Rain or shine, win or lose.

For us, It’s important to consistently apply our efforts at whatever we’re trying to improve/learn. We know that anything and everything takes time to learn. Yet so often, once the initial sprint of energy wears off, we find ourselves uninterested in what we’re working on.

As pointed out in this article by Sunil Sadasivan, there is a learning curve to learning and all too often we bail out too soon. We clear the first few quick hurdles, then when the learning becomes more gradual and the progress less obvious we give up.

What happens is most of us think, if we were going to be any good at this, we’d have been good by now. Instead of digging into the more challenging stuff, our interests wane. Without thinking too much about it, we find ourselves not trying as hard anymore and slowly but surely we end up moving onto something else.

The determination to keep on even though it seems like nothing is happening is very important at this stage. Forcing ourselves to continue to try and assert our resolve week after week takes a lot of determination. It might feel like we’re spinning our wheels and going nowhere but we must maintain faith that progress is being made. This is why the next item on the list is very important.

How to get the W:

We should strive to keep pushing even when we don’t feel like it. Finish out the season.

Keeping score

Criket Scoreboard

In every sport there is some way to determine who won and who lost. There is generally some form or method of tracking score and progress throughout the match.

Keeping score is a gauge, a way to keep track of progress. This is why we can say things like: “Oh no, we’re down by 10 points” or “Here we go, we’ve just tied up and are looking to take the game”.

So often when we attempt growth we don’t bother to keep track of the “score”. We end up not knowing what the progress is at any given point in time. Worse still, we end up not being able to properly acknowledge our own progress and thereby lose all our confidence.

Our minds are notorious for distorting the past. Often when we think we’re failing at something, it becomes difficult to remember the progress we’ve made and the obstacles we’ve overcome. Instead we’re more likely to think about the failures or shortcomings we’ve experienced. We find ourselves thinking we aren’t anywhere close to where we ought to be.

Keeping track of “score” keeps things honest. It helps to remind us of the things we’ve done. It serves to put into perspective our accomplishments and what we’re capable of. It gives us an easier way to reassert ourselves and our determination.

How to get the W:

Establish a baseline and track any and all progress. We must write something down, take a photo or video, anything we can use to record our current state for future reference.

Breaking down time

Stopwatch in hand

Most sports have segmented time. Like halves in football (i.e. soccer), quarters in basketball, periods in hockey, innings in baseball (which aren’t time based but still) etc. Breaking timelines down into more manageable chunks is important since the idea of playing all out for even just a few hours is daunting.

Most people won’t do well going full on at a task for hours on end. Instead, a solid, more maintainable approach would be to devote small discrete chunks of time. This means focused sessions doing only the task at hand with no distractions for the allotted time.

It also means breaking tasks down to smaller fragments. Look at your task/goal/objective and break it down. Think of it as a journey or a climb up a mountain.

Mountain Quote: A mountain is not climbed in one step but in many.

Keeping that kind of perspective, allows us to easily approach even the most intimidating of tasks. After all, climbing 29,029 feet to get to the top of Everest is a staggering idea. What about just climbing a single foot?

How to get the W:

Create discrete segments of focused time and focus on one step at a time.

Losing

Boxing knockdown

Every team/player knows that they are going to lose at some point. It’s inevitable. A given.

The truth is, we’ve all had to start somewhere and that somewhere is usually far far from graceful. Every stumble we encounter, we take as a sign of our inability. It erodes our confidence. We fall and we wonder if we should even bother to get up.

From the outset we should embrace the fact that we’re going to stumble. The plan shouldn’t be IF we falter, but instead WHEN we falter. In that sense, if we happen to get to the other side without stumbling, we’ll feel all the better for it. If we do happen to get tripped up though, we’ll be ready for it.

The benefit here is that we are less likely to damage our ego and more likely to spring back up. More importantly though, if failure is a calculated expectation, we wrangle it and learn from it. Our failures can be used to gain further insight into growth. We can glean valuable information and improve the next go around.

Every failure should be seen as a new lesson. If we learn nothing else, we at least have a better idea of what NOT to do!

How to get the W:

Learn from our failures.

Team Effort

Football Team

Every sport is a team effort. EVERY SPORT is a team effort. Sure, there are sports where there is a single player facing another but even those players have coaches and other people that help them train etc.

The best players in the world are the ones that recognize their team. They recognize that they are better because of these people and not in spite of them.

We should make efforts to create a solid team. Surround ourselves with people that are going to help us succeed in whatever it is we are trying to achieve.

Finding people that will champion us will be crucial to our success. These are the people that will feed our motivation when we fail to do it on our own. Those moments when we feel defeated, the right team member will light a fire inside us that will carry us through.

Often times these people will also help to bridge the gaps of our limitations. If we allow them to, they will coach and prod us to the finish line. Teams are invaluable.

How to get the W:

Build a solid team and trust in them

Spectator Sports

Soccer Match

Sports by nature are spectator events. Everyone sees everyone. Whether the team/player wins or loses. How many points a player scores. What mistakes a player makes. It’s out there. Everyone can see it.

At first this seems a very scary idea. We don’t want to look foolish. Why would we tell anyone we are learning something before we’ve learned it. We would be mortified if anyone saw us fumble around. It’s easy to imagine people are going to think us incapable/stupid/unsuccessful/whatever.

If we have a solid team around us, instead we’ll find that they will cheer us on. They will motivate motivate and encourage us.

Putting ourselves out there is more so that we’ll be accountable. If no one knows we are trying something, then when it gets difficult it’s easy for us to just abandon it and no one will be the wiser.

Instead putting our efforts out there where our team can see them will help to drive us. We should want to do it, if not for ourselves (it really should be for ourselves) then at the very least we’ll do it so as to not let them down.

How to get the W:

Our efforts should be made visible.

Post-game Wrap Up

Here is a recap of the 6 items:

  1. Consistency and determination
    • Consistently try and keep going till the end
  2. Keeping score
    • Find a way to gauge your progress
  3. Breaking down time
    • Create discrete segments of focused time
  4. Losing
    • Learn from the inevitable stumbles to come
  5. Team effort
    • Build a team. Put trust in them and let them push you.
  6. Spectator sports
    • Put your efforts out there

What are your thoughts?

Is there anything that you sports fans out there would have called out over these items? I would love to hear your thoughts. As always hit me up on the twitters @dev_vine. or leave your comments below.

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