Feb 29, 2016 • 5 min read
This is a guest post from Alexander Hawke. He is an outdoors enthusiast, advocate for youth sports, and an all around great guy.
In recent months, the rhetoric around the relative detriments and benefits of youth sports is fixated on issues related to chronic injury and head trauma. Although it is important to address these topics, it is easy to lose sight of the myriad of lifelong benefits that youth sports provide. Many adults are defined by specific traits and habits that have their foundations on the athletic field, diamond, or rink.
The short-term, immediate benefits of youth sports are relatively straightforward. It keeps children off the streets, engaged during critical development periods, and promotes physical health. Moreover, youth sports introduce the concepts of discipline, dedication and competition in an experimental, fail-safe environment. These, and many more, are the basis for lifelong lessons applicable in a variety of realms, from school to personal development to the working world.
Perhaps the most critical lesson to be garnered from youth sports is that teamwork is the foundation for achieving something bigger than oneself. This quickly becomes very obvious in the structured world of sports: one person cannot take on a team of 10 opponents. You often cannot score a goal unless you can pass to a teammate with a better shot. When it’s 10 vs. 10, no single person’s talent can guarantee a victory. At the end of the day, teamwork is king.
This is a lesson that far too often gets ignored in the professional world. It’s incredibly tempting to bear the weight of the world (or at least your department) to ensure that goals are met to your personal standards. Of course, this mentality is short-sighted and unscalable. More often than not, someone on your team has a better shot. Keep in mind that you’re on the same team and working towards the same goal.
Another key benefit of youth sports is that they provide a safe space for kids to find out what it takes to improve themselves. Those who invest time in themselves outside of structured practice time automatically put themselves at a great advantage. Sports are generally more meritocratic than the politicking of professional life, and young people learn very quickly that hard work and merit are the currency of success.
This one is self-explanatory. There are very few relationships in a young person’s life as formative as that which they build with a sports coach. Coaches can be more regimented and disciplined than a teacher. They can be more concentrated and targeted in their approach than a parent.
How can this translate to the working world? Coaches, although they can be harsh, are evidently trying to make each individual player better. By contrast, the moment that an employee feels like their manager has pegged them as a cog in the wheel in service to the company’s goals (or worse yet, the manager’s goals), the relationship becomes toxic. As a manager, invest time in practice, trainings and professional development for your employees. Don’t manage them, coach them.
Have you ever examined a batter stepping into the box? Some tap the end of the bat on the home plate. Some pull up their front sleeve. Others grind their cleats into the dirt. Nearly all players get squared up and then wave their bats in little circles above their heads. Regardless of their routine, they do it exactly the same every time.
The reason they do this is to impose some structure into their environment. Behavioral economics has shown time and time again that controlling environment is fundamental to achieving success. Have you ever tried to be productive in an uncomfortable or unfamiliar setting? Sports encourage kids to develop a routine — whether it’s wearing the right uniform, organizing their equipment, or formulating an on-field routine. The batter’s box extends beyond the baseball diamond, and you can control your environment in practically every aspect of your life.
One of the classic sports clichés states: the name on the front is more important than the name on the back. Playing youth sports, you’ll hear that a lot. Overall it holds true, and it’s a great little adage. The sum, after all, is greater than its parts, and everyone on a team ought to prioritize collective success over their individual success.
That being said, the best way to achieve collective success is to be better than every other player on your team at some component piece. Be the best pitcher. Be the best 3-point shooter. Be the best run blocker.
This simple lesson is extremely valuable in the working world. The best way to provide value in a team is to find yourself a niche; be the best you can at that niche, and use it as a beachhead to help expand and refine your position in the group. If you’re the best writer in the company, make sure it’s well known and use it to expand my circles.
It’s not a revolutionary argument to say that youth sports are formative in a young person’s life. The immediate benefits of youth sports are apparent. But do not underestimate the long-term, downstream effect of these lessons long after they lace up their cleats for the last time.