15 Lessons I Have Learned from Playing Team Sports
Those who have known me for a few decades tend to relate to me as the nerdy jock from school. In elementary, middle, and high school, I played softball, basketball, and volleyball. I went on to play third base for the University of Kentucky’s softball team and be cut first round from the 1996 Olympic Softball Team (before I even got on the field). I tried powder puff (girls’ flag) football, soccer, and nearly anything that was considered athletic. I defined myself as an athlete and sought more independent or solitary sports as I aged and was less desirable on competitive teams. I took figure skating lessons, practiced yoga, ran long distance races, and even completed the Dirty Girls’ Run with my dear friend and trusted colleague, Nina Kaufman.
I had to redefine myself after I was assaulted on my way home in January 2014. There were days in which I could barely walk a block to the Duane Reade near me. There were nights when I rolled over and yelped, as though I were a puppy that had been stepped on. I have been forgiving and angry on the same days, and there were times in which I worried I would never be fit and active again. I am very fortunate to have a partner, best friend, and a large family that includes both given and chosen members who won’t let me quit.
With the encouragement of my personal partner (who I will still refer to as my playmate, even if people get the wrong ideas about the quality and commitment of our relationship), I started swimming–or at least attempting to swim. Of course, I had read and heard that this could be a great exercise to substitute for the running I could not do with any distance or intensity due to my back and left hip injuries. But as my best friend since age 12 knows and Peter soon learned, I had a lot of fears and challenges to overcome in the water. Not only did I have the usual lack of skill in side-breathing, I had not attempted swimming much since a family member tried to drown me a couple of times as a child.
It took 10 weeks of swimming classes with a very patient and intuitive instructor, but I am now building decent freestyle, backstroke, and butterfly techniques. I am gaining skill, strength, endurance, muscle tone, and confidence, which seems to have put me and Peter in the right place and time to find a pick-up softball game to play in on Sunday nights. While teaching him a skill he missed as a child, we found ourselves on a field in Central Park that is reserved for the pick-up game. I was a bit hesitant to play again after approximately 20 years, but it has been a powerful experience that has reconnected me with some of the best lessons I learned growing up in team sports:
- There will be errors.
- If someone drops the ball, pick it up and make the play.
- If you are blocked from scoring, pass to someone in a better position to make a play, or in softball, take the out with grace.
- Take the foul.
- Advance your runner.
- Hold the opponent’s runner, as best you can.
- People catch on to fakes pretty quickly.
- Take a (preferably wise and calculated) chance. As Wayne Gretzky is credited with saying, “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.”
- If you’re watching the scoreboard, you’re not in the game. (Thank you, George Rylander!)
- Fundamental skills win games.
- There will be fans.
- There will be critics.
- Be ready to play, even if you start on the bench.
- Your body is the most important piece of equipment you will use. Take great care of it.
- Have a deep bench and a personalized playbook.
I am deeply grateful that my mom thought it valuable enough for her girls to develop these skills that she found money for our sports programs, even on a $70.00-per-week salary in the 1970s. I don’t know how she did it, but I am so glad she did. I am also grateful to all of the coaches who pushed me, developed my skills, and gave me the opportunities to lead as starter, captain, and student. We didn’t have the funding back then for the athletic scholarships, and $600.00 wasn’t going very far for my out-of-state tuition, so I made different decisions than I might have made today. But I have no regrets. I am still an athlete and a team player who will keep looking for the win. These days, that is in co-creating resolution with my clients, adversaries, and colleagues.
Did you play team sports? What did you learn? Did I miss any lessons? Do you have any stories you would like to share? Use the Comments section below. Thanks!