Benefits of Competitive Sports Not Always Clear-cut, “The Intangibles”

Skill improvement, teamwork, work ethic, exercise; all aspects that come to mind when one is asked what benefits young athletes gain from a healthy experience in competitive sports. Other common thoughts (especially from coaches) include the learning experience gained from the sense of commitment one must have to accomplish team goals, and the determination, perseverance, sacrifice, and heart that go along with that. And there are a few, when asked to think a little deeper, who may even envision the positive character development that can be built through such sports involvement.

All of these features are what many would most commonly associate with the “positives” that young athletes might realize from their youth sports experience; at least that is what comes to my mind when I ponder the inference in the paragraph above. However, there are less thought of, yet just as valuable, foundational qualities one can also build through a healthy experience in competitive sports. Not necessarily at the forefront of one’s thoughts, they are the type of attributes that give a more solid base of support from which to build, as their application to life skills is easy to see. They are what I like to call “The Intangibles.”

  • Coachability – learning to work well with authority, accepting critique from that authority, and using this attribute to better oneself, go a long way in helping individuals reach their potential, athletic or otherwise.
  • Communication Skills – whether between coach or teammates, during training or competition, the ability to positively and successfully communicate with others is an important ingredient in competitive sports. The development of higher levels of capability in this area is essential for both team and individual success. A great life skill, it is certainly one that transcends the athletic arena.
  • Time Management Skills – thrust into circumstances where balancing one’s time becomes a necessity, competitive sports literally forces athletes into situations where they must acquire solid time management skills, or suffer the consequences. As the athlete assimilates this trait, it enhances development of efficient and effective ways to manage one’s daily life as it is a natural result for those who develop sound abilities in this area.
  • Educated Risk Taking – developing an attitude that lends itself toward taking educated risks (meaning the outcome is thought out and likely positive due to proper preparation) is another piece of competitive sports that most don’t immediately think of as being a developed attribute. However, it is just short of impossible to compete in the athletic arena and not have to take some sort of risk in order to be successful. It is the willingness to take these educated risks that puts an athlete and their team in a better position to succeed, and it is this same type of risk taking that will aid in achievements outside of sports.
  • Decision Making – whether it is in taking educated risks as explained above (which can require in-the-moment and on-the-spot type choices), or simply the general idea of making decisions, both are important aspects practiced while training for and participating in competitive sports. This decision-making process is an important part of being an athlete as the consequence for any choices that are made are felt not only by the athlete themselves but by the team for which they compete. The feedback (both immediate and long term) that one gets through this experience is another easily transferable life lesson one takes away from their training, and from the competitive athletic arena.
  • Riding The Edge of Capability – to strive to reach one’s potential requires the ability to push oneself beyond normal limitations. It is something competitive sports give all athletes the opportunity to do, at least if they want to be good. This riding the edge of capability offers special rewards for those willing to seize this opportunity, for they often times find that the impossible becomes possible as they accomplish improvements and achievements others view as unlikely. In fact, whether the impossible is achieved or not, it is the willingness to go through this process of riding the edge of capability that has the most value for competitive athletes. The life transference of this intangible is one that simply cannot be denied.

Not meant to be a comprehensive list, the items above demonstrate the positive influences, benefits, and comprehensive developmental nature of the competitive sports environment. Whether indirect or direct, the life lessons learned on the athletic field of play, and during the training and practice that coincide with this activity, go far beyond the immediate. They transcend sport by giving the participant a wealth of fundamental qualities from which to draw upon, the kind of qualities that become assets for success in many different life endeavors.

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