5 Things You Learn About Yourself When Sports Become Your Life

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When you decide you're going to be an athlete, you choose to let that sport dictate the trajectory of your life.

I don’t mean you casually play pickup with your friends, or you play several sports because you enjoy them.

No, I mean when you decide to live, breathe and sweat your sport, and when you make sacrifices in every aspect of your life to become the best.

I mean when you plan your days around your workouts, and then stay late at the gym because those two hours weren’t enough. I mean that kind of athlete.

The ultimate goal for this athlete is to play his or her sport in college.

Some can go pro, but unfortunately, the percentage of collegiate athletes that go pro is even smaller than the percentage of high-school athletes who play in college.

Playing a college sport is a major decision. It all but chooses your college for you.

It’s like having a full-time job on top of a packed schedule of classes. It means giving up the dream of having college experiences like those you see on TV, or in the Instagram pictures your friends post.

But it's also the one of the greatest opportunities you will ever have. You will become stronger, smarter, more responsible and tougher.

When it’s over, it prepares you better for the real world than any class you can take.

1. Your coach is the toughest boss you will ever have.

There will never be anyone again in your life who demands so many things from you.

Your coach is in control of your schedule, your social life, your academics and, to some extent, your friends.

He or she requires you to attend specific events and take on responsibilities you don’t want.

You will receive a workout guide requiring you to run a mile in a specific time, lift a certain amount of weight and jump a certain height.

If you don’t eat the right things, your coach will change that too.

There will never be a more terrifying moment then getting a text or call from your head coach asking to set up a meeting.

Whatever boss you have in your first job will mostly care about the work you do during the work day. If you have it all together, you’re good.

Except for extreme circumstances, your boss will not care who your friends are or what you eat for dinner, and a timed mile is not a job requirement (thank god).

The experience of not having someone micromanage your entire life feels like an incredible freedom.

However, when it comes time for your evaluation, all those one-on-one meetings with your head coach will have prepared you well.

2. Your decisions do not only affect you.

Being part of an athletic team means you are all one. The decisions one member of the team makes has consequences for everyone else.

You represent yourself, your team and your institution. When a teammate does something to tarnish this, it is not just the individual who faces punishment.

When some of my teammates got caught drinking on campus, the punishment for those written up was to watch the rest of the team run. This was a brutal lesson, but one that paid off.

As a teacher, the decisions I make on a daily basis affect each of my 100 students. They affect the teachers I work with, and the department’s perception of me. I represent the district in which I work, and my decisions must reflect that.

Being on a team forced me to learn this the hard way.

I felt the consequences of my teammates' actions, and dealt with the punishments along with them. When I was the one in trouble because of my decisions, I know my teammates suffered.

The choices you make are bigger than yourself. When faced with a decision, it is imperative to think of who might innocently suffer because of it.

3. Accountability, accountability, accountability.

Along with responsibility, this is arguably the biggest takeaway from collegiate athletics.

As an athlete and honor student, I was accountable for finding the time to get my work done around the practice schedule, and to maintain a 3.2 GPA.

I was accountable for making sure my body was prepared for three-hour practices and film sessions.

If I was tired or hungover, it was no one’s fault but my own.

As a senior, I had to hold my best friends and teammates responsible for their behavior and work ethic.

I quickly learned, in order to be accountable, you need to make tough and unpopular decisions, but decisions that are ultimately the right ones.

If you want to be a leader, this means holding those close to you accountable for their actions as well.

In life, it's often hard to separate friendship and business. But it is an absolute necessity, and a skill guaranteed to help you succeed.

If you are slacking off, you need to realize this and correct it. If your coworkers are the ones slacking off, let them know.

You can only succeed if every member of your team does the job.

4. Discipline is a necessity.

This is physical, mental and emotional discipline.

Collegiate athletics requires almost laser-pointed focus on your team’s goals. Physically, you are pushing your body to the absolute limits.

You need to eat the right things, drink water and avoid behaviors and actions that can jeopardize your physical performance.

Mentally, you need to be confident, calm and prepared.

Game day requires mental discipline like nothing else. You have to remember the scout, the game plan and what feels like thousands of plays.

Emotionally, you must be able to separate criticism and instruction from personal insults. Your coaches are supposed to actually coach you, not just cheer you on.

You have to quickly move past mistakes, and get to the next play without dwelling on the previous one.

You now have the ability to get your to-do list finished.

You can decide how you need to act, train, plan or prep to be at an optimal performance level.

In the real world, there is no one making sure you get your work done. It is up to you to decide when to do it.

You need to give yourself time to succeed.

5. Mental toughness.

If I had to sum up my collegiate career in a few words, this is it.

Being mentally tough combines all the lessons above.

It means sacrifice, discipline, determination, resilience and passion.

It means fighting against all odds to succeed in what you love.

It means putting your heart and soul into each practice, and running that last sprint when you feel like you're about to throw up.

It is taking the criticism and instruction from your coaches when you feel like you're doing everything right.

It’s accepting sitting on the bench if that is what's best for your team. It’s giving up nights out, vacations and parties in order to be well-rested for workouts.

There is no doubt I am the person I am because of the grueling seasons I played in college.

At my job, I show up early and I leave late.

I plan to support my students in any way possible, and go above and beyond to ensure they learn.

I give up weekends and happy hours to plan lessons and research ways to make my class engaging and interesting.

It means helping out my school and my co-teachers (because they are my new team) in any way I can.

I take the conferences with my administrators seriously, and respect their opinions because they have been doing this much longer than I have.

It also means not complaining about the job I have signed on to do.

Being a college athlete was the single best and most valuable opportunity of my life.

For those who have finished, value the way you’ve grown, rather than the games you’ve lost.

For those still playing, take nothing for granted, and enjoy every moment.

For those waiting to begin, hold on. Get ready for the ride of your life.