How Sport Builds Character

Posted on: April 16th, 2018 by Pat Mesiti No Comments

I live on the Gold Coast in Queensland. The Gold Coast was selected as the host city for this year’s Commonwealth Games. These games are for the athletes of the 71 countries that make up the Commonwealth of Nations, which has Queen Elizabeth as monarch. I was at the airport in the days leading up to the games and saw some of the athletes and officials arriving. What must the life of a professional athlete be like? These people are incredibly committed and focused, and driven by their passion for sport. Do you play a sport? I am a long-distance runner. I am a tenacious and determined person but running for hours has helped me to become more tenacious and determined. Long-distance running has taught me many valuable life lessons. The most important is: if you are going through hell, don’t stop – keep going! What I am saying is that if you are going through a tough time, do not give up but persevere and believe in yourself and eventually you will come out the other side – I learnt to run through the hurt literally and metaphorically. Sport can teach you many things about life, but to commit to a sport you need to enjoy the activity.

Even as an adult you can learn to love sport

You may not have been sporty as a child however as an adult you may find you feel differently. Most sporting clubs are incredibly social. I know a couple of women, who as girls hated sport at school. Now they have taken up dragon boat racing and never miss a training session. They tell me how wonderful it is to be on the water and how trim and fit they have become. I also know they have made many new friends, and every training session is followed by chats with their new mates! I recently learned that AFL Sevens is growing rapidly. This new style of footy is non-contact and in many teams women play alongside men. Women, who previously played netball, have swapped to ALF Sevens and enjoy giving the blokes a run for their money out there on the field. I guess women work alongside men every day, and so it’s essential that they know how to operate on a team made up of women and men! What other lessons does sport teach us about life?

Commitment earns results

Most people sign their kids up to netball, soccer or rugby teams in the hope that their children will learn that commitment earns results. To improve at a sport you have to work hard. To get fitter you have to train harder. To become a better athlete you need to practice. As adults we know this is true of life. Success is only reached through hard work.

Teamwork teaches people skills

One of life’s greatest challenges is getting along with other people, especially at work. Everyone is different and navigating other people’s strengths and weaknesses is an art form! The people most likely to succeed in life are those with superb people skills. Team sports are a great way to learn about the mechanics of groups. Everyone needs a place in the team, where their talents are valued. A strong team is much greater than just the sum of its parts – it becomes stronger than just the individuals who comprise it. And as team members, we must learn to put the needs of the team above our individual ambitions and desires. You do it for the team!

Sport requires self-sacrifice

Time management and self-sacrifice are also required if you join a sporting team. Forget about staying home in your pyjamas and watching television. On cold nights you are going to be jogging laps of the field with your team mates or maybe you’ll be hosing down the dragon boat after paddling up and down the river. But hey, we all know that pyjamas and television are over-rated!

Goal setting is at the heart of sport

For years I’ve been talking about the importance of setting goals and sticking to them. All successful people set goals for themselves, this includes establishing timelines to reach those goals. There are two types of goals – long term and short-term. Sporting teams have long and short-term goals. A shared goal brings the team mates closer together and helps them design a united course of action to achieve the goal. Professionally, the most successful teams share goals at work and each team member contributes in their own special way to achieving that goal. Inevitably there will be a difficult person on every team. It is hard not to resent that individual. Ideally that person must be slotted into a role which matches their talents, and they then feel valued. The coach of a sporting team is the motivator and mentor who inspires, encourages and unites. No wonder life coaches have become popular.

Sport teaches you how to overcome adversity

Taking up a sport is going to teach you about overcoming adversity. When I started running long-distances I ran until I bled. Believe me I do not have the body of a natural athlete. I have the body of a garden gnome on steroids, but a lack of height and long limbs never stopped me. In sport and in life, it all comes down to how badly you want something and how hard you are going to work to get it. In life and sport expect to encounter adversity, expect to hit brick walls! But you also need to develop a mindset that welcomes challenges; a mindset that never considers giving up. Sport is not always fair or honest – just look at the antics of the Australian cricketers. Life is not fair and it will never be fair, nor are people always honest or decent so get used to it. Keep doing your best, keep fighting. I promise persevere and you will overcome.

Is there a sport that appealed to you as a child, but you didn’t have the chance to play it? Is there a sport you used to play, but long ago gave up? Why not consider going back to netball or signing up for cricket, or taking up dragon boat racing? It is easy to improve your fitness if you are having fun with new friends, and remember, sport can teach children (and us grown-ups) a great deal about life!


Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.


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