Investing time, energy, and attention into playing a sport can pay lifelong dividends. But while most people easily recognize that sport cultivates powerful traits such as grit, teamwork, and focus, fewer know how powerful it can be in way of crafting a future that fulfills us.
At Young Vets, we empower youth athletes with this insight through curated learning experiences that offer knowledge, skill development, and network building. Our aim is to develop athletes who we consider elite – those who use sport to cultivate success in other fields, and who assume responsibility for helping others succeed in their own journeys.
Gabe joined us for a recent summer session at the Colorado Running Ranch, spending one day hiking, and another in conversation about his background and work. One of the most empowering takeaways from his visit was insight on how he used sport to create a future that he now loves but couldn’t define way back when.
Here is what we learned from his story:
1. Always keep track of two simple things
Without knowing exactly where you want to go, you can still set off in the right direction by reflecting and keeping tabs on two very simple things: what you truly enjoy, and what you naturally excel at.
As a kid growing up in Portland, Gabe spent a lot of time geeking out on memorizing 1920’s-era baseball stats and playing analog (yes, that’s analog) fantasy basketball with his family. And as a high school student, he happily suited up for the football and basketball teams. Although he was playing, thinking, and learning in different ways, sport was the one clear through-line on what he loved. So he just kept doing it. And it was this place, on his high school’s football field to be exact, where Gabe received a defining opportunity – to wear-test shoes with adidas.
When it comes to the second thing – what you excel at – the goal is to look for an always-deeper understanding of your unique skill sets. Gabe encouraged the Young Vets to ask themselves – what are these skills for me? How do they show up? What am I able to accomplish by using them? The benefit of this self-awareness is that it allows you to further develop and leverage these skills with intention.
2. Learn the keys to effective communication
By college, Gabe learned that he had a knack for easily digesting information from a variety of inputs, synthesizing it, and re-communicating it outwards through his perspective. He thought that he wanted to take this skill into some form of a sports journalism career and began college as a Communications major. But after a few bland and uninteresting classes Gabe was redirected by a professor who asked him if he enjoyed his course of study as much as he enjoyed writing. This simple question struck at his core and led do a change he would not have thought fit him: English.
Gabe emphasized the necessity to cultivate the skills he learned as an English major:
3. Invest in helping others along their way
Wear-testing shoes in high school serendipitously opened up opportunities for Gabe to work summers in the adidas warehouse and on-site for the brand at the Sydney Olympic Games. He was learning more about footwear through every opportunity, and was excited to land a full-time role in footwear development for basketball post-graduation. But after just one year an assignment arose in product marketing and he approached his boss about making the move. Again he was asked a simple question: Is that what you want to do? His yes answer then triggered the full support of his boss and gave him a lifelong lesson.
Understanding other people’s goals and helping them get there was a lifelong lesson. As the beneficiary of this support from colleagues, Gabe was empowered to chart his own path by growing into roles that he enjoyed and that ultimately enabled him to contribute more to the team. Eventually, the sum of these small actions landed him where he is today, as a director of Future Basketball looking after innovation within the category.
To become someone who supports others in reaching their goals, you must interact with your world from a place of empathy. Take it upon yourself to understand the needs, perspectives, and goals of others, and share information and opportunities that can help them to advance towards achieving more of what they want. Accept that you might not experience reciprocity and that, you may also face your own challenges in the course of helping someone. But at the end of the day you will find that whatever you want – even when you’re not sure what it is – happens thanks to the positive support of others.
Even without knowing where you’re headed, the Young Vets learned from Gabe’s life experience that when you practice these three steps, you will find yourself enjoying the present and building a more aligned future as you go. The best part is that even as you gain clarity, practicing this foundational and timeless wisdom will continually help you to achieve more of what you really want.