Teamwork, good sportsmanship, being gracious in both defeat and victory – these are the common life lessons widely touted as the result of participation in sports. All valid, but without meaning unless the underlying specifics are identified and described.

So, here are five of those more specific lessons that make up a winning formula for adult life.

1. Perseverance

It’s not easy to stick with it when you face adversity and major obstacles. Consider the case of Bethany Hamilton, now nicknamed as the ‘soul surfer.’ Bethany lost an arm and a huge amount of blood from a shark attack, at the age of 13. Undaunted, she returned to the water a month after the attack. She then competed in several world surfing competitions. Today she’s an author and motivational speaker.

As adults, you will come across many ‘bumps in the road,’ personally and professionally. The only way to get over them is perseverance. Thomas Edison was right: “Success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

A surfer rides a big wave. surf, surfer, waves, ocean
Since losing her arm in a shark attack, Bethany Hamilton has kept on conquering the waves. ©Tom Servais/Getty Images

2. Being prepared

Good athletes stay in a state of preparedness. They don’t miss practices, they study their competition, they assess their strengths and weaknesses, and work to improve their skills.

This was a lesson I learned as a competitive swimmer in college. My event was the breaststroke, and my weakness – the thing that kept me from first-place wins – was my arm strength. My coach provided extra exercise which also took extra hours, but the end result was successful, although not expected. When our top butterfly contender fell ill with the flu, I had to fill in. That arm strength gave me a win in an event I had never before considered.

My freelance career as a writer had a bumpy start. I was not prepared to venture into all the writing venues that would be required for success. It took some solid assessment of my writing weaknesses and major work to turn them into strengths. Fortunately, I had also learned perseverance, and this combo was the right formula.

A group of swimmers dive into the pool swimming together in a competition. swimmers, swimming, swimming pool, competition
No one is an island: every athlete is powered by a team and coaches. ©Clive Rose/Getty Images

3. Asking for help

Athletes have coaches, and they learn the value of that help. Taking instruction and advice, even if it’s not what you want to hear, is a good habit to acquire.

No one gets to the top without the help and support of others.

Finding mentors early on in your career, taking their advice and instruction, is a critical key to success. And, when superiors present critical analyses of your performance, receiving that feedback well and acting on it means that self-improvement is important to you.

Man instructing woman on surfboard on the beach. learning, surf, student, beach, sand
Turn your weakness into strength through deliberate practice. ©Getty Images

4. Holding self and others accountable

“The buck stops here” is a famous quote from President Harry Truman, and it’s a great principle in life.

They don’t blame the referees; they figure out how to ‘fix’ what went wrong.

We all know people who blame their failures and the negative conditions in their lives on anyone or anything but themselves. They often speak about ‘luck’ or ‘fate’ as the reason why some succeed and others fail.

When you blame others, you lose the power to make changes that will turn things around. Don’t be that person.

A line of swimmers take mark on the pool's edge in anticipation to dive into the pool. swimming, swimmer, competition, anticipation, focus
It’s not easy to stick with it when you’re not yet a winner, but hard work and focus will pay off. ©Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

5. Knowing there’s always tomorrow

There is an optimism that athletes develop, even in the agony of defeat. After the initial disappointment, they move on, knowing there will always be the next game, the next event that will allow them to show their skills. They will work on new approaches and strategies.

What a great approach to setbacks – an approach I also refined while swimming. Now, when something I write is rejected or criticized, I move on to the next task with new determination.

There are many ways to learn these important life lessons, but sport is the one activity that teaches them all at once. Get involved, learn them, and get your formula for success.


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by Joanne Stephan 16.04.2018
That was an amazing read, I could relate to all of it in so many ways thank you for sharing your story, brilliant work 😊
Nina Weihrauch
Nina Weihrauch | Editor Joanne Stephan 11.05.2018
Hi Joanne,

100% agree. I loved Leona's story, too. Sometimes I feel that there's too much of a bullsh*t bingo game happening around the topic of self-improvement and career in the www. Some of these common principles are true, yes, but I liked to read Leona's fresh thoughts.


by Omeed Rezaian 21.11.2019
Thanks and looking forward to Future learning.
by Maggie 10.03.2022
My name is Maggie Burchell. I am an eighth-grade student at Ho-Ho-Kus Public School, and I am reaching out to you, an expert, to request a very small bit of your time for information. My goal is to learn as much as possible about the life lessons learned from sports because I am writing a research essay and TED Talk on that topic.
If you have some time to spare in the next couple of days, may I send you my questions via e-mail?
Thank you very much for agreeing to provide this help. I greatly appreciate your kindness and generosity.



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