When we think about the world of sports, we often think of the physical accomplishments of an athlete as a means to measure their personal growth and success. Yet, something that isn’t considered as much are the intangibles–the individual experiences and lessons that are gained through navigating the world as an athlete, and how anyone can learn and gain their own life lessons through the participation in a sport. We interviewed two professional athletes:
Rai Benjamin, Track Runner for Nike (200m, 400m, 400m Hurdles)
Augie Sylk, Baseball (Left-Hand Pitcher) for Kansas City Royals
about their own journey in order to take a closer look to see how deeply sports can build one’s character.
Oftentimes athletes will start playing sports at a very young age, whether it be the sport they actually pursue or not; the introduction of sports start early on in their lives. Because of this, sports can take a crucial role in a child’s life. As Sylk put it, “Playing a sport is one of the most important things in child development. I think every kid should grow up playing a sport. It gave me direction, taught me how to work with others, and how to hold myself accountable.” In addition, there is a notion that sports get in the way of academic success, particularly with children and teenagers. However, Benjamin asserts that it can actually be quite the opposite, “School alone was never too challenging for me so it didn’t engage me. Sports added more to my schedule, which challenged me and led to me paying more attention [in school] because of that challenge.”
The lessons sports teach don’t stop once we grow older– they carry well into adulthood. Sports foster a strong work ethic and a sense of self-accountability within athletes. “I have to give anything I do my all,” Benjamin says, “… I’ve also learned to be honest and transparent, especially when communicating to others.” This attitude is one that translates universally, and is particularly important as an adult in any working or professional environment. Another important life skill that becomes increasingly important in adulthood is the ability to bounce back from adversity. After a serious UCL tear, Sylk explained his growth post-injury; “I began to understand why people get down during these kinds of situations… It took a hit to my ego. I was the person who always wanted to work harder than everyone else and to be the first one in and the last to leave, but I learned to work smarter not necessarily ‘harder’, and I’m still learning this. It was tough for me to learn that it’s okay to just do enough for that day, and that I didn’t have to go 100 miles per hour every single day.” Sports necessitate the need to be resilient, whether it be within the sport itself, or in everyday life, the attitude to prevail is consistently being practiced just by participating.
Along with the invaluable personal life lessons and skills that sports provide, sports can also provide unique opportunities that may not have been an option if it weren’t for the sport itself. Benjamin reflects on this, “[Sports] have given me the opportunity to travel and experience different cultures that I may never have even seen without sports. I also get the opportunity to create impact. I try to help people from back home whenever I can, because there were people that helped me get to where I am now, so I feel like I should give that back when I can.” Sylk shares the latter sentiment, “90% of the time I’m off the field, you’re only on the field for so long, so it’s like, how can I help? What I love about baseball is that it gives me an opportunity to help my community and the world.” Through this, sports become so much more than just entertainment for the audience and a passion for the athlete–they become a vessel for community, impact, and progress.
Sports impact athletes through multiple avenues, in different ways, and at different times. Yet, the common denominator is that they are a facet of character development, growth, and opportunity for not only the athletes, but for anyone involved with athletics at all. At Juglife, we want to be able to offer this experience to as many children as possible, regardless of their situation. In hopes of achieving just that, we are raising money this year to build a sports complex in Uganda, Africa. To stay updated on how you can help us achieve this goal, sign up for our newsletter or check out the fundraising page on our website.