Character is developed through our participation in sports and competition. I had the great fortune of playing baseball 20 years of my life—including most of college. I have found that engaging in sports can teach us a lot about life. There will be times when we have wins and losses. There will be times when we have failures and triumphs. However, the true test of character remains in how we respond to these circumstances.
There are three character traits exemplified through sports that are applicable throughout life even after the last game is played. The first is being a team player. Michael Jordan said, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” This is true of any of the baseball teams I have had the pleasure of playing for as well as for my own life. If you are on a team that understands sacrificing for the good of everyone by pushing others in a position to succeed, you encounter genuine character formation being fostered. When you translate this to everyday life (whether it is within families, workplaces, and friend groups) you will see the spirit of unity and teamwork being cultivated to create spaces of harmony.
The second character trait that is important for sports is self-control. Being competitive is advantageous, but it also has the potential to put us into a frenzy. I am 29 years old and it has been seven years since I competed in a sanctioned sport. However I find myself from time to time struggling with this character trait. Humans are competitive beings. We want to win.Therefore we need to remember that failure is inevitable. Whether we are winning or losing, we must control our emotions. I don’t mean to say you cannot celebrate when you win, or be upset when you lose. By all means celebrate your successes and engage your frustrations when you make a silly mistake. Learn from both, but in both be even tempered. Show sportsmanship and humility. This will eventually garner deserved respect and will be useful throughout your life.
Being accountable is the third and final character trait I would like to highlight. A good player does not mind accountability. While it does take a degree of humility, having others speak into your life to help you stay accountable to your goals is very important. Sometimes we are unable to see how a specific circumstance impacts our growth unless we give opportunities to those around us to teach. This does not mean you are weak or lacking, it is just the opposite. It means you have the strength, self-awareness, courage, and ability to engage in vulnerability with people. You will go far (regardless of what sports you play) if you give a mentor the permission to point out when you’re paying too much attention to activities off the field, and when you have not been giving it your all. It is difficult at times to humble yourself before others, but if you can work on accountability by committing to making suggested changes by those you trust, you are not only going to be formidable on the field, but even tougher when tackling whatever life throws at you.
Building good character makes you a good teammate and a better person. My encouragement for you is, when the last out is tallied, the final buzzer rings, the final second ticks off the clock, and the race is over, you will have the confidence to say I gave it my all. I was a good teammate. I grew in self-control. I was accountable in winning and in losing.
I was human.
Eric Harmon is a former collegiate baseball player from Missouri. He works in the Missouri House of Representatives.