Winning at More than Just Your Sport

Something drew you to your sport. Some combination of physical, mental, and emotional reward gave you enough satisfaction that it overpowered whatever discomfort, pain, or commitment the sport required. So you kept going, sacrificing your time, sweat, and passion until you reached the place you are now.

Photo From: Bozeman Triathlon

Photo From: Bozeman Triathlon

The intrinsic and extrinsic rewards of competition are bountiful, but we’d all be lying if we said we played solely for the sake of getting a personal record, having a good body, or instilling incredible discipline in our lives. No, it is something more than that: we love to win.

 No one competes to lose. If someone doesn’t care about winning, they don’t make it very far in any kind of sport. But as much as we sacrifice to be able to win a race, a championship, or a game, what are we really giving up? 

 We can only attain the true summit of the mountain we’ve been climbing when we win with class, when we stay true to who we are, and when we leave a legacy of positivity in the lives of our rivals, no matter the outcome. Winning is only worth it if you are letting your victories and your losses teach you the lessons that will shape the rest of your life. If you can’t say that your sport is molding you into the person you want to become, then you are giving up too much in order to win.

 I hate to break it to you, but there will be a time in your life where you are no longer competing and no longer winning. Even if you continue after you retire to Master’s competitions and older age groups, you will definitely not be at the same level you were in your glory days. Physics has already created a ticking time bomb in your life. When the bomb explodes, when you realize your body doesn’t work the same way it used to, whom will you be left with? Is it even someone you would like?

 The ticking time bomb doesn’t have to explode in a jarring loss of identity once you quit your sport. If you’re winning at the right things now, when the time bomb explodes, it will only propel you into the rest of your destiny. 

 Right now, take a mental inventory of your journey. Define true victory in the game of life, not just your sport. What does it mean to you?

 I’m betting that for a lot of us, that definition didn’t have to do with a record or a gold medal. It probably had to do with impact and with the legacy we leave in the lives of others. Because that’s all we really have, isn’t it?

 Ten years from now, people won’t remember what race you won or what you said to them; they will remember how you made them feel. They’ll remember if your perseverance coming back from an injury brought them to tears, if your poor sportsmanship made them angry, if your arrogance made them want you to lose, or if your humility caused them to cheer for you. It is not your accomplishment they will remember, but your character.

Photo From: Bozeman Triathlon

Photo From: Bozeman Triathlon

 This concept goes right along with one of my favorite quotes: “Sports do not build character; they reveal it.”In the past week, what has your sport revealed about you? Perhaps it was your lack of patience in letting an injury heal, or maybe it revealed your lack of follow-through when you cut the last five reps off your exercise when your coach wasn’t looking. Or maybe your sport revealed that you have more guts than you realized, or that you won’t talk about a teammate behind her back, because that’s not who you want to be.

 But once your sport reveals your true core to you, you can’t stop there. Let your sport reveal your character to you, and then decide if that’s the path you want to be on for the rest of your life. Win or lose, how does your heart reflect someone who can live in true victory, regardless of the chaos around her?

 True victory is not about winning, even if that’s what brought us into athletics in the first place. Until you can be grateful for a difficulty, for an obstacle, or for what a loss taught you, then you may win the fight, but you will lose the war. True victory is being grateful no matter your circumstance.  

Let your heart fill with gratitude for the body that enabled you to come close to winning, for the mettle you know will propel you to defeat that opponent the next time, for the injury that has given you more time to get to know your teammates, or for the setback that you know will help others someday. Only then will you control that circumstance, rather than having your emotions dictated by what you can’t control.

 When you live with gratitude, compete with character, and win with humility, you will have learned how to win at more than just your sport. What’s one small change you can make today in order to propel you into that destiny?

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Tera Bradham

Tera Bradham is an author and motivational speaker. She swam for the University of Arkansas and Texas A&M University before living in South America for a year. Returning to Texas, she taught Spanish and was the head swim coach at Meridian World School. She now dabbles in triathlons and enjoys exploring the mountains of her new home, Bozeman, Montana. Her heart's deepest desire is to empower others to fight for the destiny they were made to live.