A version of this article appeared on LinkedIn.
The conclusion of the Olympics in Rio last August coincided with the start of a new school year, and the commencement of another season of competitive team sports for my son.
After surviving the first few rounds of cuts for his high school varsity soccer team, my son made it to the final round. It was the last day of tryouts, and after a rigorous selection process, the coach had whittled down the players to just him and a half dozen other boys.
The final round of tryouts was to be held on Monday. The coach announced that one more player had to be cut.
While I felt nervous for my son-- making the varsity team again is a really big deal for him-- I told him I was confident he would make the cut.
On Monday evening at around 7:00 pm, as I was leaving my office, his name appeared on my phone. I answered it.
He made the team.
Ever since he's been a young boy, my son has loved to play sports. He's participated on his school's competitive sports teams for soccer, track and field, volleyball, softball, and rugby. Though he doesn't play basketball competitively, he likes to shoot hoops with his friends.
Sports are fun. They keep him fit. And they give him an outlet for burning off excess energy.
Beyond these positive benefits, I've also noticed how playing sports has helped shape his gradual progression from young boy to young man. He's learning several lessons that will likely prove useful as he navigates his way in this complex, demanding, and time-starved world. Here are just a few:
Like any skill you want to master, doing well at sports requires practice--a lot of practice. My son has been playing soccer for nearly 10 years now, but he knows he has to constantly hone his technique, and continue to build the physical strength, endurance, and speed he needs to perform well on the field.
Playing sports consumes a lot of my son's time, time he could otherwise spend studying for tests, doing his homework, or just hanging out with friends. He's learning firsthand how to make real trade-offs between competing priorities. And while he probably doesn't always strike the right balance between them, he's getting a little better at knowing how to allocate his time.
And since the demands on his time are only likely to grow, knowing how to say "yes" to what matters, and "no" to other things, will be essential. It's an art that even many adults like myself are still trying to master.
My son learned a long while ago that passing the ball and otherwise helping his teammates is the mark of a good player. No matter how well he plays, the team's performance matters more than his individual performance. If his team wins, he wins. If his team loses, he loses.
Despite the occasional setbacks and failures, when he wins -- and he does win from time to time --the reward can be simple, but sweet . Clearing the bar and beating his personal best in the high jump. Scoring or assisting a goal. Seeing --and hearing -- his family and friends cheering for him from the sidelines. Earning a few words of praise from his coach. All forms of positive reinforcement that are helping him build a reservoir of self-confidence that he'll need to draw upon as he continues his journey through school and beyond.
My son has had to undergo formal assessments every time he's joined one of the competitive teams at school. In one instance last year, it looked like he wouldn't be chosen for the team (he eventually made the cut). He's learned to not take for granted that he will be selected. And while he may feel well-deserved pride for being asked to join the team, he knows that he still has to work hard to prove himself on the field.
I don't know whether my son will continue to pursue competitive sports when he goes to college. That's his decision to make. I do know he'll have learned a lot of useful lessons that should, hopefully, serve him well as he plays the game that we call life.