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11 Important Life Skills You Might Lack If You Didn't Play Sports

author image Kate Cummins, PsyD
Kate Cummins, PsyD, is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in health and neuropsychology. She works with brain injury in the acute hospital setting. She also has two private practice locations in San Francisco and Los Angeles, working with athletes in sports psychology, as well as women’s issues: infertility, depression, anxiety and life transitions.

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11 Important Life Skills You Might Lack If You Didn't Play Sports
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Calling all all-stars, heroes of the field and court dominators: Did you spend your younger years basking in applause after a slam dunk? Did you help score the winning touchdown in your homecoming game? Or maybe you’ve watched your child hit a grand slam to beat the crosstown rivals. Being an athlete in childhood has major advantages for your life as an adult. Let’s take a walk down memory lane so that you see exactly how great you are and where it all came from. Even if you never played sports as a kid, though, there’s still plenty to be learned from your counterparts who did.

1. How to Be a Goal Getter
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You used to spend hours of your life making short-term and long-term goals for your sport. If you wanted a better batting average, you spent your nights in the batting cage with your dad. Or you did tons of those sprints up and down the steps at the football stadium if your goal was to increase your speed and agility. Your short-term goals helped you achieve your long-term goal of being a winner. As an adult, however, you may feel like life is less exciting without a sport to provide a position and a purpose, but you’re still a goal getter. You have a personality that’s attracted to moving toward goals. In order to fill this void now that you’re not an athlete, write down a list of goals for the year. Then write out your five-year goals. Challenge yourself to make those five-year goals turn around quickly. Internal motivation and goal setting will increase your productivity and increase your overall happiness.

Related: 10 Daily Habits to Increase Your Productivity

2. The Best Way to Manage Your Time
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Remember the juggling act of running from school to practice to homework to more practice to games to practice? As a student athlete, you became a pro at managing a full schedule that was, at times, stressful. But you did it, and maybe you did it with your parents’ help (especially before you could drive yourself), but it all was doable. If you think about it, the scheduling chaos you endured as an athlete set you up for being able to manage your adult life fairly well. Instead of being on time for practice and remembering your jersey, you’re now running from meeting to kid drop-off to the gym to a dinner event. And you get it done with the same efficiency. This type of behavioral pattern in childhood has made you a pro at keeping your calendar up to date and running the race of life. Stop for a moment, pat yourself on the back for getting it all done and recognize that this time-management skill started when you were young, making your hectic schedule now all the more easy to manage.

Related: 9 Things Only Type A People Will Understand

3. Finding Motivation in Your Performance
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The drive behind an athlete’s behavior comes from performance. In your glory days, you used to be at the peak, executing every play to the best of your ability. You were disciplined and dedicated, and it showed in your agility and strength. According to the Yerkes-Dodson law, there is a certain level of arousal that every person needs to hit before his or her maximum performance potential can be reached. Remember what it was like to get in the zone and feel the energy of performance? Every person needs a little bit of arousal or anxiety to get to this place of power. Imagine applying that internal performance drive to tasks in your life now. Does it make you motivated? Does it challenge you to a greater degree? Performance is powerful when you use it in productive ways, and you’ve got just what it takes to drive yourself to the next level.

Related: 20 Ways to Instantly Improve Your Life

4. How to Shut Out Distractions
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When you’re an athlete, there’s nothing more important during the middle of a game than your thoughts, focus and body movements. You can be in the middle of a great loss in life or transition into something new, but it all goes away once your cleats hit the field. This ability to place focus into your game is an internal drive. It’s intrinsic, not a learned behavior. Remember what it was like to be focused in your game? You can apply that to other parts of your life using a technique called mental imagery. For example, if you have a huge presentation due in a week at work, imagine yourself finished and the board of trustees applauding you afterward. Focus all of your energy into completing the task and you’re sure to win.

Related: 10 Bad Habits to Ditch for a Happier You

5. Harnessing Your Determination
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Remember all of those days in the weight room? What about the drills that your coach made you repeat over and over again? Remember what it was like to go in and give every ounce of your physical and mental strength to your game? You are one determined individual. You have spent hundreds of hours of your life devoted to your sport. You found a purpose. It gave you meaning and provided you with a lot of fun. Determination allowed you to establish the groundwork of the core beliefs of who and what you’re made of. Sometimes you can find yourself forgetting all that you’ve done because a bad performance review comes back from your boss or there’s conflict with a friend. In cognitive behavioral therapy, you’re trained to remember those valuable beliefs, especially determination or your purpose, because they promote positive thoughts about yourself. So get back to what you’re made of and keep it going.

Related: 4 Healthy Ways to Boost Your Body Image

6. Knowing How to Be a Team Player
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Socialization and the ability to work with others on a team is undoubtedly one of the greatest things about playing sports. In a community where effective communication and relational insight is key, you’ve luckily learned these skills of how to deal with others. The camaraderie that comes from fighting for a similar goal with your teammates and the feeling of sitting in the locker room after a game talking about the amazing victory gave you an ability to work with others. And that has set you up to desire connection and closeness with others in the rest of your life. Socialization increases happiness and well-being, and attachment is often thought of as a basic human need. If you work in an isolated environment or find that you spend a lot of time alone and have been feeling like you’re missing something, it may be due to the lack of team spirit that you once thrived on. Ask to be added to group projects at work, or sign up for a club or recreation sports team that increases groupthink. Being a team player is a part of who you are, and as an adult you need to recreate this for yourself sometimes.

Related: 8 Surprising Ways Your Social Life Impacts Your Health

7. A Well-Developed Sense of Accomplishment
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Winning is one of the best feelings in the world. In fact, it’s likely that you have vivid memories of the first time you got a blue ribbon or you kicked the final goal in overtime. Stop for a minute and think about what it’s like to win. Accomplishment is the act of achieving. When you achieve things you’re proud of, what do you do? Do you smile with pride, take a deep breath or grab dinner with friends? Accomplishment gives you a good reason to celebrate success. Celebrating, in our society, is the ultimate form of outward accomplishment because you’re signaling to the rest of the world that you rock. And you do. You have been accomplishing so much since the beginning of your life, and you have celebrated every milestone or victory. Do something in the next week that will make you accomplish and achieve a goal that you can go celebrate. You deserve it.

Related: 21 Stress-Reducing Techniques

8. The Confidence to Chase Your Dreams
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As an athlete, you have to have confidence in your potential in the game. You strut your stuff on the court and show the crowd what you’re made of. But developing your self-confidence without the athlete identity can be tricky. Do you have things about yourself that you’d like to improve? What is it that’s making you fall short of asking out the girl you’ve been eyeing or taking on a project at work? Confidence is a reflection of your self-perception. It’s a mental state that needs to be constantly worked on, because it is altered with rejection or letdown. It’s easy to compartmentalize the confidence you had as an athlete compared to the rest of your self-identity. However, you already possess the capability to believe in yourself. Try applying the confident athlete that you once were to your current self-perception. You may find that it helps improve your self-worth and increases your ability to do something you’ve been thinking of doing.

Related: 8 Risks That Seem Scary But Are Totally Worth It

9. Faith Even in Failure
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To quote one of the best basketball players of all time, Michael Jordan: “I’ve failed over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed.” Failure, defeat, inadequacy, rejection and many other feelings that come with adversity were common when you walked away from a game that your team lost. You likely hung your head low, walked into the locker room, sulked in self-pity and moved away from that moment in time. Losing is not fun. Failure is difficult because it’s common for people to internalize the loss and own it as a part of their sense of self. But stop right there; you worked harder, played better and became more aware of your weaknesses after losing that game. When people fail, it’s an opportunity to win. The pieces of resiliency that are the best components of you come out, and you learn. When you learn, you grow, and when you grow, you become your best self. So have faith even through your failure and keep moving.

Related: 9 Things Only Type B People Will Understand

10. How to Exist in Survival Mode
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People are constantly running around with the challenge of staying balanced while finding pleasure in everyday activities. There is space called “survival mode” that most people enter when stress is high and activities are overwhelming. Survival mode is the place you go to emotionally and behaviorally when you have 30 things on your to-do list, your in-laws are on their way over to stay with you for a few weeks, you’re in the middle of another pregnancy and a major deadline is about to hit at work -- all at the same time. Survival mode is a conditioned response that helps you get through the challenging times in life. You learned how to deal with this while you were on a team. You had a rough patch in practice, and you lost five games in a row. You tried, but your best wasn’t good enough for gold. But you did it anyway. And you learned that with time, you survive -- and you’re still making it work. Congratulations! You’re a survivor.

Related: 10 Ways You May Be Shortening Your Life

11. How to Be Your Best Coach
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The greatest coach you will ever have is in your head. Your thoughts drive your emotion and behavior, keep you analyzing and interpreting the world around you and can be your greatest coach or your worst enemy. Think of your brain as the coach and your body as the team. You know your limits, what makes you tick, how to motivate yourself and how to get what you want in life. In order to get the best results, put yourself in places and scenarios that give you meaning. You have the ability to enjoy the most of life when you understand yourself and do the best things for yourself. Pay attention to your thoughts. Bring yourself to places that make you feel good. Do things that keep you happy and healthy. As an adult, be the best coach you have ever known and then some. Push yourself hard when you know you can go the distance, and reward yourself when you’ve accomplished something truly important. Chances are you’ve had great role models on the teams you’ve played for, so take their example, pair it with your knowledge of yourself and propel yourself to greatness in whatever you do.

Related: 9 Life Lessons You Can Learn From Introverts

What Do YOU Think?
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Did you play sports as a kid? Do you have kids of your own now that play sports? Do any of these ring true with your experiences? What other things did you learn from playing sports? Maybe you didn’t play sports, but you still posses these skills. What do you attribute your success to? Were you involved in other actives or just a born self-starter? Share your stories, suggestions and questions in the comments section below!

Related: 11 of Life’s Most Difficult Situations and How to Handle Them

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