10 Life Lessons From a Lifetime In Competitive Sports
When competition becomes your life, what do you become?
I grew up on stinky wrestling mats, covered in my own blood and sweat. If I lost, my tears were probably there too.
All of the mannerisms that I’ve adopted since I was around 12 have come from the last 12 years that I’ve spent wrestling and training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. My demeanor is a direct result of my life as an athlete.
My athletic career has made me into the person I am today.
Look Ma — I’m a pro-athlete. I made it, I guess.
I’ve been involved in competitive sports for about 2 decades. It’s literally all I know.
Here are 10 of the most profound lessons I’ve learned during this time.
It’s a bit more than just wins, losses, and the importance of shaking your opponent's hand.
A healthy body and mind are earned, not given.
When I started wrestling in the 8th grade, I was a very depressed, chubby little kid who couldn’t touch his toes or do a pull-up. Now, I’m quite healthy and I have plenty of self-esteem. Some people on the internet who read my writing would say I have too much self-esteem.
That’s a better problem to have, I think.
I had to train my body and my mind for nearly a decade to feel this way. I had to earn good health.
“Fatigue makes cowards of us all” — George S Patton Jr
At the beginning of a boxing or MMA fight, both fighters are confident. That’s why they do those fancy walkouts with lights and smoke where each athlete tries to “out-swag” the other.
But once you start getting tired, things change. Swag looks silly when you’re tired. That flashy haircut you got for the fight looks silly when you’re having an asthma attack in the second round.
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” — Mike Tyson
Everyone has a plan until they start breathing heavily.
Pursuing skills is a marathon, not a sprint. You have to be mentally stronger than your fatigued self is weak.
Read that again.
Competition isn’t everything.
When your entire livelihood is competitive sports, it’s really easy to get caught up in the seemingly magnificent significance of each moment.
While sports can be very powerful, the results of just about all individual competitions are not life and death. We do not live in ancient Rome.
Once the final whistle blows, you and your opponent are not required to be enemies anymore.
Once the final whistle blows, you’re just a bunch of people standing on a field, in a ring, or on a mat. Without this awareness, the social construct of competition limits and destroys possible human connections between people with identical interests.
The point is here, I don’t know, just be nice?
You aren’t entitled to victory. Sorry.
Your athletic potential is a result of your habits and training, but there’s more to it than that.
You can train every day, put in hours and hours of work, spend thousands of dollars on perfect coaching, and still show up on gameday and shit the bed. If aren’t mentally ready to compete, if you didn't rest properly before the event, or if you are inexperienced in competitive environments, your world-class training might not be enough.
Preparation does not guarantee success, it only influences it.
No one does anything alone.
Few people are really self-made, but being self-made doesn’t matter as much as everyone makes it seem.
I learned how to fight through hard work and perseverance and training every fucking day, but I also have a coach. I also have teammates. My coach and teammates have been really helpful over the years, and I’m really glad that I haven’t had to figure everything out on my own.
It’s really hard to learn to do anything by yourself at a world-class level.
Bad team members outweigh good ones.
This one’s a little cutthroat, but it’s very true. Nothing destroys a team quite like a member who won’t pull their weight.
One bad sailor can quickly sink a ship.
The rules of the game can heavily influence outcomes.
In Jiu-Jitsu, different rulesets can determine who wins a match. Styles make fights. In writing, some of us are great at writing fiction, and some of us are great at writing nonfiction.
Styles make books.
To truly develop your skills, don’t become married to any set of rules.
When one has no form, one can be all forms; when one has no style, one can fit in with any style.” — Bruce Lee
You can learn a lot from your enemies.
I always study the matches I lose and I watch my opponents even after my run through a particular tournament is over. I analyze my errors, yes, but I also analyze the things that my opponents have done well.
I try to give credit where credit is due.
If your ego can stomach it, you can learn a lot by watching the people who are 1–2 steps ahead of you.
The hardest worker in the room is not the loudest person in the room.
A lot of times, you learn just as much from your peers or teammates as you do from your instructor or coach.
But who do you try to emulate?
If you’re trying to figure out who in a particular setting whose behavior you should look to replicate, stop listening to the words people are saying and start looking at the actions they are doing. You learn more by watching than by listening.
Sports won’t teach you everything you need to know about life.
Sports taught me a lot about life, but I believe this last point is the most important item on this list.
Whenever I’m forced to stop training for a bit, it hits me that I don’t know much of anything about the world besides what I think I know. I’m 24 and I’ve spent most of my life pursuing sports at the highest levels I can. Sports are great for teaching life lessons, but they are by no means comprehensive.
You have to do other stuff to find balance.
The pursuit of that balance is actually how and why I started writing.
Other Articles From This Week
I also had my buddy Max Hanson, from Adamas Jiu-Jitsu in Toledo, OH, contribute an article to my premium newsletter this week.
You can read his article here. Max is a great writer and one of the best 77 KG no-gi grapplers in the world. His insights are more than worth reading.
If you’d like to check that out (along with my entire library of premium articles), be sure to upgrade to the premium newsletter. It’s only $5 per month, and doing so helps me improve content quality and to get more writers to contribute to this publication as it continues to grow.
Who knows, maybe one day I’ll get John Danaher to contribute one…