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What did I win by playing sports? A story and six lessons.

December 8, 2010 – 6:00 AM

By Laura Pappano

I am frankly tired of people justifying sports for girls as a vehicle for improving self-esteem, staving off bad behavior, and improving fitness.

Oh, sure. Sports may do all that. But selling sports in that packaging misses the real power. When you play, you learn to count yourself in.

I decided to join the Danbury News-Times Carrier baseball league at the very moment Title IX was passed and jittery administrators grappled with what the heck (!) that meant. Playing meant putting up with a stunning amount of harassment from 13-year-old boys (plus one grumpy mom) who didn’t think girls had any business playing baseball. I endured long car rides to games, staring at the hem of my shorts as they talked about me without acknowledging my presence, questioning, what was I trying to prove?

I didn’t start out wanting to “prove” anything. I just wanted to play. But when I consider the circumstances now, I realize the competitive beast in me was not going to let them win. I would not relent. I was not quitting. I could hit and field and run. Why should my sex be a barrier?

I have won a lot by playing sports. Most of the gains have been about expanding and understanding my own abilities (and limitations) on and off the field. I have learned to manage success and failure (losses in high school and college field hockey playoff games remain vivid decades later). I can feel the air-sucked out heartbreak almost as crisply as when it happened. On the other hand, wins you forget.

Today, sports are about joy – camaraderie, the elemental pleasure of playing, the loveliness of sweating and pushing yourself. But the things we do when we play, from the preparation to the self-talk and analysis, allow us windows into our strengths and vulnerabilities that serve in every aspect of life.

My top lessons – applicable to sports, work, or living.:

1.     There is no doing it better later. Leave it all on the field now.

2.     Play hard and let the chips fall where they may; don’t be tentative. If you lose, you lose, but don’t beat yourself.

3.     Play fair. It’s always better.

4.     Keep your eye on the ball. (Don’t forget what you came for).

5.     Be a good teammate (communicate and be generous).

6.     Be mentally tough, fit, and prepared: Even if you are overmatched, you may outlast your opponent.

  1. 2 Responses to “What did I win by playing sports? A story and six lessons.”

  2. I love that you refer to yourself as a “competitive beast!” You made my day! Thanks for Rallying for Girls’ Sports.

    By Amanda on Dec 8, 2010

  3. Great post. Love your life lessons. Had me all faked out with your first paragraph.

    By The Girl Revolution on Dec 8, 2010

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