This guest post is written by Brandon Bartneck who runs getthemostoutofhighschool.com, a site designed to help student athletes excel in high school and learn the skills needed for success in college and beyond.
High school sports are a waste of time.
A group of kids takes time away from their studies and their families, and they practice a game.
What a waste.
Sure, a few of them might be able to turn that game into a college scholarship, but for the majority of the high school athletes out there, they’re just wasting their time. This time would be better spent reading, or working, or doing homework. Those are the things that really matter. Right?
We need to remember what high school is all about: learning. It’s about becoming a better-educated individual, and preparing for life in college and beyond.
Some lessons are best taught in the classroom. Some belong around the dinner table. But for some of those special, life-changing lessons, sports present the perfect learning platform.
One of these special lessons is perseverance.
Perseverance is a learned skill. It’s not something you’re born with, it comes from experience. It comes from having your back against the ropes and rising above the adversity. It comes from proving to yourself that you have what it takes to dig deep when it matters most. That you won’t quit when times get tough.
The athletic field is the ideal place to gain this level of experience.
My high school football team had a great season during my senior year. We went into the playoffs with an 8-1 record, and we felt like we could make a run.
But the first round playoff game was nothing like I had expected. We got it handed to us early on. We were badly out-hit, and out-played.
The other team came out with a brand new offense that we hadn’t seen on film, and we were put on our heels. Midway through the first quarter, our opponent made a big play to get inside our red zone, looking to go up 14-0.
I’ll never forget that moment.
I’m typically the eternal optimist. No matter what the situation, I always felt like we had a chance.
But for some reason, that particular moment got to me. I thought we were done. We were playing a team that seemed bigger and faster than us, and our game plan was completely useless.
I looked around at the crowd, at the lights shining down on the field, and I felt that my high school football career was nearing its end.
But the great thing about sports, and football in particular, is that you don’t have time to get stuck on one thought. You have to get ready for the next play.
Just a few plays later, we forced a turnover. Not long after that, we hit a couple of big plays and had the game tied by halftime. After making a few key adjustments, we pulled it together and took care of business in the second half.
Within the course of about an hour and a half, I went from thinking about what life would be like after football to preparing for a district championship.
That’s a feeling that has stuck with me. Never before had I been in a situation in which failure seemed so certain.
Looking back, it was an over-reaction. We came out flat, and the other team built up some momentum. It happens. The games were never nearly as dire as I had thought. But in that moment, it felt like the world was crashing down.
Yet we were able to face the challenge overhead, and overcome it. We persevered.
That’s something I’ll take with me for the rest of my life.
This lesson comes back to me at tough moments in my life. Whether it’s a college exam question that throws me off guard, a job interview that starts to go south, or a business presentation that falls flat; I’ve had my share of experiences when times have gotten tough, when failure has seemed imminent.
But in all of these situations, I’m able to think back to that experience in high school football. I remember that, no matter how bad things are looking, there’s still the opportunity to turn it around. The situation probably isn’t as dire as I’m making it in my head.
And more often than not, I’ve been able to turn it around.
I’ve learned how to persevere.
Another lesson that sports have a way of drilling home is response to pressure.
When we’re watching professional sports, we see these clutch athletes like Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, and Serena Williams. They all have a way of making the big play when they need it. It seems like they have this innate ability to be at their best on the biggest stage.
But that isn’t the whole story. Just like anything, some people are born with a bit more of that clutch gene than others, but the rest comes from experience.
Michael Jordan said it best in an old Nike commercial:
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Performance under pressure is a skill. It can be developed through experience.
Ultimately, clutch performance comes down to self-confidence. Do you trust yourself to execute when you’re needed most?
The only way to truly build this level of confidence in yourself is by proving to yourself that you can deliver. High school sports offer a great opportunity for student athletes to do just that. Sports expose student athletes to high-pressure situations, with fairly low risk.
Realistically, losing a playoff game or missing a game-winning shot doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things. But in that moment, it feels like it’s everything. When you have the ball in your hands at the end of a basketball game, or when a season of training comes down to a single match, the pressure is there.
This gives the student athlete the opportunity to get comfortable with these high-pressure situations. They get to feel the adrenaline pumping through their blood. They get to hear the self-doubt creeping in the back of their mind. They get to fear failure.
And sometimes, they even get to fail.
I still remember my biggest failures. I blew a defensive assignment down the stretch in a tight basketball game. Then I did the same thing the next week. I missed a tackle late in the second half that cost us a football game. I tightened up at a big track meet and embarrassed myself by running my worst race of the season.
These experiences hurt. And they offer incredible learning opportunities
The more I became exposed to these high-pressure situations, the better I was able to handle the moment. I started to learn how to control my emotions and keep the game in perspective.
By the time my senior year came around, I was ready for the big moments. I was the leader of the team, and everyone counted on me to perform at the end of games.
I finally felt that I was ready for the spotlight, and it showed.
I hauled in a touchdown at a key moment in a playoff football game. I hit a buzzer beater to win a basketball game for our team. I ran my best race at our biggest track meet.
These moments when I used to fade away had become the times when I shined. I had proven to myself that I had what it takes to perform under pressure, and that made all the difference.
The best part is that this performance went well beyond high school.
Most college exams I took were worth 20, 30, or even 40% of the semester grade. And everything was graded on a curve. The student who scored the average grade on the exam was given a B-, someone who did a little better got a B, and so on.
So when I was sitting in the room on exam day, I knew that it was me against everyone else. In that moment, I had to be better than just about everyone else if I wanted to get an A.
That’s a lot of pressure.
Understandably, some people weren’t able to handle it. They would breakdown in the moments before the test. They would leave the exam room, knowing they blew it because they panicked.
But I was prepared. My experiences in high school had trained me for moments like that. I had become comfortable in high-pressure situations, and it paid off.
That’s not something I could have learned in the classroom.
High school sports help teach student athletes lessons that can’t be taught anywhere else. They taught me how to persevere and perform under pressure, but it doesn’t stop there. Whether it’s relationship building, discipline, teamwork, etc. sports help to teach the lessons that student athletes need to live a successful life.
Sure you can read about all of these things, but it’s just theory until you actually experience it.
You don’t learn about perseverance and clutch performance with a book. You learn by being put in situations that give you the opportunity to learn for yourself.
Maybe wasting time isn’t such a bad thing after all.
Check out getthemostoutofhighschool.com/index.php/mark for special content for High School Sports Stuff readers, including the free Ultimate Guide to Success as a Student Athlete and Beyond.