The Unconventional Value of an Athletic Education

The main lesson I learned from sports is aggression. (How to be comfortable naked in a crowded locker room is a close second.) I can’t run a 4:13 mile or deadlift the back end of a pickup truck, but I have played a number of sports over the years, and through them, I’ve gotten a glimpse into the value of an athletic education.

Health benefits aside, the conventional wisdom is wrong. Take basketball. Teamwork is not the primary takeaway. Aggression is. On the court, I learned to move assertively, to take up space, and to get in other people’s way. Sometimes you’re stuck guarding someone who’s got six inches and sixty pounds on you and sweats more than Dwayne Wade in a Gatorade commercial, but you still try to guard him. You still get up against him when he drives to the basket. Basketball is played with a generous dose of shoving, and I learned to take nothing personally.

Along with aggression is confidence in yourself as an individual. This isn’t about being a team player. The truth is that passing is the easy way out. Passing is what you do if you aren’t confident in your ability to score. Along with the ball, you pass the burden of playing well. As I improved, I learned to tune out distractions, both from the other team and from my own, and to go for the basket myself. I didn’t apologize when I messed up, and I didn’t feel apologetic. Team sports taught me to ignore my teammates, not to defer to them.