Life lessons from our student athletes

We aren’t all athletes. Not every teen plays on the varsity team, or even plays at all. Few adults ever had the honor of putting on a state championship ring, and some people might never even slip on a jersey.

Yet we as a society, and as a community, pay attention to sports. That’s because there are kernels of local truth, timeliness, triumph and tragedy in athletics.

Public schools organize and promote more than a dozen different sporting events year-round because they help young people grow to be well-rounded, confident adults. The shape of our society would be very different without the many lessons that sports provide.

You might be surprised by what you can learn, simply listening to the focused young athletes and their coaches now ramping up for the Valley’s winter sports season. Here are just a few of the lessons we at the Record have learned:

Adversity can be overcome

Seasoned athletes understand that life isn’t always easy, but that challenges can be overcome with perseverance and a positive attitude. Take Mount Si state champion wrestler (and D-1 football signee) Josh Mitchell. You wouldn’t think it to look at him, but Mitchell was pretty much winless his freshman year. But he didn’t give up, took the long view, and wound up beating all comers last year. He passes that lesson on to his teammates.

Then there’s Mount Si junior Jess Trotto. She’s fractured her spine twice during her gymnastics career, but keeps coming back. Why the tenacity? “Gymnastics is my life,” she told me. Giving up on her team wasn’t an option, and you can find her back on the floor, jazzing it up this season.

Coaches don’t always get their dream teams, athletes can be injured, but life goes on, and so do these kids. They keep on coming because of the connection they’ve built.

Many Valley athletes have played together since grade school, and they can count on those relationships. That shared experience is what keeps some of the Valley’s best athletes coming back. Mitchell and Wildcat football quarterback Ryan Atkinson signed on to the wrestling and basketball teams, respectively, this season in part because they did not want any regrets about what they might have missed.

Set realistic goals

When a season begins, spirits are so high. I love how athletes are unabashed about their desire to win, from league all the way to state. Mount Si gymnast Lexi Swanson’s enthusiasm was practically contagious as she told me she had a real good feeling about state in 2012.

But once you get past the optimistic predictions, you start to hear the details of how they plan to get there. Encouragement. Hard work. Team building.  Teens become managers, emphasizing the drills and skills, pushing everyone to work in unison and leave it all on the floor. “Our mindset has to be ‘win one quarter, one game at a time,” Mount Si girls basketball player Jordan Riley told me.  These young people start to look at the small steps that they’ll need to get to the big goals. The ability to break big objectives down to small tasks—how important is that skill to master?

Sports stay with you

Coaches know that the game isn’t all about wins. It’s human nature to seek victory, but good coaches often tell me that their biggest goal is to instill a lifelong love of the game. Varsity play can lavish glory on some players and leave others feeling left in the shadows. But every player has a role, and when players feel connected, their love of the sport, and their memories, continue for decades.

Please make time this winter to support our athletes. Attend games, cheer on the teams, and not just varsity. See a sport you’ve never seen before. If you know a student athlete, encourage her or him.

By doing so, you keep these lessons of sports going strong.


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