I have a confession to make.

I’ve become a — dun, dun, dun — “sports mom.”

You see, I haven’t always been enthusiastic about sports. When I married my husband, I found out pretty quickly how fanatical people can be about their favorite teams. Little did I know, my kids would take after their father. From soccer to baseball to basketball, my boys have developed an absolute passion for team sports. But they’re also learning a number of valuable life lessons.

So while I still don’t know all of the rules — and even sometimes complain about the crazy practice and game schedules — the lessons that Little League sports teach my kids, and youth in general, are priceless. They’re being challenged, stretched, molded, and encouraged. In turn, they are becoming more confident, patient, even purposeful. They are developing not only physical strength, but mental and emotional too.

And incidentally, all of these skills and traits also belong to great leaders. Here are the life and leadership lessons that organized sports have taught my boys — and served as a reminder for me as well!

Life Lessons

Attitude is everything. Vince Lombardi once said, “Winning isn’t everything, but the will to win is everything.” Before you can succeed or lead, you have to believe that you can. You have to believe in your own abilities as well as those of your team. Having the right attitude and frame of mind tends to make for a less tumultuous path — or at least a more bearable one. And when you hit a stumbling block, your determination and positivity can see you and your team through.

“Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

Hard work pays off. Anything worth having does not come easy. Whether it’s that field goal, breaking a sales record, or rallying the team, getting in the trenches and putting in the sweat equity is critical.

“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” ~ Tim Notke

TEAM: Together Everyone Achieves More. There’s no “I” in team. It may sound cheesy or cliché, but it really is true. I like to think of a team as a pyramid. The foundation is formed by all of the individual team members’ talents. This foundation is what allows each player to rise to the top — the pinnacle — at some point. Without the support provided by each individual, the foundation is too weak and crumbles.

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” ~ Michael Jordan

Practice perseverance. While most are born with a handful of innate skills, the majority of skills require practice. Lots and lots of practice. As adults and leaders, it can be tempting to throw in the towel when a task seems insurmountable. Children may be even more quick to give up, unaware of the consequences of quitting too often or too soon. Sure, you strike out now and again, but you step right back up to home plate and try again.

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” ~ Thomas Edison

Show appreciation. Validation is a powerful motivator. When coaches — and leaders alike — take the opportunity to express appreciation to their teams, they reinforce the positive behavior that is being praised. This public acknowledgement not only encourages the team to continue the behavior, but it demonstrates humbleness and graciousness too.

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” ~ John F. Kennedy

Play to your strengths. In sports, everyone brings a unique talent to the ballfield. The coaches learn to identify each child’s strengths and place them in a position that complements those characteristics. Great leaders do the same by arranging their team so that each can play to their strengths. It works wonders for the baseball team and the boardroom.

“Success is achieved by developing our strengths, not by eliminating our weaknesses.” ~ Marilyn vos Savant

Have fun. Just like adults, kids can’t be all work and no play. That leads to burnout, loss of enthusiasm, and resentment. Kids, and leaders, tend to find more success when fun is mixed into the journey.

“People rarely succeed unless they are having fun in what they are doing.” ~ Dale Carnegie

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