10 Life Lessons from Youth Sports (Part 3)

Soccer !, by Craig Sunter, Flickr

Soccer !, by Craig Sunter, Flickr

This is part 3 of 3 in my series reflecting on 10 Life Lessons from Youth Sports.

In this season our family has been asking a few questions as we make decisions regarding where to invest our time with youth sports:

  • In what way are youth sports meaningful?
  • How do they contribute to the development of children and youth?
  • What life lessons may be learned from participation in youth sports?

In response to these questions we landed on a list of “10 Life Lessons from Youth Sports” that fall into five main categories: Physical Lessons, Emotional Lessons, Relational Lessons, Mental Lessons, and Spiritual Lessons.

In my previous two posts I shared lessons 1-6 in the physical, emotional and relational areas.

Physical Lessons

  • Lesson 1: Physical Health Is Important
  • Lesson 2: Athletes Are Born and Made

Emotional Lessons

  • Lesson 3: How to Lose, and Win, Well
  • Lesson 4: How to Press through Perceived Barriers

Relational Lessons

  • Lesson 5: We’re in This Together
  • Lesson 6: How to Respect, Engage, and Share in Authority

Now we turn to lessons 7 – 10 in the mental and spiritual areas for this final post.

Mental Lessons

Lesson 7: Successful Execution Engages the Mind

Although success in sports is tied in part to physical, emotional, and relational dynamics, successfully execution involves a significant mental dimension as well.

At every level of competition, athletes must stay focused. They must learn their specific job on the court, field, and mat. They must remain engaged. They must effectively execute on their job. They must be able to recognize challenges to their play and make necessary adjustments.

In sports, successful execution engages the mind. On the practice field, in the midst of a game or match, and in reviewing performance after the fact, athletes must stay mentally engaged.

Teammates depend on each other to know and execute their role in the right way and at the right time. Athletes not only need to learn their own role well, but also must be mindful of how their role coordinates with those around them on their own team, and how the opposition is working against them in the competition. Youth sports provide an opportunity for kids to stay focused mentally and to execute on this understanding.

Lesson 8: Pursuing Perfect Effort

One of my son’s favorite movies is When the Game Stands Tall. The movie provides a dramatic account of the De La Salle Spartans’ journey to a 151-game winning streak in high school football. The coach of the Spartans was Bob Ladouceur, and he built his program on the philosophy of expecting perfect effort from his players.

In the movie, this principle of perfect effort is communicated by the coach in the following manner:

We’re not asking you to be perfect on every play. What we’re asking of you and what you should be asking of each other is to give a perfect effort from snap to whistle.”

Perfect effort requires engagement from the whole person. Athletes need to be present physically, emotionally, relationally, and mentally. They must be ready to engage, and stay engaged, with their whole self to offer the perfect effort of which Ladouceur speaks.

Spiritual Lessons

Lesson 9: You’re Not Alone

Youth sports can be tough at times. Youth athletes can feel pressed in all of the areas noted above: physically, emotionally, relationally, and mentally. When things get tough, as they do in sports at times, it is an important opportunity for individuals to recognize that they are ultimately not alone.

To begin, players are surrounded by the many people who care for and support them along the way (fellow players, coaches, and loved ones). But even when this is not the case, when it feels like so many who are surrounding are not being supportive, athletes are able to turn to the one who is faithful through it all.

In the book of Philippians, the Apostle Paul writes, “In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret…. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12-13).

Though many athletes may want to quote such a verse to point to God’s help in providing them with a victory in a match or game, the reality is this verse is not about victories in sports. It is about finding strength in the Lord, whether in victory or defeat.

Paul did not write these verses from a place of comfort and excitement. Paul wrote these verses to his friends while sitting in a prison cell because of his faith in the Lord. So in the midst of joy and sorrow in sports, and in the midst of joy and sorrow in life, we can say with Paul that we “can do all things through him who strengthens” us. In competition and in life, we are not alone.

Lesson 10: Play to Win the Prize

Finally, youth sports provide a context where individuals and teams compete to win. On one of our kids’ teams, the coach emphasized playing for the greater reward.  This meant several things: (1) playing for the win, (2) playing to improve as an athlete, and (3) playing to grow is a person of character and commitment.

Lessons like these point to playing for the greater spiritual reward as well. In the Bible, the Apostle Paul speaks to the greater reward of the gospel in the following manner:

I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Cor. 9:23-25).

Victories on the field, court, or mat feel great. But these victories in sports are temporary. Paul says there is a greater reward that will last. For Paul this lasting reward is all about the gospel—the relationship with God made available to us because of the forgiveness offered in Jesus Christ.

So run for the athletic prize, but recognize this is pointing to an even greater reward. Nothing matters more than finding peace with God in this life. The prize of peace with God is found in Jesus Christ.


Youth sports provide countless opportunities to learn lessons about life and leadership. In these posts, I’ve highlighted 10. I hope you enjoy the life lessons that you are learning along the way as well, whether through your own involvement with sports, or as your children are involved in sports.

Take a moment to share your insights below!


Here are all of the posts in this 3-part series:

One thought on “10 Life Lessons from Youth Sports (Part 3)

  1. Pingback: This Week’s Links « Timothy Siburg

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