To paraphrase Ted Lasso, the fictional football-turned-soccer coach, one aspect of sports is helping people become the best versions of themselves, both on and off the field.
For high school seniors a few months from graduation, athletics have helped them prepare for the ups and downs and the responsibilities of adult life.
“I don’t know what my life would be like without athletics,” Clear Creek High School’s Bode Baker said. “ … It taught me many valuable life lessons and helped me grow into the person I am today.”
Baker and five fellow seniors across the Denver area detailed how sports taught them communication, trust, perseverance, how to accept failure and other valuable life lessons.
And while there are possible downsides to competing in sports — injuries, feelings of exclusion and inadequacy, and additional commitments amid already busy schedules — the seniors believed there were far more benefits.
They encouraged parents to have their children try sports at a young age, and for younger students to try any sport they’re interested in, even if they haven’t played it before.
Conifer High School’s Patrick Doty started cross country as a freshman and was the second-slowest person on the team. However, he stuck with it and now hopes to run at the collegiate level.
“I don’t want to stop running,” Doty said. “… It helps you stay physically and mentally fit. I want to keep it around in my life as much as possible.”
And, certainly, there are plenty of life lessons to be garnered from clubs, part-time jobs, volunteering and other extracurriculars that high school students balance with academics.
Brighton High School’s Jazlyn Amaya is in five clubs and sports, including cross country and swimming, and she’s learned different things from each activity. She felt being involved in a variety of extracurriculars was important, but sports can be especially effective at forcing students outside their comfort zones.
“It’s taught me to manage my time — especially in high school — and to work hard for yourself and for others,” Amaya said of athletics. “ … It was about understanding who I was, helping me realize you’re not defined by a sport or club. You’re defined by who you are.”
Building a team, finding a family
Sami Zebroski’s never played an individual sport. She grew up playing recreation-league soccer and softball and now plays volleyball and basketball for Clear Creek.
In life, she tends to be more independent, wanting to fix everything herself. However, she said team sports have taught her the value of relying on and trusting other people.
“You’re going to have your biggest supporters on the court with you,” Zebroski said of volleyball in particular. “Once you go down, you kind of bring them with you. You have to be as reliable as your teammates are reliable to you.”
Trust and communication are the cores of teamwork, and Amaya said she’s improved on those throughout her sports career. She started playing recreation-league basketball, where she said that on-court connection was vital among teammates.
While sports like track and swimming are more individual, there’s still a team aspect. Teammates have to build each other up, critique each other in a kind way, and communicate their expectations effectively for relays and so on, Amaya and her peers described.
Maya Dawson and Mason Pratt, who both play multiple sports at Conifer, said they’ve made important memories with their teams over the years. Team-building, chemistry, and bonding time can help a group of athletes transform into something even greater than a team — a family.
“A lot of my non-blood family, I’ve found in sports,” Pratt said.
Having an outlet for self-improvement
There’s hardly a sport Baker hasn’t played. He started in T-ball when he was 3 or 4 years old, and now plays baseball, football, basketball and track for Clear Creek. He also competed in wrestling, boxing and cross country when he was younger.
For Baker, sports have always been an important mental and physical outlet.
“You have a bad day at school, you go do your sports and get your anger out,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for you to go out, have fun, and get away from your daily struggles.”
Pratt and Dawson also described how sports can be therapeutic, whether it’s in the camaraderie or the workout aspect. Dawson said sports forces athletes to make time in their day to take care of themselves and be active.
Dawson plays basketball and runs track and cross country at Conifer. She and Amaya explained how their experiences in both team and more individual sports highlight how the latter requires athletes to motivate, improve and hold themselves accountable.
Amaya made varsity cross country this year and pushed herself to work hard for her teammates, saying, “If I’m behind, I put everyone behind.”
Dawson described how teammates, coaches and other supporters can cheer on runners from the sidelines, but “at the end of the day, you’re the one getting yourself across that finish line.”
She and Amaya believed there’s power in learning to work hard, push oneself through pain, and accomplish individual goals.
“That feeling of accomplishment, it’s one of the best things about sports,” Dawson said. “Just knowing that you left it all out on the track.”
Learning to persevere, face failure
Whether it’s in life or in sports, Doty believes “you’re owed nothing.”
An athlete can work hard toward their goals, but the outcome might not go their way. And part of sports is learning to accept that, he described.
“It’s a nice, little reality check,” Doty continued. “ … (Sports involves) accepting that not every day is your day.”
That’s something that, as baseball players, Pratt and Baker understand perfectly. Both described baseball as a “game of failure,” where the best professional hitters strike out seven times out of 10.
Perseverance and patience are key in baseball, they explained, with Baker saying players must keep their heads up and capitalize on success when it does come.
Pratt added: “The longer you stay attached to failure, the more you’re going to fail in the future.”
Whether it’s in an individual play, a game, or an entire season, failure is inevitable in sports. Baker and Dawson described how their football and basketball programs, respectively, have experienced losing records throughout their high school careers.
But, working through conflict is part of sports, Dawson stressed. Making a journey of learning “to love a sport when you’re not successful” has been one of the most valuable aspects of her sports career, she said.
“You have to find the joy in your sport, in the little things,” Dawson continued. “ … I think that’s valuable too, maybe more so than points or wins.”
As they’ve persevered in their individual sports over the years, all six seniors hoped to continue their athletic careers in some capacity after high school. Whether it’s competing at the college level, playing intramurals, or taking daily runs, they want to make athletics part of their adult lives.
If that’s the case, they’ll likely learn more from their mutual teacher and continue becoming the best versions of themselves.
“I think (athletics) is a part of growing up,” Amaya said. “ … For people who have that opportunity, it’s important to take it. Giving it a try never hurts.”