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Life Lessons from Athletes

life lessons from athletesSports are an amazing vehicle for developing core strengths, overcoming perceived limitations and exercising interpersonal skills. As an athlete you have to learn to get out of your own way, act in spite of fear, work together as a team and go for your goals.

In our private practice we find that athletes and the arena of sport parallel important life lessons we can all benefit from.

Life Lesson #1 ~ Play Your Own Game

You can hear, “Play your own game” echoed from the sidelines and in halftime huddles. If a soccer team starts playing the other team’s game they will quickly lose connection with the hundreds of hours spent developing their own timing and rhythm as a team. You can see them running around one step behind, missing passes, on defense vs. offense and looking frenzied. The moment you get your head in someone else’s game and attempt to make decisions based on what you think they are thinking you disconnect from your own self.

Let’s look at this life lesson in another way: No one thought the 1-mile race would ever break the 4-minute threshold and for over a century from the first documented world record holder it didn’t. The current world record is 3:43.13.  If you want to achieve your goals, dreams and passions at some point you have to STOP comparing yourself to others. Comparisons and caring what people think are some of the biggest ways to assure that you will limit your potential (and not play your own game).

Life Lesson #2 ~ Rise to the Challenge

We can learn another life lesson from the 1-mile world record. What athletes know as “rising to the challenge” (or simply said, “Bring it on!”) demonstrates our innate drive to be better, to reach higher, to grow and to not settle for mediocrity.

If you are an intermediate level tennis player, you wouldn’t choose to practice with individuals just learning to play tennis. You wouldn’t say, “Bring me only those people I know that I can beat.” This is boring and keeps you stuck at the same level of skill. You want the challenge to grow, to stretch and improve yourself. So in the face of stress, change and the unexpected, try this approach: Bring It On!

Life Lesson #3 ~ 90% Mental, 10% Physical

Athletes know that to reach their performance potential their mind has to be in top shape. At the advanced level success is largely based on 90% mental game. Athletes use the skills of emotional intelligence and mindfulness to transform thoughts of stress, self-doubt or perceived obstacles. Their goals are crystal clear and they focus on them intently on and off the field. This is often called being in the zone, a combination of being highly focused and highly relaxed. This takes practice.

Interestingly, studying the performance habits of top leaders you find similarities with top athletes. You might think they would report being really busy, with intense travel schedules and working hard. However, they actually report laser focus on their goals, accompanied with an insatiable belief in reaching their goals. They further report a daily ritual of getting into the zone by quieting their mind, focusing on the present moment and visualizing their goals.

Life Lesson #4 ~ Visualize to Materialize

Visualization is one of the most frequently used practices by athletes to develop their mental game. Visualize yourself achieving your goals for 15 minutes per day with the following guidelines.

  • Breathe in and out of your nose. As you inhale allow your abdomen to expand. As you exhale allow your abdomen to gently contract. Continue with this breathing pattern, slowly and deeply throughout the relaxation practice.
  • Scan your body from head to toe. Relax each area of your body systematically, one area at a time. Breathe into any discomfort and release it as you exhale.
  • Focus your mind on an image that represents what you ideally want in your life.
  • Identify a multi-sensory image. Notice what it looks like in full color. Are there any sounds? Notice what you hear. Notice how you feel. Magnify how you feel both physically and emotionally. Do you notice any scents? Do you notice any tastes?
  • Focus on this multi-sensory, emotionally engaged image for several minutes. Be sure you have a clear picture and feeling of accomplishing your target intention. You might imagine this playing out in your mind like a movie where you are the star.
  • As you open your eyes and return to your daily activities know that you have taken conscious steps in powerfully creating your goals and dreams!

Sprinter photo available from Shutterstock

Life Lessons from Athletes

Kim Ward, PhD & Hilary Stokes, PhD

Hilary Stokes, PhD and Kim Ward, PhD have been a team for 20 years, specializing in mind, body, spirit psychology. They are the authors of the bestselling books The Happy Map: Your roadmap to the habit of happiness and Manifesting Mindset: The 6-step formula for attracting your goals and dreams and founders of Authenticity Associates Coaching and Counseling. They are passionate about combining the best of holistic and traditional approaches to health and happiness. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

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APA Reference
Hilary Stokes, K. (2018). Life Lessons from Athletes. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 4 Mar 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.