Life Lessons We Can Learn from Sports

Laura Depta@lauradeptaFeatured ColumnistJune 3, 2015

Life Lessons We Can Learn from Sports

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    Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

    Many of life's great lessons can be learned from sports. Didn't Mike Eruzione teach us to believe in miracles?

    Who needs life coaching or self-help books when you can flip on sports radio? Learning forgiveness, the power of positive thinking, the importance of one's actions—all are represented in the sports world.

    Here are 14 profound nuggets of wisdom, many of which you've likely heard before, applied to some well-known sports scenarios. 

Rome Wasn't Built in a Day

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    The Chicago Cubs hired Theo Epstein in 2011 to become its president of baseball operations. Epstein had broken one World Series curse in Boston, and fans hoped he could do the same in Chicago. Four years later, the World Series title is still just a dream. In fact, the team hasn't even made the playoffs in the Epstein era.

    Still, Epstein has made some big moves, laying the foundation for what is turning out to be a promising and actually decent team. He hired Jed Hoyer to serve as general manager, locked down first baseman Anthony Rizzo until 2019, drafted and oversaw the development of rookie phenom Kris Bryant, hired Joe Maddon as manager and won the Jon Lester free-agent sweepstakes.

    Now, the Cubs are finally looking like a team with some potential, starting the season above .500 through May. The Cubs' elusive title may not come in the next year, or even two or three. But then again, Rome wasn't built in a day, at least, not according to English playwright John Heywood, who is often credited with the quote.

Don't Take Life Too Seriously…

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    …You'll never get out alive. You remember this epic quote from Van Wilder quote, right? If anyone in sports embodies this quote—and really, the spirit of Van Wilder, it's New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.

    It's hard to imagine a professional athlete who has more fun than this guy. Gronk owns a party bus, celebrated his birthday in Las Vegas, chugged a beer during the Super Bowl victory parade and just generally crushed the NFL offseason. Rob Gronkowski: biggest kid in the NFL. 

Get Up, Dress Up and Show Up

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    In her book God Never Blinks, author Regina Brett wrote, "No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up."

    So maybe Michael Jordan didn't dress up for Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals, but he sure showed up. Jordan suffered from "flu-like symptoms" throughout the game but still managed to put up 38 points in a victory for his Chicago Bulls. It was one of the legend's most memorable performances.

'Sometimes You're the Windshield, Sometimes You're the Bug'

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    Aaron Gash/Associated Press

    Dire Straits sang, "Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug," in its 1991 country song "The Bug."

    In Game 6 of its first-round playoff series against the Chicago Bulls, the Milwaukee Bucks team was definitely the bug.

    The Bulls went up 3-0 before dropping two games to the underdog Bucks. It looked like the series might take a turn, but the Bulls came out like a windshield in Game 6. They ran up the score and beat the Bucks by a shocking score of 120-66 to take the series.

'Practice Makes the Master'

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    In The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss wrote, "Practice makes the master."

    NBA MVP Steph Curry is nothing if not a master. The Golden State Warriors guard has drawn comparisons to some of basketball's greatest shooters, and Steve Nash recently said Curry is the best he's ever seen.

    For Curry, practice makes perfect. During a Team USA practice in 2014, he said, "I want to practice to the point where it's almost uncomfortable how fast you shoot, so that in the game things kind of slow down," according to the NBA. In April, Curry reportedly made 77 consecutive three-pointers in practice.

Life Isn't Always Fair

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Life's not fair. It's just not. No one knows that better than any athlete who has ever been worked over by referees. Just ask M.D. Jennings how he feels about replacement refs.

    Or, ask Armando Galarraga if he's on board with instant replay in baseball. In 2010, Galarraga pitched a perfect game for the Detroit Tigers—only it won't look that way in the record books. First base umpire Jim Joyce errantly called a runner safe at first base in the ninth inning, ending Galarraga's bid.

    Joyce later admitted he made the wrong call, but here's another life lesson for you: can't change the past.

The Truth Shall Set You Free

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    Handout/Getty Images

    "The truth shall set you free" is a biblical reference, one that Lance Armstrong has likely heard of. Armstrong survived cancer, and he won seven consecutive Tour de France titles. He was a hero.

    However, Armstrong also battled allegations of doping throughout his cycling career, all of which he staunchly denied for years. In 2013, Armstrong finally admitted to cheating and in a big way. He sat down with Oprah Winfrey, described a culture of doping in cycling and admitted to doping in all seven of his Tour de France victories.

    He admitted to being a bully and asked for forgiveness. According to Rory Carroll of the Guardian, Armstrong said, "These were people who believed in me, who believed me, and they have every right to feel betrayed. I'll spend the rest of my life trying to earn back trust and apologise to people."

    Since the admission, life hasn't exactly been easy for Armstrong, but at least he can start earning back that trust he mentioned.

When One Door Closes, Another Opens

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Peyton Manning was, and is, an icon in Indiana. He led the Indianapolis Colts to nine consecutive playoff appearances and one Super Bowl victory from 2002-10, and he is still the franchise's leading passer.

    Then in 2011, Manning missed the entire season due to injury. With a chance to draft a franchise-caliber quarterback in Andrew Luck, the Colts ultimately opted to release Manning amid continuing concerns about his health.

    With Manning's time in Indianapolis over, other NFL teams clamored to sign the living legend. John Elway and the Denver Broncos won the sweepstakes, and Manning started another successful tenure with a new team.

    Alexander Graham Bell if often credited with saying, "When one door closes, another opens," and in just his second season in Denver, Manning opened up the door big time. He broke the records for single-season passing yards and single-season touchdown passes, marks previously held by Drew Brees and Tom Brady, respectively. He won the MVP award in a landslide and took his team to the Super Bowl.

Let Go of Things You Cannot Change

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Alex Rodriguez isn't exactly what you'd called a popular guy. He's been embroiled in PED scandal ever since 2009 when information leaked about a positive drug test he took in 2003. Then there was the Biogenesis mess and subsequent 211-game suspension (later reduced to 162).

    A-Rod fought tooth and nail through most of the turmoil. He denied using PEDs, fought his  historic suspension and sued everyone from the MLBPA to the New York Yankees team doctor.

    Finally, in early 2014, A-Rod accepted his suspension. After a year off, he's back and actually performing pretty well as the Yankees designated hitter. He has reached several career milestones, including passing Willie Mays on the all-time home run list and breaking Lou Gehrig's American League RBI record.

    One Yankees scout talked to Andy Martino of the Daily News about A-Rod's swing and said, "He has the easiest swing I've ever seen from him. He just looks like he doesn't give a s--t. And that's a good thing."

    Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr uttered the famous imploration, "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Perhaps A-Rod is heeding similar advice.

'Change Is the Only Constant in Life'

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Good news for terrible teams out there: No matter how bad things get, they will change. This, according to Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who is credited with the quote, "Change is the only constant in life."

    There are many examples, but let's take a look at the Detroit Lions. In 2008, the tortured franchise became the first NFL team in history to finish a season 0-16. That's pretty much rock bottom.

    However, the team bounced back just three years later to make the playoffs behind a 10-6  regular-season record. And now, the Lions are coming off another good season—they finished 11-5 and made a postseason appearance in 2014.

'Whether You Think You Can or You Think You Can't, You're Right.'

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    John Rooney/Associated Press

    It was Henry Ford who said, "Whether you think you can, or you think you can't—you're right." This is an important life lesson about the power of positive thinking.

    Muhammad Ali was not only a great boxer, but he regularly made positive and confident declarations about his abilities. Ali once said, "I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was. I figured that if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I really was the greatest."

    The former heavyweight champion ended up as one of, if not the, greatest boxers in history.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

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    Dwight Howard has never won an NBA championship. Yet, after his Houston Rockets lost in the Western Conference Finals, he still told reporters, "I'm going to continue to push myself to the limit and remember that, no matter how the season ends, I'm still a champion. And I won't let anyone tell me anything different."

    Right, but...he's not a champion—at least not an NBA champion. Howard might benefit from an age-old life lesson: Actions speak louder than words.

'Forgiveness Is the Attribute of the Strong'

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    In his book All Men are Brothers, Mahatma Gandhi said, "The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong." This is a great lesson from a wise man and can be applied to all aspects of life.

    As it relates to sports, a notable display of forgiveness involved the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James. Fans burned their hero's jersey when he chose to sign with the Miami Heat in 2010. Owner Dan Gilbert posted an open letter to fans on the team's website indicating his own bitterness over James' departure.

    After four seasons and two championships in Miami, James announced his return to Cleveland. Ohioans were quick to forgive and gave him an epic welcome in his first game back. It looks like they were right to let the past go—James took the Cavs to the NBA Finals his first season back in town.

Believe in Miracles

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    This may seem a little hokey, but miracles can happen, and they do.

    Look no further than 1980's aptly named "Miracle on Ice" for proof from the sports world. A young and inexperienced U.S. hockey team faced the international juggernaut and overwhelming favorite Soviet Union in the Winter Olympic semifinals.

    In the midst of the Cold War, tensions ran high between the two nations, and the game was a microcosm of political relations unfolding on a hockey rink. However, on the ice, no one expected the U.S. to actually put up a fight.

    Incredibly, the U.S. went on to win the game 4-3, and broadcaster Al Michaels famously yelled, "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!" as the clock wound down.


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