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Ester Marsh: How competitive sports can teach important life lessons

As many of you know, I have been a track and field coach for about 10 years and have seen amazing improvements for kids starting a competitive sport.

As a competitive athlete, you have to manage your time. This is my first year at South Rowan High School as an assistant coach for track and field and I am very pleased to see so many hardworking kids. We have done very well so far and I look forward to being part of continuing to build the track and field program. Of course, school and homework always come first before anything else. But that’s the same as in real life, right? Your job and responsibilities have to be done before you can “play.”

One of my favorite lessons is that nothing comes free. If you want something, you have to work for it.

In a team sport, talent alone can get you very far. In sports such as track and field and swimming, everything is timed or measured. Even if we compete as a team (for points and spirit), unless you are on a relay, you compete as an individual. You get your marks by your time, distance and height. Time and measurements don’t lie.

Even on the relays, it shows who “messed up.” Of course, you can work hard and have lots of talent and things still may not go as we hope for. In my eyes, another great life lesson learned.

How about the kids who don’t have natural talent? I will take a less-talented kid who works hard any day over a kid who has talent but doesn’t want to put forth any effort.

Another great life lesson — even if you are good or great, not working hard sets you up to fail.

How about for the ones who have to work hard at everything? Hard work will pay off. I have seen kids with less talent but awesome work ethic beat the “talented” kids who just do not work hard enough when they need to. Sometimes it takes a bit longer to get there, but the work ethic instilled is priceless and will make a huge difference in their future.

Competitive sports creates a thicker skin. You learn how to win and you learn how to lose, another big life lesson. So many times we fail at something and we have to get back up and do it again. Look at Michael Jordan, who was cut from his high school varsity team. If he had given up, his life would have been very different.

A couple of his quotes:

• “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed.”

• “I can accept failure; everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”

Creating an environment where everyone is a “winner” never made sense to me. Not everyone can be a winner. One of my mottos is to be humble when winning and be respectful when losing.

Besides learning all these important life lessons, I personally have seen kids turn around academically because of competitive sports. Having to balance practices, meets, homework and chores helped them thrive academically. I have seen athletes who were struggling in school, having to go to summer school, who then became honor roll students. That’s huge in my eyes.

Of course, in the full picture all this counts for parents, too. Support your child and coaches, always remember school and academics come first and create a healthy balance, and most important of all, lead by example.

Ester H. Marsh is health and fitness director of J.F. Hurley Family YMCA and sprint, hurdle and jump coach South Rowan High School. 

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