Life Lessons from Division 1 Athletics

I learned a lot from my years as an athlete – more than I ever understood I was learning at the time.

Hammer Throw

Here are a few of those lessons…

1) God has given me and you exactly enough to accomplish the task…

Some of you don’t know this, but I was a hammer thrower for MU. It’s unusual to find a hammer thrower my size, but that’s exactly what I was. Sure, I had natural talent to get me started. But while it was enough to float me along as a young teenager, but it really wasn’t enough in the big leagues. When I started competing in Division 1 track meets, I quickly learned how steep competition can become.

I trained for hours and hours every week, but it wasn’t always enough.

You know, looking back…I could have easily made an excuse for why things didn’t go well. I could have said that I was just too little. But what good would that have done? I didn’t make excuses. Instead, I believed that whatever my limitations might be, God had granted me ENOUGH to get the task done that He was asking of me.

God had already provided me with what I needed to  be able to throw. My job was to trust it and cultivate it.

2) You’re a PART of a team. You do not have to be the WHOLE team.

Now that I am an adult, I can easily see people struggling to be a part of a team. We’re all on a team together. It’s called humanity.

And listen, you don’t have to be good at every part.

You don’t.

Take track for example, I was a thrower. I could compete in my specific event and do somewhat well representing my team at the level required. I could NOT do well if they switched me over to being a high jumper, distance runner, or sprinter. AND THIS DID NOT MAKE ME FEEL LIKE LESS OF A PERSON. Instead, it made me grateful for persons with strengths other than my own. I didn’t want to cut them down. I needed them, and I needed them to be good so that we could all be good as a whole.

There are people that don’t accept weaknesses inside of themselves. They believe it’s their job to be flawless or pretend like weaknesses don’t exist. Don’t be one of these people. Your weaknesses are human. You can embrace them.

3) Say “yes” to help

Along the same lines, if I’m trying to compete in a track meet with my team that doesn’t have a sprinter. It is not my job to begrudgingly sprint. It is my job to find someone that CAN and WILL fit this need. It’s my job to say YES to someone offering to fill this need. Not to say, “Oh. It’s fine. I’ll just do it.” How many of us have a hard time asking for help because it might mean that we couldn’t get it done all on our own?

The solution does not always lie inside of you. It’s a bit ego centric to think that way, but we’ve all been guilty of it at one time or another.

4) Don’t squash your peers.

For the people that are gifted like you, it’s not your job to squash them. It’s your job to feed them and allow them to feed you.

Healthy competition is not bad. Some of us will have similar strengths. For example, I was not the only thrower on the team. There were lots of throwers and I needed to get each one of them functioning at their highest level. It was my job to support them in their pursuit  – because I needed them to be good so that I could be good.

If they learned, I could learn. If they grew, I could grow.

Girl Throwers

I remember my much stronger lifting partner saying that she was “too lazy to take all the weights off the bar. Wasn’t I strong enough to do it?” We both knew she wasn’t too lazy. She just wanted to see if I could do it. So, I would humor her and try it (even though I was a hundred pounds lighter and several inches shorter than her). And you know what, sometimes I WAS strong enough. But without her strength, I wouldn’t have known my own.

5) Panicking rarely helps

I read an article the other day that talked about former athletes being better at working as a team and staying clear-headed during a crisis. When 9/11 happened, a group of three men overcame the pilot and steered a plane away from it’s target – saving thousands of people. What did these men have in common? They were all former athletes.

Big 12 Conference Meet - Colorado

Athletes are a small population used to adrenaline pumping through their bodies. We’ve learned how to stay clear-headed through the process. We’ve seen how panicking and negative thoughts only make our performance worse.

So when things get tough, I’ve noticed that I get serious. I get focused. I do not begin to panic, fret, or talk about how “in over my head” I am.

6) When it all falls apart, go back and relearn the basics.

Every day when I left for practice, I was leaving to go be evaluated on a skill that I had been training and honing for years. And every day there was something to work on. Some days, my coach would see too many things to work on for one day (a.k.a. I was throwing terribly) and I would have to leave the ring to go back to the drills that beginners learn.

Over and over and over I would go back to the drills of beginners. I would ingrain these things into my mind before I could put it all together in something beautiful.

Was it discouraging to be cast away from the throwers ring and over to the side to drill by myself? Yes, of course it was. But it didn’t mean that I wasn’t good. In fact, EVEN THE BEST THROWER in the group had days where he had to go and do the exact same thing. None of us were exempt from the basics.

There will be days when you’ll have to go back and relearn the things you’ve learned a hundred times before.

6) Losing is not an excuse for quitting.

When I was in high school, I won almost every single meet. It was almost expected that I would get first place. I became accustomed to winning. But, I was a big fish in a small pond.

As I moved into bigger and bigger ponds, I realized winning every meet just wasn’t a reality anymore. Sometimes I tell people that I lost for 2 years straight. And, I did.

For two years, I lost almost every single meet. But, I didn’t quit. My coach at the time taught us how to lose gracefully. He says life and sports happen in thirds. One third of your experiences are going to be fantastic, amazing moments where the planets align and everything seems to be perfect. One third of your experiences are going to just be okay. And one third of your experiences are going to be horrible.

He taught us to get THROUGH the third that was terrible in order to get TO the third that would be amazing. There was no quitting. There was no easy way around it. We would learn how to become losers so that we could learn how to become a winner.

Many times, we might say “They deserve to win.” But, what if they need to lose a few times? What if what is “fair” to you, is not “normal” in the universe? Trust me, losing is not all bad.

7) Too much ego can kill you.

It’s easy to start feeling overconfident when things start to go your way. It’s easy to give yourself all the credit. This happens inwardly first, and then it starts to poison your relationships outwardly with others. My senior year, I really started doing big things. I PR-ed (achieving a new personal record) at EVERY. SINGLE. MEET. And you know what, I really didn’t let it get to my head for a long time. I recognized that I was getting better, but I knew I had a long ways to go.

When my new personal bests started reaching a level where I could actually begin competing with the big fish, I started to fumble. I started to feel like it was ME that got me here. I was the one to thank. I was the one to be impressed with. Well, I couldn’t be more wrong.

It was more than that, I also began to think that it all counted on me. That’s so dangerous. I was 2-3 meters from making the regional mark (a distance that allows you in to the post-season championship meet) when it all started going downhill. Nobody knew what to tell me. I had two weeks left in my last season of my career and I feel like I stepped backward into a hole. I couldn’t get out. I tried about everything.

What it came down to was a dream the night before my Big 12 Championship meet. I realized that I had been trying to control my destiny and that I had given both the responsibility and the credit for what happened to MYSELF. That was wrong. I was not qualified to be in control. I handed the control back over to God, and he allowed me one last beautiful throw. It was exactly how far I needed to throw to make all my goals for my career come true.

Regional Mark

And, I KNOW I wasn’t the one to thank.

8) You didn’t get there by yourself. Give thanks for the helpers in your life.

Many of you may think the development of an athlete relies mostly on two people: the coach and the athlete. I would argue this – as would anyone that has played sports at a highly competitive level. The higher up you go, the more people you need.

When I was competing for MU, I had a head coach, a throws coach, AND a strength coach. They were all different people with different coaching styles. I also had a athletic trainer, a massage therapist, and a sports nutritionist. Along with that, I had my fellow teammates and peers, a network of tutors available if I struggled with missing classes in school, teachers that helped me make up hours of missed class, and my mom (who came to almost every single meet – whether I won or lost).

Each of them had a role in helping me get to where I was in life. I couldn’t have done it without them, and for that I’m very grateful.

My head throws coach said he had three rules: 1) Say thank you; 2) Run fast, jump high, and throw far; and 3) Say thank you. I could be botching that up a little bit, but I got the important part. The important part is that you didn’t do it yourself. You had help and the help needs to be acknowledged as an EQUALLY important part in the process as you, the performer.

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