Life lessons derived from sport

Life lessons derived from sport
Image curtesy of Dalle (an AI image generator): Tennis, surfing, running, illustration, bright colours

You don't have to be a sports star or an elite athlete to learn valuable life lessons from sports. I'm the kind of person who learns by doing, mistakes and all. Recently, I've been getting back into tennis and surfing and it hit me—sports teach me things I can apply to real life. Unlike typical advice, these lessons stick because I've lived them.

I think it’s particularly useful to “experience” a lesson because it makes it more memorable and relatable, so while reading this, I encourage you to consider what are some lessons you’ve learned from sports?

Here's what I've learned.


1. Being in the right place at the right time.

Parts of a Wave and Reading Waves Explained for Beginner Surfers

When surfing, it's all about timing the wave. You've got to be in the right place at the right time. Right where the wave is about to break, right at the edge of it. If it's already broken, you've missed the opportunity to ride the face and if you're too far away from the break, you likely won't be able to catch it, there's a real sweet spot. It's right in the curl of the wave that is right below where the wave is breaking. See the image above.

This also applies to starting a business. You've got to be at the right place at the right time, and working really hard to get there!

2. Keep paddling even when you think you've missed the wave.

When surfing, some of the best waves I caught, I truly thought I'd missed, but I kept paddling just in case I would make it. I learned to always try more than you think, to just keep paddling!


1. Put the ball in their court.​​

In tennis, it's tempting to always aim for winning shots, but a consistent return game gives you a 50% chance of victory. Let your opponent make the mistakes and put the ball in their court. Missing every serve means losing 50% of the points. If you do an average serve but it goes in every time, you are hugely increasing your chance of winning. Consistency > Hard Shots. You can always play some winning shots, but only when you’re in "the right place at the right time."

2. Keep running even when you think you're not going to make it.

Similar to surfing, if you give up running to make the sneaky tennis shot because you think you aren't going to make it, you are definitely not going to make it. With tennis, there are many times in every game where I think I won't be able to return the ball, but I just think, "screw it let's give it a go." Then I often make it to the ball and return it - even when I didn’t think it was possible. It always feels even better when this happens, exceeding your expectations, doing a hard thing.

In life, often you're so close to success, you've just gotta keep running to make it, even when you think it's not going to work. This is very similar to the idea from surfing of "just keep paddling."


1. Hanging around the hoop.

Similar to being in the right place at the right time, hanging around the hoop in basketball is all about putting yourself in the middle of the action. When your teammate takes a shot and he misses, you just grab the rebound and get it in. These are the easy shots, but they are still worth the same amount!


1. It's much easier in a pack.

We humans are pack animals, we do things in groups, we naturally form tribes, we don't survive in complete solitude. When running with a group of friends or in a race, the momentum of everyone around you carries you forward. I often feel like my feet just move with a life of their own when I'm in a race. The energy, rhythm and forward momentum just makes it feel pretty effortless to move forward. I used to think it was a waste of money to pay for running events, but I now get it. It's worth it for the energy and momentum it gives you.

2. Setting goals.

Running a 10 km, half marathon, marathon or ultra. Whatever it is, often people will sign up for a race months out and set that as their goal. They’ll have a training plan that keeps them focused and disciplined. If they hadn’t set the goal, they most often wouldn’t have been able to run that distance. Though there is a caveat, if someone is consistent and keeps running for a long period, but not a huge amount; they can likely do a race without the goal setting. I’ve been running consistently 5-15 km/week for 3 years and now I can often just spontaneously go on a long run with friends! It gives me peak optionality, but if I wanted to really hit a race time, I’d need to train.  

3. Consistency.

You can’t go from zero running to running a marathon in 30 days. You need the discipline to train for a long time. Consistency brings rewards in running. Tim Ferris, the guru of shortcuts to success, tried to put together a shortcut to ultra running and infamously failed. He put together a plan in his book "the Four hour body" yet never actually completed the Ultra himself.

These are some of my recent reflections on life lessons from sport. I plan to keep adding to these reflections for myself. What are some life lessons you've learned through sport? I'd love to hear them in the comments!