Lessons From the Playing Field

Understanding Sports lessons will make you a better sports photographer

“Doctors and scientists said that breaking the four-minute mile was impossible, that one would die in the attempt. Thus, when I got up from the track after collapsing at the finish line, I figured I was dead.”

Roger Bannister, the first man to run the mile under four minutes, knew better than to let other people squash his dreams.

All parents hope their children will grow up with the sort of courage and determination it takes to buck the conventional wisdom and do something great in life. They want their children to be successful, to be able to meet what life throws at them, to be good citizens. Brave, kind, and clever aren’t bad traits, either, and of course, they want them to be people others look up to. How do we accomplish that when, increasingly, parents have to fight their way through a maze of social networks, iPods, video games, texting, and the coolest new thing at the mall just to find out what their kids had for lunch? How do they plug these complicated children of the technological age into values that can’t be absorbed from a widget on their cell phones?

Nothing in the parenting how-to manuals or all the civics classes ever taught can quite measure up to the lessons children learn through participation in sports. Your ability to capture some of that emotion, those lessons and memories on camera are critical.  Quite aside from the physical benefits of a fitter, healthier body, the intangible lessons learned resonate lifelong: self-discipline, respect for authority, an understanding of the importance of rules, how to set and achieve goals, how to work with others . . . the list goes on. Best of all, it produces young people with an appreciation for more than what’s on the TV or the iPod. They learn, firsthand, how to deal with frustrations and challenges instead of from a scripted drama on a DVD; they learn camaraderie face-to-face with flesh-and-blood friends instead of strangers on FaceBook; and they learn the difference between just thinking about achievement and actually, well, achieving it.

While over 30 million American children are enrolled in sports programs of various types, for many parents, “sports” can be an intimidating word, conjuring up visions of rough and tumble games, injuries, and their child melting under the pressure of trying to hit the championship-winning run with the entire world watching. Yet what a thrill it is when a child actually hits that ball, scores the run, and experiences the never-to-be-forgotten joy of meeting a difficult challenge. What confidence and staying power come from persevering through the aches and pains of getting in shape and learning that a little sweat won’t kill you after all? What better way to learn that holding back is the sure road to disappointment? It is all too true that those who never try, never do anything worth remembering.

If there is one overriding lesson to be learned from taking part in sports, it is that it offers a mirror into ourselves. It is the world in miniature, full of every challenge life can offer, from dealing with physical pain to dealing with heartbreak. It teaches us how to lead as well as how to follow, how to think clearly when things are moving fast, how to set a goal and how to achieve it. It allows us to succeed and teaches us how to fail, and it gives us perspective. Michael Jordan says of his disappointments: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Success in sports is measured in milestones, not medals. It shows up in every incandescent grin over a softball clutched in a grubby fist, in every wobbly single axel landed perfectly, in every “I can do it!” delivered with steely dignity to a hovering parent. It appears in scraped knees, torn jerseys, tears of disappointment and tears of joy. It resounds in the cacophony of an alarm clock at a horrible hour, the thwock of a perfect connection of bat against ball, the hoarse, excited screams of parents cheering their child across the finish line, dead last. It comes from, simply, finishing what you start.  And that is the most lasting lesson of all.

Your ability to capture those emotions and those moment on camera are important for creating memories that last a life time.  Not that the camera will ingrain that character trait into the athlete, but the memory of those moments both good and bad help to make those life long lessons memorable. 

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