Guest Column: Playing sports helps develop certain characteristics that can last a lifetime


By Darryl Warner

Playing sports offers immediate and long-term advantages that oftentimes last a lifetime. Many parents start their children out playing youth sports simply to keep them active or to teach them valuable life lessons, such as teamwork and sportsmanship.

As a youth, I played baseball in Mount Vernon, N.Y., where one of my favorite memories was going to the local town hall every year to pick up my new uniform and discover who my teammates were.  As a college athlete I was just as excited to play with certain teammates and collect my equipment at the beginning of each season.

Throughout the span of my athletic career, I had the fortunate opportunity to compete with and against some of the greatest athletes in the world, win two state high school track and field championships at Willow Run High School, and play on a National Championship Collegiate football team. I even was lucky enough to receive specialized training during my sophomore year at Hillsdale College from track and field sprinter and Olympian Harvey Glance.

My competitive career as an athlete ended when I graduated with my Bachelor’s Degree in 1989. There were several lessons and attributes I acquired through athletics that helped further my career as a psychologist and face many of life’s unexpected challenges.

In 2003, I obtained a doctoral degree in Educational Psychology from Wayne State University, which has afforded me the opportunity to work with hundreds of high school and collegiate athletes. Throughout the course of my athletic and professional career I have come to the conclusion that many aspects of athletics that contribute to individual and team championships were also essential in the pursuit of my personal and professional goals.

One of the most consistent attributes I witnessed among some of the top athletes was that they possessed a “positive mindset.”

Some athlete’s, especially elite level athletes tend to possess a certain edge over their opponents. They tend to have what I call the “it” factor, a balance between their physical development and psychological development.

I have witnessed athletes with great physical attributes fall apart when having a chance to make a winning field goal. On the other hand, I have been the teammate of athletes who possessed such a great deal of confidence, it seemed as if they willed themselves to being a top-ranked wide receiver in the country.

Mind you, their work ethic was also essential to their athletic prowess. In order to be a championship athlete it is not enough to just possess the physical attributes, you also need to possess a positive mindset, what some sports psychologists call a “champion’s mindset.”

The same can be said for people in their careers or even in training to pursue a certain career.

Employers have to wade through thousands of applications to select the individual they believe is the best candidate for a job. You better believe prospective employers want to hire someone who not only possesses the skill and competence to perform certain tasks, but also possess the confidence that they are the best person for the job. There is an impressive quality in hiring someone who believes there is no better candidate than them applying for a certain job.

A champion’s mindset is also consistent with individuals with a “growth mindset,” (Carol Dweck- Mindset) which is an individual who understands their success is a balance between their abilities and believing in the idea that they can improve their skills through hard work and practice.

I use to think in order to be a champion you had to win or come in first place.  Consequently, I was frequently frustrated when I did not win first place. The truth of the matter is that first place is only dedicated for one person or team.

However, the label of a champion’s mindset is someone who is able to set, pursue and achieve personal goals.

Furthermore, if something or someone gets in the way of their goal, they make the necessary changes and start over again.

Fifteen years ago, I consulted with a woman who was tired of working for a particular agency as a hearing-impaired interpreter.  She was confident that she could do just as good or even a better job than her then, current employer.  Within five years of leaving her previous employer, she is now recognized as the leading provider of American Sign Language interpreters in the Southeast region of Michigan.

She had that “it” factor – a champion’s mindset. And it has served her well.

I would encourage any person, whether or not you are pursuing an academic, athletic, personal, or professional goal in life, to make sure that you’re confident in your abilities, that you will be able to push pass naysayers and overcome unexpected obstacles, and when needed make the necessary adjustments to reach your aspirations and dreams.

Darryl Warner is an Ypsilanti resident whose daughter attends Skyline and plays volleyball for the Eagles. He is currently a Student Empowerment Facilitator at Dearborn Public Schools, where he is responsible for the consultation and implementation of Restorative Practices. He has been employed with Dearborn Schools since 1999 and has also worked in the capacity of a Behavioral Specialist and School Psychologist. He provides outpatient mental health services as a licensed psychologist, which has also afforded him the opportunity to consult with individual athletes and various sports teams.

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