THE LESSON OF SPORTS

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“Pay less attention to what men say. Just watch what they do.”–Dale Carnegie

We live in an age and a culture where words have lost their value. People misuse language leaving us to doubt their sincerity, their genuineness. Is a man’s word still his bond, as we used to say? My mom used to comfort me when my feelings got hurt with the old saying “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me.” That was an overstatement I admit, but there was an underlying truth. Actions do speak louder than words, and when the two do not mirror each other, the actions are what you trust.

Youth sports is a faithful paradigm demonstrating the advantage of actions over words. There are a variety of things athletes may say before games, even during games. Some professionals have made a reputation of big talk. But when the final second ticks off the clock, the final out is made, or the runner crosses the finish line, none of that matters. All that remains is the result of the actions played out.

Trash talk is not a new phenomenon, but it is inconsequential unless one can back it up. The times where predictions or threats were not substantiated, the words have been mostly forgotten. However, there are memorable examples in sports where someone has “walked the talk.” In 1963, Mohammed Ali, a 22-year-old boxer, was set to fight Sonny Liston, the World Heavyweight Champion. The underdog Ali boldly predicted that he would knock Liston out in the ring and take his title. It took all of six rounds before officials awarded Ali the technical knock out. After the huge upset, Ali said to reporters: “Eat your words! I am the greatest! I shook up the world. I’m the prettiest thing that ever lived.” Many could hardly tolerate such bluster but it was impossible to deny that night.

In 1969, it was only the third time that a world championship was played in football. That was the year that it was officially dubbed “The Super Bowl.” The game was played between the AFL Champion New York Jets and the favored NFL Champion Baltimore Colts. The quarterback for the underdog Jets was Joe Namath. Three days ahead of the game he guaranteed a victory for his team. After a hard fought contest, the Jets won 16-7, the first title for the AFL. Joe Namath is a household name. His words would have been long forgotten, however, had the Jets not backed it up with a victory on the field. Fifty years later it is still a vivid highlight of football lore.

The point I am making is this. Words are substantive only when they are consistent with actions. It is a lesson that is greatly needed in this era of cheap talk. Sports drives the point home to young athletes who find that it is the energy and time spent in preparation and effort that make the difference in outcomes. As Bear Bryant has famously said: “It’s not the will to win that matters-everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.” Once a young athlete has tested his ability to “talk” without actions, he quickly learns that words alone do not get the job done. Maybe that’s why the brand slogan for Nike is “Just do it.”

Words are important. Words are powerful when proven by actions. Parents must find a way to instill that principle in their children. Young athletes have an effective teacher in sports participation.

Key Tips

  • Emphasize the importance of actions backing up words
  • Allow your child to discover the advantage actions have over bluster or trash talk

3 thoughts on “THE LESSON OF SPORTS”

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