Ask any successful athlete what the key to their success is. You’re more than likely to hear the word ‘discipline’ come up at some point and for good reason. 

Being great at something often requires countless hours of hard work. In sport, while natural talent is important, it can only take you so far. Whether you’re on the pitch, in the ring, in a team, or competing solo, it’s hard work that takes you from being a ‘good player’ and ‘talented’ to being ‘legendary’. This work takes discipline. 

What is discipline?

If you do a quick Google search, you’ll find the definition of discipline. It’s ‘the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour, using punishment to correct disobedience’. This is one take, but for sportspeople, discipline means something entirely different. 

Discipline in sports means choosing to cook at home when all your friends are going out for a burger. It’s missing nights out because you need to be ready for training at 6 am. It’s sometimes experiencing your teens in your twenties because you never got the chance to be young and wild because you were always training. It’s finding the motivation to get up when it’s still dark, in the cold, wind, rain, and snow, and putting on your training gear, ready to start your day right. It’s keeping going when you want to stop. Discipline is difficult. 

Top athletes have been through all of this for most of their lives. Some days are better than others; some days feel like a punishment. However, in sports, great discipline isn’t a punishment. It’s a tool to help you get a great reward. That could be a gold medal, a world championship title, or a personal best. And, in turn, these can lead to great things in your future.

What discipline teaches us

Not all sportspeople go professional. The ones that do understand the importance of discipline. The ones that don’t use the discipline they learned in sports to be successful in other aspects of their life, whether that’s continuing to improve their sport, teaching others as a coach, or on a different path. Discipline teaches us a lot about the harder parts of life.

It teaches us the value of hard work

Famous American politician Theodore Roosevelt is the one who said “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, and difficulty. I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life.” The reason this quote is still so important today is because it is true.

But, everyone knows training is hard. It’s difficult not to dwell on how hard it is, but this negative thinking can bring you and your teammates down. Eventually, negativity will hold you back. Sport teaches us the hard way. 

The more negative we are, the more difficult progress is. The goal with training is not to beat ourselves up because we’re not already amazing. It’s to focus on our technique, our breathing, our speed, and getting better. The pain is just a side effect of progress and will be worth it. This is true for everything we do, whether it’s at work, school, or in our personal lives. When we play sports and develop discipline, we can push through anything life throws our way. 

It teaches us about sacrifice

Discipline often means cutting out instant gratification for long-term success when necessary. This can be anything from TV, video games, and food, to time with friends and other hobbies. Having discipline means you’re able to concentrate on your end goal: to be the best at the sport you love. This is useful when studying for exams or having to do things you would rather not do. 

Studies estimate that a huge 25% to 75% of college students procrastinate on their academic work. The consequences are hellish overnighters in the library and extreme stress as they try to fit a month’s worth of work into a few hours. A perfect storm of procrastination occurs when an unpleasant task meets a person with high impulsivity and low self-discipline. Teaching yourself discipline through sports removes the factor of low-self discipline, helping you stay motivated.  

Of course, it doesn’t mean dropping your life entirely. You can still have fun and allow yourself a binge every now and then. Discipline is about knowing when to restrict yourself and when to have fun.

It teaches us about loss

Losing as an athlete is inevitable. Maybe you’re feeling under the weather or today just wasn’t your day. Sometimes the other team or competitors were simply better than you. As an athlete, you have to deal with this and move on. 

You have two choices: be a sore loser or accept the loss, congratulate the winners, and go home and train to get better. In sport, the only choice that will benefit you is the latter, and carrying this into your everyday life will be hugely beneficial. It forms the basis of a growth mindset where someone else’s win does not seal your fate as a loser. You’ll get your chance at success because you know you can always get better and improve, in business, sport, education, relationships, or anything else you set your mind to.

We learn how to accomplish our goals

In sport, there are no shortcuts. You have to put the work in if you want to make it. Michael Jordan’s story is famous. He’s often noted as one of the best athletes of all time, but he didn’t even make it onto his high school basketball team. Coaches told him he wasn’t good enough or tall enough to play varsity. 

Instead, he was cut to the lower team in junior varsity. In his book, he details how hard he had to work throughout his career to become the basketball player we know him as today. In sport, we’re always working towards something, and we learn the best way to get ourselves there. 

There are many things we can learn from sport, but discipline has to be one of the best. It gives us an advantage for getting through the tough times in life and staying motivated towards our goals despite setbacks. If that isn’t another great reason to play sport, we don’t know what is. 

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